This blog is all about my experiences and insights as an Offshore Software Development Entrepreneur. It describes the inherent challenges that come with offshore development as well as the solutions we use at Ignite to create a high-performance cost-effective onsite-offshore software development model.

December 8, 2007

When Offshore meet Agile - Take 3

Agile development recognizes that in reality the development process is spiral and involves frequent "regressions" to earlier phases, and creates an iterative process that imitates reality. It breaks the project down into short development cycles, generally monthly or bi-monthly.

Each of these cycles covers detailed design, development and testing of the software segment - a working application with some of the desired functionality starting from the first milestone. Most important, immediate client feedback is required at the completion of each cycle. This feedback is feasible since milestone delivery includes a product, as opposed to fragmented pieces of compiled code, that provides a certain percentage of the desired functionality and can be checked against the requirements.

An iterative process is created that rapidly converges into the final requirements, the detailed design and the finished product. The client's involvement in the development process boosts his confidence in its quality already at the early stages. Also, the large number of development cycles and the corresponding large number of quality assurance cycles improve the software quality, despite the shorter development period.

Off course, everything has its price. The above iterative process demands high discipline by the development team members, skill sets that are easier discussed than effectively achieved (Test Automation, Continuous Integration) and significant overhead costs. In addition, a psychological gap exists that must be bridged. It is mentally difficult for R&D managers to adopt a process that recognizes that the requirements are likely to change.

How does Agile development methodology effects offshore projects in reality?

In a specific software project performed by us, it was required to set up a Provisioning system using a Business Process Management (BPM) platform. The project contained a high degree of uncertainty since the client did not fully recognize the capabilities of the BPM platform and did not properly define either the business processes or the system's functional requirements. At the start of the project, the offshore team was unfamiliar with the platform and the external systems with which the provisioning system had to interface. Instead of building a standard development process, according to which after six months we would proceed to integrate the systems and discover various problems, we built an Agile process based on monthly deliveries, as follows:

- The infrastructure of the provisioning system was defined and developed.
- A pilot provisioning process was defined and developed to give the client a feeling of the end-
user experience.
- A Web Service was developed for every external system with which the provisioning system
had to interface.
- The final provisioning process was defined and developed following the client's requirements.
- Additional capabilities were added such as Failover, Clustering, transaction management, error
handling, etc.

The client felt deeply involved in this development process. The monthly deliveries helped him to specify the final requirements as the development work progressed. The regular feedbacks enabled the offshore team to quickly grasp the client's business logic and part of the requirements were in fact proposed by the development team! The automatic testing process ensured that progressive changes made would not affect the product's quality and the subsequent integration phase was reasonably smooth.

For the sake of comparison, a previous Provisioning system developed by a different development team engaged by the client used twice as many resources and finished the project at a significantly lower level of quality .