IBM promotes agile development

Company is probably one of the largest practitioners of the development practice, executive stresses

IBM again touted agile software development methods on Tuesday at the SD West Conference 2008 in Santa Clara, Calif., with an official saying the company itself probably has one of the world's largest adoptions of agile.

In a keynote presentation and in correspondence afterward, IBM's Per Kroll, chief architect for IBM Rational Expertise Development & Innovation, cited the company's proliferation of agile practices among some of its approximately 35,000 developers.

"I think in general we have 1,000-plus people [using] agile in the IBM community," with an additional 2,000 persons trained in agile practices, Kroll said. He said, though, that he did not anticipate that all 35,000 developers would adopt agile.

On Monday at the conference, IBM's Scott Ambler, practice leader for agile development, spoke on the state of the agile space. Agile development focuses on developing software in iterations of usually two weeks. This allows for more flexibility than the traditional waterfall methodologies.

"Agile is taking many things that we’ve been using for a lot of years before agile was around [and] adding a lot of new things and putting a very good spin on it and making development more human," said Kroll. Concepts like iterative development and continuous integration are not new, but agile accounts for factors like human and collaborative aspects, he said. "We firmly believe, and our executives firmly believe, that the most successful organizations of tomorrow will be the ones [able] to adopt agile principles."

IBM has roughly 150 agile projects, he said. But each team needs to determine its own agile use based on their context. Agile means a lot of things to different teams, he said.

A key factor is that IBM helps customers and its own teams with applying agile complex environments, facing such issues as application complexity, scalability, and compliance issues, said Kroll.

Rolling out agile principles could be done with a whip or carrot approach. "It's pretty obvious that the whip approach only works for a while," with developers reverting back when no one is watching any longer, he said. To encourage agile, IBM has recognized teams for what they have accomplished. 

IBM leverages its Agile Evaluation Framework in promoting agile. "This helps us get some assistance to teams in their quest to become more agile," Kroll said. The framework is a tool to help teams understand how well they have adopted various practices and drives discussions on how to further improve.

The framework is one of several tools being used in a broader framework for organizational transformations, referred to as "Measured Capability Improvement." Also featured in Measured Capability Improvement is the mapping of business problems to practices being adopted. IBM also is measuring whether expected business benefits were achieved. IBM is looking at bringing this set of techniques and tools to market, said Kroll.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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