Monday, 14 April 2014 07:10

Dual-Track Agile

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Dual-track scrum, or dual-track agile, is an approach to software development growing in popularity that assumes there are two key tracks for agile product development: Discovery and Delivery, as shown in the diagram below:

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This approach has a lot of merit and can eliminate a lot of frustration and costs in agile development. Often, agile teams have long and frustrating sprint planning meetings because backlog items are not well defined, understood, or validated. This often results in slow velocity and extra development iterations because a basic understanding and design details are worked out during the sprint using code. The amount of waste and rework is very high because backlog items have not been defined and validated properly.

To get around this, some agile coaches have recommended that teams spend 10% of their time grooming the backlog. Some agile coaches even recommend conducting separate meetings for grooming, sometimes referred to as “Story Time” sessions, for the sole purpose of grooming the backlog. An agile project, like other projects, is subject to "scope creep" in the form of user stories that get created but do not really yield substantial value, yet were thought to be "good ideas at the time."

Another problem is that teams and often product owners are not qualified to assess business value and validate ideas for need. A much better method to prevent these problems is to implement a dual track for discovery and delivery. I firmly believe this dual-track approach will increase velocity, provide higher quality products, and at a much lower costs.

The discovery track is all about quickly generating validated product backlog items, and the delivery track is all about generating releasable software. Below is a list of some of the benefits that can be achieved from using this approach.

Elimination of Features that Provide Little or No Value

According to Standish Group Research, 64% of functionality is rarely or never used. This is the result of two things: 1) producing software without validating that there is a real need, and 2) not getting user adoption because not enough attention was placed on the user experience. The discovery track specifically focuses on these two things: validating the need and achieving a good user experience.

Less Rework

Agile is an iterative process. Iterative means that you do not finish a feature in one go. You code, get feedback, and continue this cycle until you have an acceptable product. Reducing the number of iterations reduces the time and costs. Providing the team with better information up front can significantly reduce the number of iterations.

Cost Effective Validation

The current practice of placing items in the backlog that have not been validated is a bad practice and happens all of the time. The goal should be to validate ideas in the fastest, cheapest way possible. Validating ideas using code and development iterations is slow, expensive, and wasteful. In dual-track agile, the Discovery Team can use Lean Startup concepts such as Minimum Viable Products (MVP), which are often paper prototypes and surveys and not code to validate ideas. The Discovery Team’s job is to validate each idea and eliminate ones that do not add value.

Better User Experience

Designing the User Experience is key to user adoption. However, incorporating user experience design into agile has been difficult, as it often disrupts the rhythm and pace of the agile team. Using dual-track agile helps solves this problem. User experience specialists work as an integrated part of the discovery team and focus on building and validating prototypes, which serve as a spec for the delivery team. Most importantly, most user experience validation happens in discovery instead of validating after release of the software, resulting in lower costs and less rework.

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John Parker

John Parker is a seasoned expert in IT strategy, requirements management, business analysis, project management, IT strategic planning, and IT value management. His experience and knowledge span decades, stemming from leadership roles as CIO and strategy consultant for Hospital Sisters Health System; executive vice president and chief technology officer for the national consulting firm MAXIMUS; founder, partner, and executive vice president of Spectrum Consulting Group; and partner at KPMG.

Drawing from his vast knowledge of business analyses and project management, John leads the design and development of Enfocus Requirements Suite’s valuable mind maps, templates, examples, and tools. John also regularly shares his expertise and insights at http://blog.enfocussolutions.com.

John graduated cum laude from Baylor University. He is a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Systems Professional. He also holds a Certificate of Mastery in Process Reengineering.

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