Agile Adoption: Key Challenges to Scaling Up

Making the transition from legacy methodologies, such as waterfall, to Agile development seems like a no-brainer. Delivering better-quality, more efficiently developed software applications is a goal that appeals to entire organizations: developers, IT departments and executives alike. The benefits of Agile are clear, but the actual move to Agile development can create problems as all parties push to build, test and deploy code faster. The resulting bottlenecks throughout the build-test-deploy cycle are not only frustrating but also costly enough to mitigate some of the inherent benefits of Agile development.

In this article, I list many of the common challenges faced by organizations transitioning to Agile and then suggest solutions to help overcome them. In virtually every case, automation is the answer. Automated solutions allow full implementation of Agile methodologies no matter how large the scale.

Editor’s Note: The author, Anders Wallgren, is the CTO of Electric Cloud, a vendor of automated application development products. We have selected this article for publication because we believe it to have objective technical merit.

Agile Adoption Challenge #1: Manual Procedures

The most common challenge in transitioning to Agile development is manual procedures. Developing software by hand is slow and tedious by its very nature. Coordinating scattered, dissimilar systems perform the software’s work can be an overwhelming prospect, given how little commonality and repeatability exists among various tasks. The additional wrinkle of teams spread across different offices (which is increasingly common), makes it even more difficult to keep everyone on the same page.

The development process is also naturally prone to human error when reliant on manual procedures. With Agile, the sheer number of builds can actually increase the number of errors encountered during the build-test-deploy cycle.

The solution for this problem may seem obvious: automate your procedures. Comprehensive automation of the build-test-deploy cycle can replace manual, cobbled-together procedures with reusable, flexible templates. Enabling a single method that works across all platforms and across the entire development cycle allows for faster, more accurate iterations.

Automating the test process can also create reproducible systems that validate your software application build-test-deploy process up-front, allowing engineers to easily configure and provision different build paths. The result is a faster, more streamlined way to complete essential testing and integrate it seamlessly into the build process.

Agile Adoption Challenge #2: Performance Inefficiencies

The second-most common challenge is performance inefficiencies. Even one pass through a complex application’s build-test-deploy process can take a long time. Complying with Agile methodologies often means managing hundreds of builds per week. Add to that the validation tests for each compilation required by each build and you have literally thousands of time-consuming tasks added to the pile.

The best way to handle this challenge is to divide and conquer. Parallel processing can easily solve performance inefficiencies by spreading the work across multiple systems and dividing the processes into smaller, more manageable segments. With this approach, managing hundreds — or even thousands — of weekly builds and tests becomes much simpler.

Agile Adoption Challenge #3: Lack of Standardized Processes

No matter how rigid an organization may be, software development teams always find ways to personalize their routines, systems and tools. This means every piece of software they deliver is created using a unique, non-repeatable process. Geographically dispersed teams tend to compound this problem.

Creating a standardized approach that allows for heterogeneity can be a simple fix for this issue. Automation makes it easy to provide a centralized, standardized approach for disseminating and re-using common procedures and workflows. This makes life easier for users and administrators, and allows for easy sharing of best practices.

It’s also important, though, to recognize that unique approaches are inherent to modern application software development and ensure that standard organizational tools allow for flexibility. That way, developers can use the platforms and development environments that work best for them.

Agile Adoption Challenge #4: Process Analysis and Optimization

The specialized nature of application software development means that in any given organization, only a handful of people really understand what happens in the entire build-test-deploy process. One-off manual processes, so prevalent in today’s development, add to the challenge by limiting input capture and analysis.

Automating the way data is tracked and reported throughout the build-test-deploy cycle allows the easy capture and summarization of information for anyone from developers to executives. Automatically keeping track of critical information makes it easier to identify and fix bottlenecks, errors and other complications that can sabotage Agile implementation.

Agile Adoption Is Worth the Effort

Many organizations today are moving toward Agile, but trying to implement Agile on a large scale without automation will be a frustrating endeavor for all involved. In order to take advantage of the accuracy and speed promised by Agile techniques, automation is absolutely necessary. The result — better software built faster than ever before — is well worth it.

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