I felt like a psychiatrist in October 2004. An endless stream of strangers was coming to my office to complain about the software I was responsible for. I did not need to ask the classic question “How did you feel about the software bug?!” – I was proactively advised how the person calling upon me – every person! – felt about it… Some actually reverted to Hebrew (my native tongue) in order to make doubly certain I did not miss any nuance of their disappointment, dismay, despair, anger, anxiety and anguish. The only saving grace I had was that I have just been hired to turn the product around. It was a little difficult to implicate me after a few days on the jobs for problems that had evolved and accumulated over years of neglect.
The situation with the product I was responsible for – BMC’s PATROL/Performance Manager - indeed was not pretty. We had to cope with the confluence of three painful factors:
- Technical debt: Hardly any dollars were available for technical training During the 2000-2003 period and various folks started falling professionally behind. In addition, off-shoring to India had been rushed to the extent that proficiency in software engineering was grossly neglected in the hiring process there. Between these two factors, a high level of technical debt was the inevitable result.
- Configuration management debt: The fundamental architectural concept of PATROL was easy to abuse from a configuration management standpoint. This vulnerability was compounded by doing all too many exceptions in the form of “just this special version for a single preferred customer.” Over the years the situation got out of control: too many coding branches; too few branches converging back to the mainline; etc.
- Loss of heart: As the going was indeed tough, various execs at BMC concluded that other system management spaces presented more attractive opportunities. Hence, we were subject to multiple rounds of cost cutting.
On the other column of the metaphorical balance sheet, the enthusiasm at all levels to adopt Agile was tremendous. All I needed to do top-down was to create the environment within which the bottom-up implementation of Agile flourished. I was so impressed by the bottom-up momentum that I asked one of the directors reporting to me why they did not do Agile before my coming aboard. The sobering answer I got was “your predecessors would not let us.”
An aspect that stood up for me as most characteristic of the BMC Agile roll-out was the dogged determination to make it happen. Till this very day I consider the BMC Agile transformation a visceral organizational reaction of employees who knew they could do better and were hell bent to prove it. Becky Strauss, the director in charge of the roll-out, captured the spirit by describing it as wanting only to go forward, never backward.
After a couple of years of Agiling it day in and day out, I thought we were doing pretty well. I, however, did not know that we were indeed doing pretty well. I reached out to Cutter’s Michael Mah who compared the BMC results against a sample of some 7500 software projects in the QSM database. The results, depicted in Figure 1 and Figure 2 below, were beyond my wildest dreams.:
Figure 1: Time-to-Market as Function of Release Size Figure 2: Productivity Index per Software Sector
The results measured by Michael reaffirmed for me a core belief that I had developed as a young man in the Israeli army: ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results. We did not have, with all due respect, extraordinary talent at BMC; our development tools were nothing to write home about; the problems of communicating effectively across 10.5 hours of time zone difference from Austin, TX to Pune, India were very real; and, we were subject to repeated layoffs. What we accomplished was primarily a matter of doing the right things by an extremely important stakeholder – the business unit employees.
Looking back at 2004 from a 2011 perspective, I find it so very appropriate that the BMC experience has a Cutter chapter to it. As reported above, colleague Michael Mah carried out the productivity and time-to-market analyses on the BMC transformation. Another colleague and friend from the BMC days - Hubert Smits - joined Cutter a few months ago. I can’t wait till the three of us have the opportunity to work again together on a Cutter engagement.