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Agile Software Development: a MasterChef analogy

Company’s who keep applying “Snicker bar” production processes (defined process control) to create complex software will keep crashing over waterfalls again and again until they choose the sweet taste of success.  While looking behind the scenes of Tsogo Sun’s massive kitchen with its GM Antony Larson and talking to MasterChef contestant Chef Song, I was intrigued how similar their environment is to developing quality software.

Image courteous of  MasterChef.com

While Lean started out as Toyota’s competitive advantage, today it’s a competitive reality if you expect to be a formidable player in the manufacturing industry. Similar to the process of cutting waste consistently over time revolutionized manufacturing across the world; so too must the software development industry transform from expensive, top heavy, prescriptive traditions to the light manoeuvrability and sufficiency of the 21st Century. Considering that most clients don't know what they want until presented with something, let’s rather give them a small “something” earlier and if they don’t like it or it’s wrong there’s time to change it. If there’s a chance you’re going to fail, rather fail sooner than later. While developing software is challenging and doesn’t include a money back guarantee it’s futile expecting one. Traditional methods like Waterfall can only produce success when all requirements are fully understood up front without changing during the development process. These are still so widely used because they’re easy to understand and visualise especially for management who might lack software engineering knowledge, the false impression of predictability is tantalising and above all the thought of change is far too daunting for some people.

Despite the challenges of volatile markets, ruthless competitors, indecisive and frustrated customers we’ve managed to complete our traditional projects while surviving one of the worst industry recessions. Unfortunately the hierarchical, command-driven processes that worked so well initially are now stifling the very innovation they sought to plan and channel. Coping with change is one thing but successful organisations like SalesForce and Google envisioned the changes on the horizon and prepared themselves before it came. Not only does this require considerable operational agility and flexibility by the employees but significant organisational vision and commitment by its leadership.

“Dr Winston W Royce says “In my experience, the simple method has never worked on large software development efforts and the costs to recover far exceeded those required to finance the five-step process.“”

While every organisation and process has issues, what’s critical to staying competitive is the ability to detect and eliminate problems quickly and effectively. Central to agile is honesty: being honest with each other about money, about technical delivery and quality, about requirements and time. For companies to remain competitive, they must be capable of adapting to the global, real-time, customer-driven market in which they operate. As there is no escape from this continuous, constant and unrelenting change, businesses have no choice but to adapt to in order to survive and thrive. For software companies brave enough to turn to Agile development practices benefit from its highly collaborative, iterative and focused on the rapid and repeatable delivery of software.

The Agile umbrella includes several popular methods such as Scrum (created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland), XP, Feature Driven Development, DSDM and Lean Software Development to name a few. So what makes Scrum special, different or better than the rest: It’s a supportive environment, where people at all levels show respect and trust for one another, the qualities of openness, honesty and courage are fostered at all levels, individual gain becomes secondary to collective advancement and where decisions are made by consensus, rather than imposed from above and all knowledge is shared in a fearless and transparent way.

“As Mandy Schoeman, Scrum Solutions CEO explains “MasterChef contestants survive by using an empirical process (transparency, frequent inspection and adaptation) approach to produce appetizers, entrees and desserts from weird unpredictable ingredients (variations in software requirements, market conditions, the development environment, human behaviour, etc) within fixed time period (time boxes) while paying close attention to the oven, blender and stove top (tools) to prevent the dish (product) deteriorating beyond salvage.”

26 August  2013 by Mandy Schoeman of Scrum Solutions.