Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Other Agile Development: CollabNet and Collaborative Agile Development

This blog post highlights a software company and technology that I view as potentially useful to organizations investing in agile development, agile new product development, and business agility over the next few years. Note that, in my opinion, this company and solution are not typically “top of the mind” when we talk about agile development today.

The Importance of Collaborative Software Technology to Agile Development

Today, I received a presentation about IBM’s collaborative technology under the heading of Lotus that emphasized its positive effects on business agility. And yet, there was no mention of increased support for agile development tools and methodologies. Instead, the focus was on incorporating “social business” and “mobile” in collaborative technology. This approach, all too common among vendors of collaborative software solutions ranging from email to videoconferencing to Facebook-type information sharing, has already proven itself almost entirely ineffective in improving development or business agility, and sometimes has caused organizations to reinforce instead of moving away from un-agile practices.

A careful study of software development shows that only three software development approaches have had any positive impact at all recently on development TCO, ROI, percent completed on time/within budget, and customer satisfaction: agile development, collaborative development, and “hybrid” open-source/traditional development.

However, when we isolate the three, agile alone is clearly superior to hybrid alone, and far superior to collaborative alone. Add agile back to the mix, and the result is only slightly better than agile alone. The conclusion is clear: the main benefits from either collaborative or hybrid alone come from “unconscious agility”, such as the ability of hybrid to incorporate unexpected but valuable additions in the middle of the development process, or the ability of collaboration to improve a slightly agile development process such as a spiral methodology.

These results, however, do not consider the case where collaboration software is deliberately designed to focus on supporting agile development. In those cases, collaboration software’s support for distributed and multi-person development where necessary should remove much of the “drag” on agile development that such situations create, by wedding the maximum of “methodology fit”, loosely-coupled flexibility, and automation to the necessary coordination techniques like versioning and application lifecycle management. Beyond that, collaboration, with its ubiquitous presence in the organization can, once targeted to agile NPD or another agile business process, deliver the same scalability and distribution benefits. In other words, the collaborative framework of an agile, scalable business process is already there; all you need to do is infuse the collaboration technology with agile “smarts” and insert the agile methodology.

And yet, up to now, those solutions are thin on the ground. Look where you will, at IBM’s Jazz plus Lotus or HP’s Mercury Interactive extended to Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), and the major vendors are not delivering collaboration software clearly targeted to agile development methodologies. However, these solutions are indeed beginning to arrive – from the likes of CollabNet.

The Relevance of CollabNet to Agile Development

The leadership role of CollabNet in collaborative agile development is no surprise, given its original leadership role in collaborative development in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, that did not guarantee that CollabNet would recognize the synergies between collaborative and agile development when collaborative was targeted to agile. For a while, rather, CollabNet aimed partly at the offshoring market, which in some cases decreased development agility by forcing design separated temporally and physically from the development phase – not to mention the end user. This lasted until the likes of Wipro climbed on the bandwagon of agile, often ahead of IT and the major development-tool vendors.

Still, it is surprising and heartening to see how far CollabNet has come since that time. Every other word on the product section of the web site is “agile,” and CollabNet backs that up with a SCRUM-support toolset called SCRUMworks with which its other solutions such as TeamForge and the ALM toolset are specifically integrated.

That, in turn, is why I conclude that CollabNet is settled in for the long haul, and is therefore a safe bet for IT buyers. As a Web-based collaboration and then an offshoring-focused solution provider, CollabNet was more dependent on speculative markets (not to mention smaller) than it is now. Having survived the transition from one strategic focus to another, it is centered around an industry – agile development tools and services – that has enormous “legs”, as agile development not only spreads throughout organizations but also matures and elaborates its methodology in technology to achieve far more – such as the “continous delivery” that I have mentioned in a previous blog post. Yes, the majors may roll over and crowd out CollabNet by using their clout in existing business collaboration software – but that would be to suddenly deep-six their existing high-end-development toolsets, which I believe require long periods of retrofitting before they can support agile development project management adequately. No, I think that CollabNet is well set up to be among the leaders in collaborative agile development over the next 2-3 years, and probably well beyond that.

Potential Uses of CollabNet-Type Agile Development for IT

Obviously, CollabNet is best suited to organizations of all sizes right now that require distributed team development and are adhering to a SCRUM-type agile technology. However, it is also appropriate to cloud agile development (especially public cloud), because that also emphasizes distributed development and deployment for multi-tenant SaaS in globe-serving multi-location server farms. And, of course, IT with legacy development offshoring and outsourcing will find that CollabNet, due to its experience in those areas, provides a transition to agile practices.

It may seem odd to also propose CollabNet for NPD, rather than the heavyweight lean-plus-agile or innovation-centric tools that have been used up to now. However, I believe that CollabNet should be considered as an alternative/complement to these, especially for the SMB, because its DNA lies in the Web-oriented movement that emphasizes crowdsourcing and global-consumer attention rather than in the existing “lean-focused” NPD tools that emphasize information flow within the business. For SMBs, especially those for whom software is increasingly a product differentiator, something like CollabNet offers an opportunity yet again to outmaneuver the clumsier large enterprises. This is particularly true when the SMB is already leading-edge in agile NPD.

Of course, CollabNet cannot incorporate existing and upcoming social-media input quite as well as a Lotus or perhaps a Google. That’s when the IT buyer should complement CollabNet with features from the appropriate social-media-rich-collaboration-software-plus-development-tool vendor. But combining the two, rather than tossing CollabNet, is probably the way to go.

The Bottom Line for IT Buyers

The bottom line is short and sweet: Over the next 2-3 years, IT buyers should not seek to implement collaboration and hope for increased agility, but rather buy collaboration tools focused on agile development, and be assured of bottom-line results even beyond those of agile development itself. Don’t bother with a pre-short list; get a short list, put CollabNet on it, make your choice, and get going. Hopefully, we’re past the time when anything about agile development had to prove itself by traditional cost and quality metrics – which never saw the cost/revenue/margin/customer-satisfaction forest for the “you’re wasting time and money right now” trees. The benefits are already proven. Get on with it, already.

Of course, you never know which smaller companies will fold, or be acquired and lose their technology edge as they scramble to integrate with less-agile large-vendor solutions. I never say never, but CollabNet appears to be one of the least likely to fold – and the larger vendor may also provide additional useful collaboration software and services.

If you’re still reading this, you’re not agile enough. Go look at CollabNet-type agile-aimed collaborative development solutions. Make CollabNet one of the solutions to be inspected. Go.


Chad said...

Great post. Also check out when evaluating companies such as Collabnet. said...

Wayne - we've never met. But amazingly, you've captured the essence of our company (CollabNet). Bourne out of our open source roots, CollabNet’s ( focus on transparency, openness, and distributed team access shared many of the principles of agile. Extending our focus and functionality from open source / dev communities to ALM to agile ALM in the cloud was a logical progression. At a very early stage, we decided our focus was on building a web based development platform that provided deep software engineering capabilities and that also incorporated a rich set of collaboration capabilities – and not the other way around. We believe this focus on software collaboration first would allow us to be in it, in your words “for the long haul” once web (i.e., cloud based) development became more mainstream. Now that it has, many other vendors are pivoting off of their large (e.g. Lotus) general purpose collaboration install base in their attempt to offer agile solutions. But this approach has its limitations when focused on the effort involved in really achieving enterprise software development agility – a point your blog captures nicely.

Bill Portelli
President and CEO

Wayne Kernochan said... actually, I followed them for my own amusement when I was at Aberdeen back around the early 2000s. You picked a great solution to be CEO of. Best of luck. Of course, if you ever need a paid white paper ... but I'll like you anyway :) - w

Agile Management said...

Good article.
The popularity of Agile software development is growing as adoptees experience faster production, improved quality and, not least of all, a more flexible and collaborative process designed to accommodate change.