Sunday, April 12, 2015

Apply agile methodologies to upstream development environments.... if you can.


 Introduction


When the Agile Manifesto became popular and based on them, agile methodologies like Scrum, XP or Kanban, upstream development was in its early stages as collaboration ecosystems of companies.

Only a few for profit organizations embraced developing upstream back then. Most of them were small and heavily influenced by FLOSS engineers vision. Free software communities were basically driven on personal basis or the very lucky ones, together with "sponsored developers". In general, these ecosystem were not part of companies strategies.

Today, more and more companies are getting fully involved in community projects as stakeholders, not just consumers or simple contributors.

They frequently start as consumers, then, little by little they become "upstreamers", that is, they share/publish their code with the goal to have it merged (upstream code). Not without effort, many of them become successful contributors.  After some time, some of them end up understanding that is "cheaper" to play by the project rules. In summary, they learn to become good citizens.

A subgroup of the above companies end up including these collaboration ecosystems as part of their own strategies, going from contributors to  key stakeholders. A necessary step to achieve this goal is to work upstream.

Walking this path present many challenges. One of the toughest ones is related with the differences in development methodologies used internally (mostly agile) and those used in the collaboration ecosystems.

There are two fundamental variables that, in my opinion, determine this challenge:
  1. Environment
  2. Culture

Challenges


1.- Environment


There are two dependent variables that were not taken into account (or just partially) when the agile methodologies were defined, that are relevant in upstream development:
  1. Community projects are global environments, that is, contributors are located in different "offices", frequently in different time zones.
  2. Probably due to the original amateur condition of early contributors, together with the "distributed condition", the development processes (so the tools) in most mature community projects, consider, manage and tolerate high levels  of latency.  "Real time" is restricted to IRC discussions and events/conferences.

These two factors has made open source what it is today. They have been "success factors".

Agile methodologies do not embrace "distribution" environments. The widely accepted recommendation is that teams should share a physical space. It is way more than a recommendation. It is somehow a requirement.

The second case, "latency", is considered by agile methodologies as a waste. It is not tolerated.

2.- Culture


Free Software was born as a reaction to a system that promoted corporation interests over developers, so users. The agile movement was a reaction to those methodologies that put process first, not people. Hence, it is obvious that both movements share a lot: people first

This is reflected by some when saying that FLOSS development is agile.

In my opinion, there is a big difference between what agile methodologies and what Open Source development propose in terms of principles.

Agile methodologies promotes a strong team culture. Open Source was born "based on champions". FLOSS culture normally applies the meritocracy concept to individuals.  Open Source projects are organized around contributors, around specialists, not around teams, as we understand them in corporate environments.

This is no surprise since Agile was born in companies/corporations and Open Source was born as a viral movement, grown "by aggregation".

The conflict


In my opinion, the more the industry embrace open source, and as result, open collaboration, the higher the conflict developers and managers will face due to the above challenges.  Companies are becoming more distributed environments and are working more and more upstream, instead of simply being consumers or occasional contributors.

In consequence, it would not surprise me if we hear more and more about  "corporate development methodologies" (a.k.a. agile) vs. "upstream development methodologies" (a.k.a. FLOSS).

Scrum, XP, Kanban -ish fans will need to face those challenges and find solutions in order to succeed in open collaboration environments. In the same way, based on the increasing influence that companies are gaining in these ecosystems, FLOSS methodologies in a few years will differ from what we knew 10 years ago.


This conflict will not be (is) about a R&D vs a product/service vision, it is not about creativity vs efficiency, it is not about micromanagement vs autonomy or teams of juniors vs specialists either. It is about methodologies applied to specific environments and its limitations. Maybe a simple update of the most successful agile methodologies will do the job.... or maybe we need to revisit some of the principles.

If you got here, maybe you want to take an extra step and answer these questions. I would appreciate it:
  1. Do you perceive this conflict as I do?
  2. Am I missing other key elements in the diagnosis?
  3. How do you think we can adapt agile methodologies so they can be adapted to FLOSS environments?
  4. I am interested in knowing how you adapt agile methodologies to overcome the above challenges. I plan to write about my experience these coming days.
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