Having your first hybrid development project with your new customer

… or “Rome wasn’t build in one day”1

Recently I’ve been invited to speak about hybrid development processes in the context of business analysis in Aachen.

One of the points discussed was how to implement a hybrid development process for a new customer especially if

  • the customer does not have any experience with agile or hybrid process models or
  • the customer’s procurement process does not allow agile or hybrid processes for external projects.

The simple conclusion and recommendation after a longer discussion was to start with something simple that the customer (and you) can handle.

Start slowly

We’ve seen good results with an approach that uses as many features and parts of the hybrid development process the customer can handle at a time; especially if you develop something with a customer who doesn’t have any deep knowledge of agile methodology start slowly.

In the first project we usually stick with the regular waterfall approach (requirements, contract, develop, deliver, accept) and use our agile process internally for development.

While going on with new projects and enhancements implement hybrid features by discussing changes open minded while developing the software. Start with some kind of fuzzy-ness for requirements and pass over to alternatives or a complete agile approach.

Do not rely on a stable customer relationship

Another point: Things change, this also happens while working in an active customer relationship.

Processes, resources and their minds change, and so the hybrid process needs to be adapted to the changes.

Do not think that if the hybrid process is implemented you can use it for a long time without change. If the relation to the customer changes in any of the above cases you may need to go back to start and re-implement the process again.


Hybrid Software Development Process – Writing Flexible Requirements

18-02-_2016_21-58-19During the last posts (here and here) I’ve discussed the overall problem and the hybrid software development process in general. This post will detail the requirements part of the hybrid model.

How requirements are covered and business analysis is performed is discussed in several books, articles and reports somewhere else (please have a look at this search or IIBA for some information).

The basic problem is that several parts of a requirement are either

  • not yet finished (i.e. the user department cannot give a final commitment on all parts of the requirement) or
  • the customer has not yet decided on several options to fulfill a specific requirement

As this information is necessary to create a binding offer while using a regular process/project model, it may be left over in a “fuzzy” state with some restrictions that allow us to create an offer based on the given information.

Any “fuzzy” information known at this point in time is usually more stable than any information from the requirement’s author when the author is forced to give a final statement on a requirement while.

So, instead of insisting that the requirement needs to be finalized, those points are marked as “open” or describe several (similar) “option”s.

Open Requirements

Open requirements are requirements which allow a concrete estimation for the offer but leave enough space to define the details on this particular requirement later during the development phase.

An example of an open requirement would be a report where the data to be shown on the report is defined but the format/layout is still open.

Another example of an open requirement would be a set of rules to define several levels of contribution levels. It is clear how many are there but which account accumulates to which contribution level can be defined later on during development.

It is very important to define the rules and margins on every open requirement to enable the vendor to create a estimation on this requirement that can be used as part of a fixed price offer.

Defining Options

Options define similar functionalities (from the user’s perspective) which allow the customer to decide later on which option to take. The options may have similar efforts.

An example for options is to decide on CSV or Excel (XLSX) format for an import later during the project. In case if efforts are not similar, the customer needs to be aware that as of the fixed price project only one price tag will be communicated and the price doesn’t change in case the customer decides on the cheaper one.

How to manage open requirements and options during later phases of the project

It is very important that the customer is aware of the fact that there has to be a decision to be taken for each and every open requirement and option during the development process. It has to be agreed (latest) during the contractual phase if and when the decision needs to be done. If the decision is not there at the point where it is needed project delays or additional costs may occur.

The hybrid process – general design

The first post in the series on hybrid software development talked about general problems many software development companies have during their customer relationship. Contracts are very often based on a linear process as shown below:
Hybrid Contract flow

In addition, user departments responsible for the requirements and the software may have the need to change the requirements even after they have been finalized or contractually agreed due to several reasons. Some of them are:

  • A change in another process requires a change of the requirement
  • Some requirements have been forgotten
  • A change due to e.g. legal reasons need to be included

Based on the number of required changes projects need to be shifted, deployment dates need to be moved or projects already started need to be cancelled.

In the last decade agile development tried to get rid of some of the challenges mentioned above. Based on the “Agile Manifest” a lot of development processes have been designed that try to solve the problems mentioned above. As a result, requirements are created at a rougher level at the beginning and later on detailed during development at the time when they are really developed. In recent years several of these process models have been designed, namely Scrum, FDD and others.

In recent years it has been seen that even those approaches have raised questions and concerns. Some of them are:

  • They do not follow enterprise processes (as enterprises are very often stick to linear processes where there’s a contract required with a fixed price offer based on a detailed specification)
  • Very rough requirements at the beginning might cause legal intervention in case of later delays not non-wanted results
  • Customers (and requirement engineers) need to be more involved during the complete development process.
  • Processes like scrum or other agile methods tend to deliver software in more frequent deployments (to reduce time to market). A software delivery with intermediate (and therefore changing) features need a high amount of change management. This becomes heavy if you use a complex software on a high user base.
  • Team building is a more complex process as agile teams with a given velocity tend to react negative to changes in stuffing.

We have designed a hybrid process which tries to overcome (most of) the concerns described above and create a model combining the best out of the two worlds (classic and agile).

The hybrid process will change each of the process steps above in a way to achieve a possibility to create flexibility during development for a fixed price project:

  • Requirements: Allow fuzzy requirements that remain estimatable
  • Contract: Enhance the contract process to recognize fuzzyness and allow reserves
  • Develop: Agile (e.g. Scrum) and allow refinements
  • Deployment: (Usually) only one deployment towards the customer
  • Acceptance: Acceptance based on requirements and refinements

This process has been established now for medium to large projects for at least three years with increasing success.

Further posts will discuss details on every process step and will provide more in-depth guidance.

Hybrid software development processes – Introduction

This blog post belongs to a couple of (yet to be written) posts about hybrid software development processes. please follow the blog to get updated with the latest blog posts.

At the time we’ve started our company some 10 years ago agile methodologies had not reached the development mainstream at software development companies or IT departments. At that time we decided to go the “classic” way by using an iterative waterfall (see here pg. 329f – fig. 4) approach.

Learning about agile development and new team members made us moving towards Scrum in 2009. The agile approach gave us the flexibility we’ve looked for and we liked the innovative chances of this new process.
We ran a couple of projects with Scrum, some went well, some did not. We learned a lot about success factors, advantages and disadvantages.

Analyzing the project results we had seen there were a lot of cases where we had a clash between the classic “request” > “offer” > “order” > “produce” > “accept” way of handling projects towards the customer and the agile process. We learned that it is difficult to apply the Scrum process all the way to the customer. Customers often prefer the classic approach, especially when it comes to timing, outlines and the commercial aspects of a project. On the other hand late changes in a development project are often requested.

With the waterfall process late changes are difficult to cover, with Scrum they are easily implemented but do have negative impact on time and budget. This negatively impacts customer satisfaction and causes uncovered expenses and delays.

We thus tried to merge the advantages of the waterfall and the scrum process and created our own hybrid process using parts of both methodologies:

  • Towards the customer we stick on a classic linear process (iterative waterfall) to have a known and established way of communication towards our (mainly) enterprise customers and
  • internally use Scrum as the development method to allow flexibility in respect of work package building and
    continuous evolving of requirements into stories and tasks

This process even allows the customer to incorporate late changes as long as

  1. the requested requirement to be changed has not been developed already and
  2. the change fits into budget, time and quality constraints.

There’re some other constraints but basically these are the rules.

If one of the above rules are not matched, even then the change might be accepted but in this case we have to come back to the customer and explain him that this change will have side effects (budget, time, …) and the outlines (schedule, price, etc.) of the project need to be changed However many of the smaller changes that occur in almost every project can be covered without any commercial change.

The next blog post will discuss the overall process followed by blog posts related to specific parts / topics related to the process itself.