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Agile Transformation in Software Development. Part 1: Evaluating Software Development Vendor

Are Agile transformation and business agility something software service companies should consider? We try addressing the permanent questions and argue that the Agility of business processes may distinguish software development companies from the competition.
Agile

Agile Transformation in Software Development. Part 1: Evaluating Software Development Vendor

I think there is no need to talk about what Agile is. Agile has de facto established itself in the noosphere. Everyone is talking about Agile. Many want to carry out an Agile transformation. There are different opinions among software development companies though. Well, Scrum at the level of separate teams is understandable, but the transformation of all the processes of the company … What for? What benefits will a service provider get from Agile transformation? If you want to have leading IT product companies, large businesses, and corporations among your clients, then you should consider Agile transformation right now. Such clients are becoming increasingly agile. They scale Agile in their organizations and will choose software development companies that fit the bill.

With this article, we begin a series of publications dedicated to Agile transformation in software development companies. We’d like to help companies see things from a different angle. Today I will talk about the criteria for choosing a 3rd party company.

What are the criteria for choosing a software development company?

1. Price;

2. Quality;

3. Understanding and focusing on the business goals of the customer;

4. Competently arranged processes and ISO certification;

5. Flexibility and speed of reaction.

That’s not an exhaustive list. These are the most common criteria I get to hear about. Recently there has been another one. Clients look for a 3rd party software development company that is Agile. They seek agility of the processes across the entire company not just within the IT/ Development departments. There is a share of hype in this, but it can very be important for the customer. 

Example

Let’s consider a situation with a company looking to outsource the development of a small product. 

Disclaimer: Names, titles, and situations, although based on real cases that I know of, in this case, are fictitious. Any coincidences are accidental.

The customer company Thorns Digital develops several software product lines. At the same time, there are some ancillary product initiatives. But they never get due attention and resources. The company focuses on the main product line as it generates the most stable and reliable cash flow.

Thomas manages one of the ancillary products. He wants to see if it will be an efficient way to move these projects along with the help of a 3rd party company. So, he approached a few software development companies with Requests for Proposal. 

The following are the responses Thomas received

Digital Bears Agency that they have many teams ideally suitable for his request and offered to contact it to clarify the requirements and discuss the conditions.

Crazy Llamas company immediately replied that their developers can start tomorrow, and also offered a Skype-call.

Mighty Minds requested the Technical Specification document for evaluation.

Hello, World responded that it will take 2-8 weeks to form a team, depending on the requirements and desired development process. A call will help to clarify these issues.

 Lean Devs got back saying they would like to establish whether there is a product-market fit before anything else. They would like to take a step back to conduct Customer Development and draw up Lean Canvas. This would help make sure the product will solve the problem identified. Subsequently, they will move on to functional and nonfunctional requirements, acceptance criteria and formulating design and development requests.

Totally Right informed Thomas that, according to their internal processes, a development team can be formed within a month. They proposed that their Product Owner along with Thomas revisits the requirements. After that, they establish the team, design the roadmap of the project, and estimate the project times and cost.

What conclusions has Thomas made for himself?

He will not work with Digital Bears. He has great concerns about the competence of the team. The agency itself does not seem to be particularly concerned about the final result.

Crazy Llamas is just a group of developers without an understanding of the business component. In this case, they are no better than freelancers working remotely.

It seems that the guys from Mighty Minds think in terms of linear-sequential development. Thomas has been in product development for some time now. He knows too well that this approach conflicts with what Thomas is used to. 

Thomas isn’t sure what to make of Hello World. They can be interesting guys, or they can be a Crazy Llamas clone. It is necessary to communicate.

Looks like Lean Devs speaks the same language as Thomas. However, it is not clear who in the end will be responsible for the product. Will it be Thomas or Lean Devs, and how the overall processes and communications will be organized. But there is definitely something interesting about them.

Totally Right looks serious enough and offers quite reasonable things. It makes sense to talk to them too.

Why so?

Thorns Digital has been working in the Agile paradigm for a long time, constantly improving processes and fostering innovations. Thomas understands that a team capable of delivering a fully working product should have both a Product Owner and Scrum Master. A Product Owner guides development by addressing the question of how exactly the product solves business problems and achieves goals. A Scrum Master is accountable for making sure that the process and the team is continuously improving.

That’s why Thomas doesn’t want to work with developers with a task-focused mentality. If the team doesn’t employ a product-oriented approach, once all tasks are complete, the development will complete. The product dies. To prevent this, Thomas will have to get involved in setting up, prioritizing, planning, and controlling the execution of tasks.

The question is who will formulate hypotheses, state success criteria, monitor results, collect metrics, and make decisions. Thomas may not have enough time to do this, as he will be busy with micromanagement and communicating the business context to the team.

Therefore, he is not interested in agencies offering anonymous teams or teams that cannot see beyond Technical Specifications. Certainly, he will not be able to work with a company operating in the rhythm of Waterfall. He will be reminded about the life cycle of the development, the Gantt Chart and the long phase of implementation. 

And even if they will agree to work in the “build – measure – learn” rhythm, the results will be predictably disappointing. Thorns Digital was set up with business agility in mind. The Agile approach had been at the core of business processes from the outset. Even then, it took a whole year to instill an agile organizational culture. What can be expected from a team that is used to working in another paradigm?

To wrap up 

Thomas is one of the many customers on the market. There are also those for whom other criteria will be important. There are still large companies out there that use Waterfall model and do not see any alternatives. 

However, even if super conservative government organizations challenge the traditional approaches to management, then what can we say about big business? According to Gartner и CollabNet VersionOne, SAFe is leading the Agile scaling movement. I believe that in the not so distant future being a SAFe-ready supplier will become a necessary condition for the beginning of any negotiations on a major contract.

Next time I will talk about the risks associated with software development outsourcing. I will attempt to illustrate what impact they may have, among other things, on the client’s decision-making process. Keep an eye on our blog.

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