Borland is Bullish on Agile Development

Borland is adopting agile development as a core tenet of its software delivery strategy as a way of speeding up application development and saving costs.

Borland Software is going full bore into agile software development.

On Aug. 6 at the Agile 2008 conference in Toronto, Pete Morowski, Borland's senior vice president of research and development, is scheduled to present a session entitled "Driving Agile Transformation from the Top Down."

In an interview with eWEEK, Morowski said that "at agile's core is a process that seeks more predictable delivery schedules, higher quality products and greater user satisfaction. We made the decision that [in order] to be a more agile business, we needed to run a more agile software delivery organization."

He said that "the biggest fear in going agile is that you will lose control, but the reality is that you never really had control in the first place. Project managers build schedules, but there is really no connection between these dates and windows and what is going on underneath. No visibility into the actual work. Schedules become a reporting tool, not what is driving the delivery process. Agile can change that."

Agile development involves a variety of methodologies for making the process of software development more lean and more productive by creating smaller portions of the overall product in iterations.

"The reality is that as I lead our agile transition," Morowski said. "I have to evaluate it from the perspective of the business -- how is agile working for us? I have to be able to look at both worlds and understand where the application of agile will achieve the best results. Ultimately, I could care less what methodology we are using as long as we are able to deliver predictable, high-quality results. To manage that, I need intelligence. TeamAnalytics lets me see what's working and what isn't, identify trends, surface areas that need more attention, and make informed decisions."

Morowski also said that as an organization is making decisions on how to transform to agile development, visibility into current and historical metrics is critical. It's the only way to plan a successful transition. "The data is what helped me to understand the key benefits that Agile brings to teams, so that I can identify the projects that make the most sense to transition," he said.

What prompted Borland to adopt an agile approach in its development strategy?

The company's product organization consists of more than 350 personnel in five primary geographic locations, including development sites in Asia and Europe, Morowski said. It is a development shop organized into teams of 12 to 35 engineers delivering a very broad portfolio of products, which contain the typical mix of new and sustaining work projects that are consistent with both ISVs and corporate IT shops. In the past, these teams were able to work fairly independently, with none of the projects overlapping or significantly impacting each other. However, Borland's evolving business strategy - combining products into integrated suites - has driven the demand for increased coordination between the teams, Morowski said.

Moreover, as a 25-year-old company, Borland has gone through a number of changes. In the process it has acquired a number of companies in many different locations around the globe.

"When I joined the company, I found a product organization that was overly distributed, top heavy, and at a cost and investment structure that was not in line with the strategic objectives of the company," Morowski said. "In addition, the teams were struggling to consistently meet delivery goals. My charter was to introduce stronger operational oversight, reduce costs and boost the organization's efficiency and quality. I decided to overhaul the organization, and one of the components of this effort would be to broaden our use of agile. "

Borland's initial experiences with agile were typical to many organizations: they emerged as a grassroots effort started by a couple of teams. However, what was unique was the level of executive visibility and support these grassroots teams commanded from the start. This was in large part due to the fact that one of the teams was responsible for building a new product that the customers could use to manage Scrum-based projects.

Morowski said when he arrived in 2006, the environment was already "agile-friendly," with a number of teams either experimenting or claiming adoption of Scrum. The team members that were utilizing it had various levels of experience with and commitment to the approach, he said. Members from teams not utilizing Scrum looked on with skepticism and curiosity, he added.

Yet, there was no doubt that agile was generating discussion and debate throughout the organization, and there were clearly signs of success even in these early stages of adoption, he said. The success manifested itself in such things as better requirements management through the active use of product backlogs and user stories to drive work; enhanced team collaboration via daily stand- up meetings; and greater visibility into the actual state of a project through the frequent integration and delivery of working code.

A typical day for a developer at Borland starts with the daily standup meeting where each team meets to discuss what they accomplished the day before, what they plan to work on that day, and any roadblocks or hurdles they are encountering.

"Our teams run their standup meetings with the TeamFocus team board projected on the wall and available to any distributed team members," Morowski said. That way, if they change tasks or reassess work, "they can immediately enter it into the system that they use throughout the day, keeping the team - and the entire organization - up-to-date on the project. From there the teams go away and execute. That is the beauty of the approach."

TeamFocus is a Borland technology for facilitating agile development.

He also noted that Borland is expanding beyond R&D to look at things like improving its processes at the beginning and end of the "pipe" to accommodate an increased cadence in delivery. "No longer are dev cycles measured in 12 to 24 month cycles," he said. "This drives a different behavior in both requirements definition and the NPI [New Product Introduction] processes to meet this change in frequency."

Morowski also said the company's new headquarters is designed to support the needs of the agile team.

As for benefits from agile development, Borland increased its number of releases per year by 100 percent, Morowski said.

"We've created one of the closest, most successful vendor-customer partnerships I've ever seen, and we've deepened our relationships with many of our strategic customers, who have participated in more than 50 sprint reviews," he said.

Using TeamFocus, the company has reduced administrative and planning overhead by an average of 15 hours per three-week sprint. "And I'd say we've eliminated six days a month of VP and director time per product group previously spent reporting," he said.

Morowski also said Borland also has increased product quality, reducing open issues by 50 percent from release to release.

Borland TeamFocus, which will be generally available during the fall, is an enterprise project management and execution product that has helped the company with its transition to an agile enterprise, Morowski said.

However, TeamFocus is designed to support both agile and traditional approaches to development, allowing teams to work the way they are most effective. For instance, the agile teams use it to plan releases and sprints, manage their backlogs and user stories, and collaborate with burn down charts and corkboards, Morowski said.

"The tool is designed to support the way agile teams work, empowering them to be more effective at their jobs while automatically giving management visibility into progress," he said. "Today, Borland's agile teams use TeamFocus to manage their daily stand ups and sprint reviews. It also serves as the daily -workbench' where agile teams can chart progress against the daily plan, keep updated on changes and stay on the same page throughout the execution of the sprint. From an organizational perspective, TeamFocus gives department heads a -roll-up ' of all their projects. Here they can view current, in-flight metrics, which TeamFocus displays from the underlying ALM tools - in our case Borland Caliber, Borland StarTeam and Borland SilkCentral Test Manager."