Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The xProcess Beta Programme

If you have collaborating teams of professionals that need to …

  • plan, execute and monitor projects;
  • define and improve their processes in terms of the tasks and documents that make up typical projects (and yet not be constrained by a “process straight-jacket”);
  • control projects by prioritizing requirements, varying resources and defining target dates;
  • bring together all the plans, resources and documents for their projects in one versioned and auditable repository;
…then considering process improvement through xProcess is an obvious next step. As we get closer to the release of version 2.0 of the product, one way to get a really close view of the new features that this version will bring is to participate in the beta programme now under way. Note that the beta programme will continue after the 2.0 release, allowing participants to see the very latest features coming through into the product.

If you think this programme might be for you, do let me know.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Falling over the waterfall

I'm amazed by how many people I meet that tell me their project, or projects in their organisation, use some kind of variant of the waterfall lifecycle. It happened to me again today while conversing with a friend who works for one of the major international banks. The waterfall is as ubiquitous as death, taxes and project overruns!

[And now I discover there's an unmissable conference on the subject - stop reading this blog and go now to waterfall2006.com! But more on this later.]

The interesting thing about the waterfall lifecycle is that it has very few proponents among the luminaries of the industry. Even Winston Royce, who is usually credited with inventing the waterfall in his 1970 paper to the IEEE was actually criticising the approach of trying to deliver a complete system in one iteration. While I'm in name-dropping mode, I could mention that I met Winston when he was working at TRW. He had a most distinguished pedigree in software engineering but he was hardly the unqualified supporter of monolithic processes. His son follows in his tradition and provided a very interesting quote on the waterfall process:
  • "Across the software industry, we characterize modern software lifecycles using many different terms, including spiral development, incremental development, evolutionary development, and iterative development (my preference). In spirit, these terms all stand for the same thing, namely anti-waterfall development."” Walker Royce (2000)

More striking criticism of the waterfall approach comes from all quarters. F. P. Brooks for example:
  • "Much of present-day software acquisition procedure rests upon the assumption that one can specify a satisfactory system in advance, get bids for its construction, have it built, and install it. I think this assumption is fundamentally wrong, and that many software acquisition problems spring from that fallacy.”" F. P. Brooks (1986).

Or Tom Gilb:
  • "There is nothing (no complex thing) that can't be delivered in an evolutionary fashion; conversely no (complex) thing can be delivered in one go." Tom Gilb.

The waterfall has a significant advantage. It's simple to explain and understand. For those tempted to adopt it for that reason should heed this warning from the celebrated journalist, political commentator [and cynic], Henry Mencken:
  • "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong!"” H. L. Mencken “.

However I would want you to think that I'm biased in any way. I recently was pointed to this new conference on "Waterfall Unified Process" by a friend and former colleague Jon Kern. Whatever your view on waterfalls, I urge you to visit this site. It's great!

I've already mentioned the link. It's http://www.waterfall2006.com/.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Why should you use xProcess with your development teams?

Occasionally I get asked questions that force me to re-consider my elevator-pitch for xProcess. So somebody just asked me why he should use xProcess with his development teams. Here's my reply:

"xProcess merges a continual process improvement capability (dynamic process management) with fully connected project collaboration and management (dynamic project execution).

"If you capture your processes in xProcess it means that the patterns of tasks, deliverables, quality criteria and workflows in the process can be realized by project managers and participants as actual elements in running projects. (Since all data in xProcess is fully versioned you also have a full audit trail of who changed what, when and even in some cases why.) This means it is much easier for people to be compliant with your corporate processes than not to be! Given the investment you are making in process improvement this is great news. However xProcess is not a straight-jacket. If project managers choose non-standard ways to do things they probably have good reasons (especially as it’s easier for them to be compliant than not!). Such non-standard approaches are captured and visible within xProcess so that different approaches can be analyzed and compared. If they are successful it is easy in xProcess to take these new patterns of working (and new templates for deliverables, and new quality criteria, etc.) and make them part of a new or extended process.

"Why do it? Because having the best possible process gives you the highest competitive advantage. Having no standard process is wasteful, confusing and lacking in control. Having the wrong standard process – even constraining teams to quite a good process – is costly in resources, quality and morale. xProcess delivers flexible processes to running projects in a way that they can easily follow them and modify them (in a fully auditable way) as they need to. It leverages the process knowledge in your teams as well as providing them with the best possible support from process experts. It’s the best way to start the optimization of processes that will make your teams more effective than the opposition."