Ann All spoke with Bruce Randall, director of product marketing, HP Project & Portfolio Management Center, HP Software & Solutions.
All: What are the primary benefits of using Agile frameworks for software development?
Randall: There's certainly a lot of interest in it. A number of our development teams run in an Agile mode while others operate in waterfall mode. Some are switching to Agile, and others are staying where they are. I think the primary benefits people hope to gain with Agile are faster development cycles and speed to market, and also better quality at the end of the day. One of the challenges Agile creates, though, is losing track of what's going on at the higher level. You lose the big picture, to some degree.
"We want to make sure our users are able to see the forest through the trees. We want them to be able to keep the business objectives in mind at all times."
All: Because of the speed and the focus on producing rapid iterations?
Randall: Exactly. You're doing smaller pieces of the pie. So looking up and seeing what the whole pie looks like can be more difficult to do. From our experience, we've seen both better quality and faster development cycles, but you constantly have to remind yourself what the goal is at the end of the day.
All: You say project and portfolio management (PPM) software can help. How? Is it mostly through keeping better track of the status of multiple projects?
Randall: That's part of it. But there's a bigger picture. At its core, project and portfolio management, at least HP's product (HP Project and Portfolio Management Center) is focused on the high level. We want to make sure our users are able to see the forest through the trees. We want them to be able to keep the business objectives in mind at all times.
We did an ROI study of our customer base. We have about 1,000 customers actively using our products, and most of them are fairly large organizations across the spectrum of verticals. We had a third party survey them to discover the benefits they got [from PPM] from a dollars-and-cents perspective. They got an average 6.5 percent savings in their IT budget in the first year, and that's after factoring in the costs of deployment and implementation. That doesn't matter whether you're doing standard development or Agile development.
PPM starts with things like looking across every project, whether it's Agile or whether it's waterfall, and trying to determine whether they will meet your business objectives. That's the first step. We call it portfolio management. Customers are able to save 7.8 percent of their IT budget within the first year, just on that alone. That's from eliminating projects that are duplicative or ones that weren't going to meet the business needs and requirements anyway. Then the project management or the governance process over all of the projects that are happening produces 3.1 percent savings. We see a 30 percent increase in on-time projects in the first year and a 45 percent increase by year three. This is with organizations that were doing both waterfall and Agile development.
All: Are there misconceptions about PPM?
Randall: Sure, there are misconceptions about PPM. Also, nobody likes change. It's hard to adapt for people to something that changes the way their world works every day. If you're a line developer, developing code every day, then PPM to you probably feels almost like a heavyweight process. How can you develop better and faster if someone is peeking over your shoulder, right? Most organizations adopt PPM over time. Because of the processes you do manually, think of just reporting, even the line developers have to produce manual reports about what they are doing on a daily or weekly basis. PPM automates that to a degree, so they don't have to spend as much time building reports.
All: So that's how you can win the developers, by showing them how PPM can free up their time for development?
Randall: Exactly. Imagine how much easier it would be to report if you automatically tracked all the milestones and whether you met the stage gates in your project, and whether you met the quality targets.
All: What about other misconceptions?
Randall: Most people have used Microsoft Project before. When you talk about PPM, that's what they think about. I wouldn't say the typical desktop version of Microsoft Project really helps you understand your overall goals. You're just tracking certain projects, not looking at the overall portfolio of things in which you could invest. Another value we haven't talked about is resource management, understanding the dependencies between projects and programs. You have skills that are shared between projects. If you're aren't careful, those skills can become bottlenecks.
All: Can PPM software like HP's help determine which development projects are better suited to Agile or waterfall?
Randall: If you think about the process in PPM, you set up a proposal. It doesn't matter whether it's Agile or waterfall, you determine the resources and not just in terms of money, but in terms of software licenses, labor and so forth. Then you take these proposals and look at them against each other, based on a number of metrics that are important to you, whether it's compliance or ROI or you name it. Then you can easily see where your bottlenecks will occur. This can be six, eight, nine months out. You can say, "Somewhere down the line I'm going to need another DBA, and I don't have this person." So you know you'll either have to hire someone or make adjustments in the project schedule.
All: I know I've heard people say PPM is better suited to large enterprises than to smaller organizations. Do you think that's true? Are there lighter- weight PPM tools for smaller organizations?
Randall: Well, I manage a few people myself, and I've thought about putting in PPM just for them because of the challenges in reporting. I spend a couple of hours every week trying to collect their status reports, and they probably spend several hours getting them together. If we had PPM, I could track what we were working on, they could just track their time against it, and we'd get a good picture. We wouldn't spend hours and hours just building reports that aren't really that valuable. So I think there's value for even the smallest organizations. We sell (HP Project and Portfolio Managment) as software-as-a-service, which is a good option for smaller organizations.