CIO Success Story: Agile Development

Michael Hugos, Principal, Center for Systems Innovation | 10/8/2013 | 30 comments

Michael Hugos
Editor's Note: This is the first in a new series of articles where CIOs share first-person accounts of success stories that helped impact the bottom line.

If you've got enough money to do a project right, chances are you'll have more problems than if you don't. It sounds counterintuitive at first, but if you'll bear with me you'll see how small budgets and smart projects go hand in hand.

As I began developing a cloud-based supply chain application for my new company, SCM Globe, there were many times I regretted not having the staff and budget I had in my last CIO position. But then at the last company I didn't have the money or resources that my competitors had. And both times I did well. I got things done faster than other people thought possible and for less money.

When I have all the time and money I need, there is no need to be agile. And disciplined use of agile software development techniques is my formula for success. Over time I do wind up spending almost as much as I would if I used traditional software development practices. But the money is much better spent because of two big benefits I get from being agile that I never got using traditional practices.

The first benefit is that I don't get bogged down in lengthy requirement-gathering. We don't produce hundreds of pages of specifications that nobody reads that quickly become obsolete. Instead, we focus on the most important features that can be delivered in 30-60-90 day cycles.

People always know what the most important features are because it's the stuff that keeps them up at night. They can tell you what they are pretty quickly. Those features define the minimum viable product (MVP). I segment the MVP into software delivery cycles that are 30 to 90 days long. So people see IT is getting things done, and that builds momentum and credibility for the project.

The second benefit is that people get to start using what we deliver right away. And in doing so, they discover new things that they could not know without getting started.

Outside of well-defined and regulated activities, it just isn't possible for people to know what they really need by talking about a new application. No matter how much time is spent in requirements gathering, people cannot know all the things they will need in a new application because it is new, and they haven't done it before.

When I deliver the first version of the MVP and people start using it, I get feedback and then embark on the second iteration where we add new features to the MVP. And we deliver that quickly. With each iteration, people get more and more of what they want.

In this way I avoid spending time and money on things people thought they wanted, but then learned they don't need. This makes the business side happy, and making business people happy is central to having success as a CIO.

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soozyg   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/8/2013 8:26:45 AM
Thanks, Michael

This article is a metaphor for so many things in life.

When I have all the time and money I need, there is no need to be agile.

And this is the main point that I like. Excellent.
CurtisFranklin   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/8/2013 10:50:57 AM
Re: metaphor
@soozyg, you're right -- that's a great line. I think that one way to think about it is in regard to complacency: If I'm truly satisfied with the way things are, I'm unlikely to make the effort to change things. A measure of dissatisfaction is at the root of all progress -- the key is in turning that dissatisfaction to positive ends (rather than channeling the feeling toward gossip and dissent).
Pedro Gonzales   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/8/2013 11:32:17 AM
Re: metaphor
Great article Michael. I completely agree with you in the value of agile.  People prefer to be showed something and played with it with some time; they really do not know what they want unless they are using it, in this case agile development is really at an advantage.
ProgMan   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/8/2013 1:04:34 PM
I'm glad to read a positive comment on Agile
I've had limited exposure to it and the few stories I've heard were from programmers (albeit disgruntled ones) who spoke derisively about the methodology.  Glad to hear some positive real world experience.
Michael Hugos   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/8/2013 1:32:27 PM
Re: I'm glad to read a positive comment on Agile
Hi ProgMan - Agile really does work, but "agile ain't easy". Agile calls for high levels of skill in software design, object oriented programming, test driven development and the roll into production now known as "DevOps". 

Too many people think agile is just "runnin' and gunnin'" and they don't have the needed skills or the discipline to do it right. In the slow and steady waterfall development world things move at a more leisurly pace and people have more time to get things done, so all sorts of little screw ups can be absorbed into the longer time frames.

With agile dev, time frames are deliberately shortened as a way to get people to clarify designs and focus on most important features first. If people really do make good use of data modeling, UI design, user focus groups, object oriented programming and testing they will get great results. If people don't really know these skills and try to fake it, then it will be a mess.

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zerox203   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/8/2013 1:45:36 PM
Re: Agile Development
"If you've got enough money to do a project right, chances are you'll have more problems than if you don't. It sounds counterintuitive at first, but if you'll bear with me you'll see how small budgets and smart projects go hand in hand."

Actually, that sounded pretty intuitive to me on it's own. Maybe that's because I've read a number of articles here on E2 on this very topic, maybe it's because I thought I knew where you were going with it, or maybe it's just because it's a rule I hold for myself. 'More money, more problems' is a saying we hear echoed throughout all walks of life and every society in the world, and perhaps it's truer nowhere else than in enterprise IT. ''Feature Creep'' has become a dirty word, for good reason, and it's one that goes hand-in-hand with having too much money.

Maybe we don't have a word for it, but I think in the modern day, IT also has a problem with something I'll call 'responsibility creep'. Not only do we build applications that do more than they need to, but we find ourselves supporting our administrating in situations where a simpler or user-driven solution would do the job better. Just as you suggest with the applications, maybe it's our own fault, or maybe it's because the business asked us to - either way, being forced into agility goes a long way towards preventing it.
Hospice_Houngbo   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/8/2013 2:49:09 PM
Re: I'm glad to read a positive comment on Agile
I think neither the Agile method nor the Waterfall method is inherently better than the other. Each method has its uses, depending on whether you are working on a static projects- that need all features to work before deployment, or  more flexible projects where changes are likely to be made during the design process.
Michael Hugos   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/8/2013 5:52:53 PM
Re: Agile Development
Hey Zerox203 - you speak words of wisdom. It usually takes some courses in the School of Hard Knocks to learn the lesson of "more money, more problems." 

You can't do anything with nothing, but you can do a lot with a little. What I've learned is that when I break one big project and one big budget into a series of smaller projects and smaller budgets two things happen. First you get things done faster, and second, its easier to manage a bunch of smaller projects that one big unwieldy project.

And project risk is much less too because when a little project goes bad you only loose a little time and money and you have a chance to learn from the failure and get back on track. That isn't possibe after a big project goes bad because there isn't any money left and everyone usually gets fired because of all the money and time that was lost.

What projects have you been on that taught you these lessons?


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Shamika   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/9/2013 4:37:09 AM
Re: metaphor
Interesting article. It's very true that there is a high chance of falling when you enough money to do a project.  By having minimum resource will always help in achieving more since you want to achieve your target in whatever the way.
Shamika   CIO Success Story: Agile Development   10/9/2013 4:37:36 AM
Re: metaphor
Agile development is more convenient for both developers and customers. It is mainly because the value is achieved faster as releases arrive at the customer more frequently.
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