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Improving Software Development at Scale: Promise and Pitfalls

Improving Software Development at Scale: Promise and Pitfalls

Software (as frequently observed) is hard. And software development at scale is particularly hard. Evidence suggests a strong inverse relationship between the likelihood of a software project delivering its planned benefits (within budgeted costs) and the project’s size. While this is nothing new, we should ask why has there been so little improvement over the years.

Agile methods undoubtedly contributed much over their first two decades to the effectiveness of software teams – particularly “coffee-pot-sized” teams developing new products. Agile methods were primarily designed with this sized team in mind, and agile process frameworks are still defined almost entirely with reference to this scale. In their third decade however, the question of how these methods scale can no longer be avoided. This presentation, rather than focusing on the new frameworks that are now emerging, reviews anecdotal evidence as well as theoretical ideas on what improves (or degrades) performance of large initiatives… in particular the management behaviours that have proved helpful or counter-productive in real projects.

Large scale does not invalidate strategies that work at small scale, however it does introduce management problems that are new – problems that are not overcome by simply “keeping the geeks away from the suits” (or keeping the “chickens” silent while the “pigs” speak)!

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