Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
United Kingdom Government Software

World's Biggest 'Agile' Software Project Close To Failure 349

Posted by Soulskill
from the be-careful-not-to-learn-anything-from-this dept.
00_NOP writes "'Universal Credit' — the plan to consolidate all Britain's welfare payments into one — is the world's biggest 'agile' software development project. It is now close to collapse, the British government admitted yesterday. The failure, if and when it comes, could cost billions and have dire social consequences. 'Some steps have been taken to try to rescue the project. The back end – the benefits calculation – has reportedly been shifted to a "waterfall" development process – which offers some assurances that the government at least takes its fiduciary duties seriously as it should mean no code will be deployed that has not been finished. The front end – the bit used by humans – is still meant to be “agile” – which makes some sense, but where is the testing? Agile is supposed to be about openness between developer and client and we – the taxpayers – are the clients: why can’t we see what our money is paying for?'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

World's Biggest 'Agile' Software Project Close To Failure

Comments Filter:
  • by kthreadd (1558445) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @10:35AM (#43821131)

    But it might make it clear that it will fail much earlier and then at a lower cost.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Pretty much this exactly. Also, it's tough to get programmers and managers who have never worked in an Agile environment to buy into it. My company started using it 4 years ago and we still have a few holdouts despite the obvious benefits in both productivity, cost and simply a better work environment for everyone. Hell, I think the best part about the Agile process is those one or two guys on a piece of a project that never seem to do anything and could end up causing drama simply doesn't happen in a pr
      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @10:58AM (#43821259)

        ...since there is daily accountability and you're working on smaller pieces.

        So that means it's impossible to do anything big or that requires extended planning? Sometimes a developer needs to be left alone for a week to come up with something good. Regimenting the process into days and forcing a daily bullshit update is just abusive to the creative process.

        • by tgd (2822) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:21AM (#43821395)

          ...since there is daily accountability and you're working on smaller pieces.

          So that means it's impossible to do anything big or that requires extended planning? Sometimes a developer needs to be left alone for a week to come up with something good. Regimenting the process into days and forcing a daily bullshit update is just abusive to the creative process.

          You've already failed at project of that size if you're letting a developer be "alone for a week to come up with something good". A developer's job, in a project like that, isn't to come up with something good. Their job is to implement a specific piece of functionality in the specific way defined by the people whose job is to have the broader view of the project.

          Some developers may not like working in that environment, and they shouldn't be working on a project that size. Cowboy programming is for small companies. (And, for what its worth, I've worked directly with many hundreds of engineers in the last couple of decades, and the happiest engineers are the ones who recognize which kind of project they like to work on, and avoids working on the other.)

          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:44AM (#43821519)

            The short(er) and honest version is that projects like that are inclined to fail, spectacularly and at great expense, whilst everyone on the job gets paid either way.

            People are either accountable or not. When you have teams of "project managers" that don't know shit about shit, shoveling ridiculous and disparate feature changes into the (often offshore) dev shops inbox, while their programmers simply crank out code to match, you're begging for the whole thing to go right in the toilet.

            Large consulting firms like Accenture build their entire business around this kind of approach. The result is always a failure that costs millions (or in this case billions) of company/government dollars on a product that doesn't do what it was supposed to.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:53AM (#43821579)

            Agreed. Agile is a WHOLE lot easier to get wrong than it is to get right. The benefits it promises come only from the synthesis of ALL its components. Project managers who think they understand it, but don't quite get it, wind up tweaking it just a bit (in a way that seems to make perfect sense) and that tweak completely undoes the approach. The effect often isn't instantaneous...it is felt over the life of the project.

            Be that as it may, for some types of projects Agile is flat out wrong.

            Agile is awesome when you can't afford to frontload your development costs, don't really know which features will get a lot of use and which ones will just collect dust, and when your project manager actually understands agile. But there is a very severe drawback when you are building a huge feature-rich juggernaut of a system that needs a very sophisticated and precise back-end: refactoring costs go through the roof.

            Agile proponents often get angry when one says anything bad about it, and yell about how writing maintainable code is one of those elements of agile that you can't sacrifice. And I agree. And the refactoring cost gets more evenly spread that way, but remains astronomically high for complicated systems. Here is exactly why:

            Every feature you add to a back end system, no matter how well coded, increases the complexity of the system.
            The more complicated the system, the more expensive it is to add a new feature to it.

            Waterfall can give you some savings in this specific department because the initial system design already includes the final (or near-final) level of complexity, so you don't pay the extra cost of adding a new feature to an already existing system over and over again. Waterfall still has costs in that some of those features may never be used, and hence are wasted effort, and also misestimation and requirement changes are more expensive and put a project past deadline. But for huge systems, these costs are preferable to the project-destroying costs of agile refactoring.

            There isn't one approach that is right for every problem, and agile is not the right approach for this one.

            • by sphealey (2855)

              - - - - - Agreed. Agile is a WHOLE lot easier to get wrong than it is to get right. - - - - -

              Of course waterfall and other strict-spec methodologies have a 72 year history [1] of failing spectacularly too, and from about 1980 have had the added bonus of being too slow for business velocity.

              sPh

              [1] counting from about 1940, although projects using the mechanical accounting systems of the 1920s may have had similar problems

              • by Aighearach (97333)

                I'd want to see a cite for that one. Waterfall has been accused of being slow, of being expensive, and making it difficult and expensive to make changes after the first phase. Those are all legit "cons" of waterfall development.

                But the form that is actually used and called waterfall in practice is also known to work very well. Maybe not on a cost/benefit analysis for small business. But on large projects it not only works, it has been used to build most of the stuff that has, you know, been built. It is a c

                • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @02:42PM (#43822837)

                  I'd want to see a cite for that one.

                  This is not an area where it is possible to give "a cite" since there are whole genres of literature covering this topic alone. If you haven't read ."The Mythical Man Month" [wikipedia.org] (please note; the book has a Wikipedia page; this is not an Amazon link) then that is where you should start. Not because it is complete, not because it is up to date, but because it will make you realise that the problems of today's IT were already fully described in the '70s and that our advances in the last decades have been incremental and mostly small.

                  Next time you drive over a bridge, be glad they used a waterfall-like development paradigm.

                  Bridges do not work the same as software development. Whilst each individual bridge has some differences in environment and location, in general you are just repeating a structure which has already been build long ago. In sofware the equivalent of building a new bridge is the "cp -ar" command. Agile is mostly designed to address development of new features on pre-existing software which is completely different.

            • by Aighearach (97333) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @01:36PM (#43822335) Homepage

              The benefits it promises come only from the synthesis of ALL its components.

              Yes, yes, we've heard it a thousand times, if an agile project fails, it must not have been truly agile. Probably isn't a true Scotsman, either.

          • by LifesABeach (234436) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:54AM (#43821585)
            This should be modded Score 5, Funny. Your thesis is that everyone knows what thery're doing, except the programmer that can't make it work, and is honest enough to tell you so.

            Repeat after me, "The King has no clothes." It just doesn't get old.
          • by sphealey (2855) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:49PM (#43822027)

            - - - - - A developer's job, in a project like that, isn't to come up with something good. Their job is to implement a specific piece of functionality in the specific way defined by the people whose job is to have the broader view of the project. - - - - -

            The unstated assumption in that theory is that there is a group of human beings who are unto demigods, capable of defining detailed specifications that cover all eventualities, see far into the future, and can be implement mechanistically by simple code grinders. I have run into two or three such people in my entire career, out of the thousands of system architects and business analysts I have worked with in some capacity. And even those three people (a) often got caught by surprise by unintended side-effects (b) were often part of a process that took so long to come to fruition the system so designed was obsolete by the time it was deployed.

            The only industry I am aware of where strict, spec-controlled waterfall is probably appropriate and generally works is aerospace controls systems. Of course that industry is notorious for huge schedule and cost overruns (the A400 software fiasco is particularly instructive in this regard), and even their software is not free from bugs and unintended consequences. Ref the numerous changes Boeing has made to the electrical system control software on the B-787 since it went into service - why didn't they just "get the spec right the first time"? Enrico Fermi's comment on how to manage the unknown is very instructive.

            sPh

          • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @02:00PM (#43822535)

            ...since there is daily accountability and you're working on smaller pieces.

            So that means it's impossible to do anything big or that requires extended planning? Sometimes a developer needs to be left alone for a week to come up with something good. Regimenting the process into days and forcing a daily bullshit update is just abusive to the creative process.

            You've already failed at project of that size if you're letting a developer be "alone for a week to come up with something good". A developer's job, in a project like that, isn't to come up with something good. Their job is to implement a specific piece of functionality in the specific way defined by the people whose job is to have the broader view of the project.

            Parent poster here. I see your point, however, my experience has been that separating the designer/architect role from the developer role is fraught with pitfalls. The people writing the code should be the ones designing it, otherwise you end up with a skyscraper put together with superglue instead of bolts and welds. The response to that is to have precise specs, but the time spent writing specs that are precise enough to be flawless is more productively spent doing the actual coding.

            The bottom line to all management fads and whether a development process is effective and ineffective are fundamental human limitations:
            1. Quadratically growing communication overhead as teams get larger [wikipedia.org]
            2. Finite human memory capacity, limiting how much information about a project each developer can be aware of (and each developer must be aware of the whole project, to avoid causing havoc or reinventing the wheel, or they must be sequestered in their own subcomponent)

            A good team size appears to be five, and an organization should not have more than five teams that need to intercommunicate. The challenge is to break up a piece of software to fit this kind of arrangement. Anything else will lead to company-wide split-brain, NIH, and communication bottlenecks. This is true regardless of the development process selected. Fundamental human limits are like the speed of light, you can get closer to them, but you cannot exceed them. So assemble good teams, architect your project to fit those teams (or vice-versa), and remember that everyone is human.

          • by JDG1980 (2438906)

            You've already failed at project of that size if you're letting a developer be "alone for a week to come up with something good". A developer's job, in a project like that, isn't to come up with something good. Their job is to implement a specific piece of functionality in the specific way defined by the people whose job is to have the broader view of the project.

            You're going to have a hard time hiring and retaining decent developers with that kind of approach.

            • by tgd (2822)

              You've already failed at project of that size if you're letting a developer be "alone for a week to come up with something good". A developer's job, in a project like that, isn't to come up with something good. Their job is to implement a specific piece of functionality in the specific way defined by the people whose job is to have the broader view of the project.

              You're going to have a hard time hiring and retaining decent developers with that kind of approach.

              If I'm running a billion dollar engineering project, the engineers who can't work with the team or think -- with their extremely limited view of the project -- that they know what needs to be done aren't people I'd want on the project anyway. I might have a hard time hiring and retaining, but I'd have an easy time firing. Been there, done that. Cowboys are toxic to large scale engineering.

              Just as you don't want a steel worker deciding a beam should be attached differently when you're building a skyscraper b

      • by Virtucon (127420) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:00AM (#43821273)

        I agree but the daily accountability is still something that a lot of hard core developers don't buy into. The "leave me alone" mentality still prevails in big shops. There's also a lot of gaps in Agile and IMO while Stories are great they are not a substitute for fully defined requirements analysis. Not that they can't go hand in hand but I've watched lots of Agile projects fail because of incessant changes in vision and invalidation of stories subsequent to their definition by other stakeholders. The key stakeholders either don't pay attention or louder voices who have really no relative bearing to the project somehow get suddenly important. These are often folks with something to gain by holding things up or creating confusion. That is always the problem in all projects but it seems more acute in Agile because "hey, we have a process that can allow for these changes." Ultimately the team gets into a tail chasing situation and nothing of value (to the key stakeholders) gets built and the project gets cancelled. On the successful projects that I've worked with in Agile, there's strong stakeholders, good architecture keeping the vision in place and project management that keeps things well orchestrated. Without those in the mix, it'll fail just like all software projects.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by SirLurksAlot (1169039)

          There's also a lot of gaps in Agile and IMO while Stories are great they are not a substitute for fully defined requirements analysis.

          I hate to break it to you but "fully defined requirements analysis" is a pipe dream filled with rainbows and unicorns. I have never, not once, seen a requirements document that accurately captures exactly what the system will do. Even if it did it would be true for all of 5 minutes before the product owner/user changed their mind and redefined what they want. The whole poi

          • Depending upon what type of software you are writing, if you aren't doing some fairly detailed requirements analysis then you are setting yourself up for failure. Case and point, medical devices and financial systems. In both cases you can't just go in there and change things on a whim as there is paperwork that is involved with documenting why you are even making the change in the first place.

            It sounds to me like the direction they are taking the project (waterfall model for the back-end and Agile for th
          • by naroom (1560139) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:51PM (#43822047)
            If all "Agile" really means is "Do the project in such a way that it will succeed", then "Agile" is a useless word. Agile has a bad case of "No true Scotsman" [wikipedia.org].
          • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:52PM (#43822061) Journal

            I hate to break it to you but "fully defined requirements analysis" is a pipe dream filled with rainbows and unicorns. I have never, not once, seen a requirements document that accurately captures exactly what the system will do.

            Well, I've written them, and I've never had a project fail.

            One example involved interviewing

            i) the owners of the company

            ii) an executive from each department

            iii) a "regular joe" representative from each department

            This became a 40+ page project specification, which was signed off by all stakeholders and became the contract.
             
            Then this document was fed into a series of code generation engines, which created hundreds of thousands of lines of code. This was all done with an eye towards allowing various professionals to go away and do what they do best without getting held up waiting on each other or tripping over each other, filling in the missing functionality in the generated code.
             
            That system is still in operation close to a decade later, organizing the working lives of thousands and serving the needs of millions.

            Now I work in Agile. I hate it. I'm always having to check with other people constantly to move forward, I never get in the zone, there's a lack of clarity and vision, and I feel like I'm getting stupider each day and I'm not producing my best work.

            • I just want to add...

              Try writing a project that meets ISO specifications for medical use using the waterfall method.

              People will die.

          • by Aighearach (97333)

            I hate to break it to you but "fully defined requirements analysis" is a pipe dream filled with rainbows and unicorns. I have never, not once, seen a requirements document that accurately captures exactly what the system will do.

            Well take a look at a bridge or a tall building. "Waterfall" design process is just "traditional engineering process." You've never seen a fully engineered system, well, sure. I believe you. That doesn't mean it is doesn't exist.

          • Deloitte tried classical waterfall for our SAP implementation.

            The specs delivered by the first wave (who got bonuses, parties, and 24 months of 45 hour weeks) were not even FUNCTIONAL in many cases and did not capture essential business rules. Noone at the start really knew what was right or wrong so they just wrote up crap and it got signed off on as complete specs.

            Then the rest of us got 36 months of 60 to 80 hour weeks (multiple deaths, non fatal heart attacks, divorces) doing the work in a waterfall mo

          • I have never, not once, seen a requirements document that accurately captures exactly what the system will do. [...] The whole point of stories is to do things in small, end-to-end slices to produce functionality quickly, let the product owner see it and play with it and then get a better idea of what they really want.

            Well, in this case, "what they really want" tends to be defined literally by Acts of Parliament and/or policies set by the highest legal authorities in the government. I know it's popular to mock politicians in Europe for having no idea what they're doing economically, and it seems there's some truth to that in light of recent events, but you don't implement software to automate a major component of your national tax and benefits system in incremental changes with one guy designated as the project owner wh

          • by Virtucon (127420)

            I hate to break it to you but "fully defined requirements analysis" is a pipe dream filled with rainbows and unicorns. I have never, not once, seen a requirements document that accurately captures exactly what the system will do. Even if it did it would be true for all of 5 minutes before the product owner/user changed their mind and redefined what they want. The whole point of stories is to do things in small, end-to-end slices to produce functionality quickly, let the product owner see it and play with it and then get a better idea of what they really want. I know what you're going to say next: "If they keep changing their minds then how does it ever get done?" Simple, you make it extremely clear that continuously changing their mind directly equates to more time and money spent and prevent other functionality from being implemented.

            LOL, you haven't done much with big clients in big corporations and the government have you? Requirements analysis can be done and yes, it's like anything else if you pay attention and have committed stakeholders who are willing to validate what's put down on paper then you'll be successful. Stories are great, don't get me wrong but invariably they don't get into enough detail. I realize it's about breaking things down into smaller pieces to show progress but progress to what? If's it's something small

      • by tgd (2822) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:18AM (#43821373)

        Pretty much this exactly. Also, it's tough to get programmers and managers who have never worked in an Agile environment to buy into it. My company started using it 4 years ago and we still have a few holdouts despite the obvious benefits in both productivity, cost and simply a better work environment for everyone. Hell, I think the best part about the Agile process is those one or two guys on a piece of a project that never seem to do anything and could end up causing drama simply doesn't happen in a proper Agile setup since there is daily accountability and you're working on smaller pieces.

        "Waterfall" -- i.e., the "old fashioned" way of doing things -- does one thing very well that Agile loses. And that thing is something that was understood for a century of large project management planning. Waterfall ensures quality with a team of varying abilities, or large teams. Agile ensures predictable delivery, but quality is very dependent on the individual abilities of the team members.

        Anyone who has done large projects would know immediately that you don't do a billion dollar project with a pure Agile methodology. You simply can't get enough people who are strong enough to deliver a quality output without a very high amount of formal planning and progress gates.

        The most successful large (multi-hundred engineer) projects I've seen in the last five years tend to use waterfall for the overall project, but encourage teams to run their parts of the work in an agile manner. You get the visibility into progress that way, but the formality of process to ensure you're really building the cohesive system right.

        • by gutnor (872759) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:12PM (#43821725)

          Actually Agile would probably handle mediocrity quite well, at least making it apparent.

          What agile really sucks at is handling the political aspect of the project, because simply agile requires complete honesty and honesty does not scale very well above a small team. In a very large project involving loads of teams, management is a lot closer to a poker game and you don't win at poker by showing your cards to all the players.

    • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:12AM (#43821335)

      But it might make it clear that it will fail much earlier and then at a lower cost.

      But apparently it didn't succeed in that, either. They're discovering massive failure only after three years and billions of pounds.

      • by CadentOrange (2429626) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:20AM (#43821393)
        It could have been a lot worse. They could have discovered it after decades and spent even more billions. Like the central NHS database project.
      • But it might make it clear that it will fail much earlier and then at a lower cost.

        But apparently it didn't succeed in that, either. They're discovering massive failure only after three years and billions of pounds.

        The people doing this project are human they make mistakes. Besides we don't know how Agile they are I've worked on a lot of Agile projects and a lot of Waterfall projects and I've never seen one yet that was wholly Agile. I'd be more interested in how much of it was outsourced but then I didn't RTFA

    • ...because of the development model.

      They fail because there was not enough though put in up front and the requirements are vague.

    • Being called 'Agile' doesn't mean that it is in the spirit or letter of 'Agile'.

      The reality is that 'Agile' is in practice more of a brand than anything else. Project Managers love to apply the terminology to their projects. This does not mean they actually meaningfully follow a consistent set of behaviors, just that they use similar sounds words.

      'Agile' is like 'Cloud' and 'Web 2.0'. While each phrase may have coined with a particular specific concept in mind, they became more hype than anything usefull

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        He says he is a Scotsman, but until we know if his kilt length is 1650 or 1750 we can't be sure.

        That said, you should actually look up "agile development" because it is NOT like "cloud " or "web 2.0" at all, it is a very specific set of things that comes from actual documents and books that established it.

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @10:38AM (#43821143)
    Agile assumes you have smart, talented, dedicated individuals doing the work. Then again if you have that pretty much anything works.
    • by jacobsm (661831) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @10:44AM (#43821177)

      Agile is just the latest management fad. In a year or two something else will come along, and the lemmings will follow.

    • by zitsky (303560)

      Do you actually work as a project manager? I do. Try executing your idea in an average company and see how far you get. Good luck getting only "smart, talented, dedicated" individuals for your project! Even those employees will have character flaws, personality conflicts or other reasons that prevent the project from succeeding.

    • Agile assumes you have smart, talented, dedicated individuals doing the work.

      And, I would wager, reasonable, patient, even handed clients (which will be the government, and not the ridiculous assertion as stated in the article that it's the taxpayers). I challenge anyone to look at the Victorian dinosaurs in power in the UK and assume any of those qualities.

      That was just a cheap shot at the government, I admit it.

      I imagine whatever will run UC on a technical level will just be another government collossus. Their minds are incapable of conceiving or implementing anything else.

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @10:41AM (#43821161)
    I refer to it as "Monkey's Paw Development" (And before anybody asks agile to me ends up being "Hey let's ask developers what they'd wish for in an awesome development environment. Then give them that but give it to them in such a way that they regret ever asking for it.")
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick.
    After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick.
    Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick."

    I've worked with a few different methodologies in my time, but now that I'm older I realize all you have to do is follow common sense. It's really not that difficult.

    • by Junta (36770) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:51PM (#43822051)

      Whether it was 'waterfall', 'agile'', or whatever, every project that I've worked with that seemed to put more effort into using the most hyped phrasing to describe their process than into actually developing the project has been doomed.

      I liken it to religion. The spirit of most holy texts is quickly lost in the actions of adherents as they focus on the specific content rather than the message. For Christianity, specific belief in the divinity of Jesus seems to often be more important than adhering to his teachings. Similarly, in Agile, managing to map words like 'scrum', 'sprint', 'epic', 'user stories', and so on to what you do is more important than internalizing the original intent behind those words.

      Projects that don't make a lot of effort to 'conform' to any specific renowned fad tend to do well. They also tend to do the sorts of stuff Agile advocates without using the words.

      • by bondsbw (888959) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @04:54PM (#43823523)

        For Christianity, specific belief in the divinity of Jesus seems to often be more important than adhering to his teachings.

        Why would someone listen to the teachings of an individual but deny his most central message? Why would you say, "This guy is a complete liar about being God! But I'll follow everything else he says."

        To quote C.S. Lewis:

        A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Indeed. The problem is that not many people actually have the common sense required and that complex software projects are routinely attempted with cheaper, not very competent developers. That can never work. Complex projects need masters of the art, no matter what the art is. And the masters of the art need to be put in charge, not managed by some "managers" that do not have a clue. If you do not have a "chief engineer" in charge that could do most parts with his/her own hands, then you are doing it wrong.

  • That question would indicate to me that they're doing Agile wrong. Agile development ought to include a short feedback loop that includes not only the client, but automated tests. So, if this question is legitimate, then something is very wrong with how this project has been run.
  • Open Source It (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Saturday May 25, 2013 @10:47AM (#43821199) Homepage

    Agile Needs Testing? Open Source It.

    It's perfect for that. Open an issue tracker, let folks dump in the requirements. Give us the backend API, and I'll work on it for free an hour or two here and there, just for grins.

    Oh, it's closed source? Well, I hope it's a massive disaster and you learn your lesson. You can't pay for the brightest minds. They wouldn't be caught dead slaving away at those software houses. But let them do it "for the good of mankind", they'll be brow bashing each other for a chance to get their beautiful bit of brilliance in the code base.

    • by westlake (615356)

      Agile Needs Testing? Open Source It.

      Open Source a project to consolidate all national welfare transfer payments in a country of 63 million. Meeting all accounting and legal requirements. Now tell me how you recruit and manage OS "volunteers" with the depth and experience needed to do that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The government is the client. There is no reason for the public to be involved in an unfinished project.

  • world's biggest? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hackula (2596247) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @10:51AM (#43821225)
    "World's biggest" and "agile" don't really go together. One of the core tenants to agile is to break things down into small chunks. Multi year contracts for a predetermined end product are waterfall by definition. Either way, I have seen waterfall work just fine and I have seen True Agile[tm] fail hilariously miserably (to which most Agilistas respond with some form of the "No True Agile" fallacy). The most important thing is tight iterations. If a 2 week sprint fails, then it is not that big of a deal. If a 2 year death march fails? Someone's getting fired, since its the equivalent in agile-land of failing 52 sprints straight.
    • by simonbp (412489)

      World's most agile Zeppelin?

    • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:49AM (#43821553) Homepage

      The most important thing is tight iterations. If a 2 week sprint fails, then it is not that big of a deal. If a 2 year death march fails? Someone's getting fired, since its the equivalent in agile-land of failing 52 sprints straight.

      But is it two weeks sprint down a dead end? For a project this size, agile is like trying to build a skyscraper first as a one story building, then two story building, then three story building and so on. Apparently you're making great progress the first sprint and you have a shack up, that's 1/100 floors done already. Except it doesn't work like that, so sometime around the 20th floor you've got people all over the first 19 trying to build in extra support columns and stronger walls and propping up the foundation. Things grind to a halt and you're not making any real progress. Then the orders come to get moving and you start going upwards again more and more rickety until eventually you find the straw that broke the mule's back and it all comes crumbling down.

      Agile is nice if you're close enough you can start delivering actual features that would belong in the end product at the end. In practice it often means you build the first iteration with string and duct tape planning to replace it with something more solid on the back end in time, but I think everyone knows how that goes - the string and duct tape has a tendency to stay because that part is "done". Of course hindsight is always much easier but agile I feel lacks foresight, we do this now to meet our sprint goals and then if we need to change something to meet our next sprint goals, we'll deal with that then. In practice, there's not time to go back and rework things every time you figure out this should have been done differently.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's the usual crowd screwing money out of the government

    HP/IBM/Accenture/BT

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/130677/response/322518/attach/html/3/FOI%203648%20Response%20181012.pdf.html

    • Notice they've got Oracle in that list. This vendor list is a nasty bunch of international billionaires-- individuals and corporations. These are the kind of companies who want to "partner" with you if you use their products-- one doesn't "buy" Oracle (or IBM or BT) products, one carries them like an STD. Note the three local contractors and sub-contractors who sell to the government, and then sub out to a bunch of bloated global corporations who have no (non-monetary) interest whatsoever in the project working, and probably won't repatriate the profits. This does keep the salaries in the field high. And the government has no choice but to bid out another contract for a plum software project right soon. There's a lot more partnering to do.
  • Yeah... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:00AM (#43821275) Homepage Journal
    Just because you're agile, doesn't mean you crap daisies and unicorns. I often see inept upper managers latch onto agile as the latest magic bullet which will solve all their problems with no other changes on their part. Except they keep all the micromanagement bits, discard all the engineer empowerment bits and hand their scrum team a year's worth of priority 1 stories to implement in the next sprint. Good managers will likely be successful no mater what methodology they use, bad ones will likely fail no matter what methodology they use and the ones in between will have mixed results no matter what methodology they use.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:05AM (#43821297)

    All Agile methodologies really are are different ways of implementing the Spiral Model of development. If used correctly, any of them can work fine. Unfortunately, that's only in theory. In practice, Agile generally becomes an excuse to use Code and Fix, which is the worst methodology and the most prone to failure. Beware anyone who claims that Agile is the solution to anything.

  • by houbou (1097327) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:08AM (#43821309) Journal
    To me, "Agile" isn't meant to be free for all. Rather, it's meant to decouple the development of large software into more manageable chucks and teams.

    Someone still has to helm this and there has to be a rather obvious set of goals and objectives to attain.

    The problem I've seen with Agile, is that often, the software is being developed as it goes and to me, that's poor use of the "Agile" experience.

    To me, Agile would mean that the software architect(s) know what they are doing, and have a bloody good idea of the road map to take to get there.

    The "Agile" part is that for each of these goals to achieve, there is a separation of tasks and an agreement on implementation specs.

    Any single team has full knowledge of the objectives of other teams and thus, this team can concentrate of their specific task and at the same time, mockup whatever is required to support their work based on any of the dependencies which depends on other teams work.

    Unit Testing, Functional Testing, etc, all of that must come into play.

    The Agile process should NOT be 'on-the-fly', which is what I've often seen, for that is the reason why we get delays and development costs going over budgets.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:12AM (#43821339)

    The UK Government used to have its own internal computer consultancy. This was called the Central Computer Agency - the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency after it took over running the government phone network.

    CCTA was staffed by a mixture of experienced civil servants and expert contractors, and provided support to all UK government department's computer projects. It had procurement experts, sizing experts, code, architecture, the lot. When these experts were not working for Departments they worked on UK and international standards and methodologies. Some of you may remember the OSI, ITIL, PRINCE, PROMPT, SSADM, CRAMM, BS7799/ISO 27001/2, BS5750, etc...

    In those days UK Government projects ran to time and came in on budget, with CCTA project managers. But CCTA was constantly under attack from the computer industry, who saw CCTA as an expert gatekeeper, stopping them from making major profits out of government projects. They lobbied for its closure constantly, and in 2000 they got their wish. CCTA's major functions were closed down and the rump moved to OGC

    Interestingly the CCTA Security and Privacy Group (the only UK Government computer security organisation at the time) had been closed down earlier at the request of GCHQ and MI5, who wanted to take its budget and responsibilities. The SPG arguably ran the first CERT (though not called by that name) in 1984, and was influential in developing, inter alia, early AV company liaison and security accreditation with initiatives like Common Criteria.

    The UK government departments, encouraged by a variety of groups with ulterior motives, cut off its nose to spite its face. They are now a byword for incompetence and overspend. The collection of experts which existed in Riverwalk House during the 1980s and 1990s will never be replicated again...

  • Brogrammers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:36AM (#43821465)

    A lot of the 'agile' models reward talkers and people who take immediate action and can rattle off buzzwords, at the expense of more introverted engineers who like to investigate and plan before they act. In a continuously moving environment such as a social networking site, that reward system might be appropriate. In a financial back end doing mission critical work, that sounds like a disaster. So, no surprises here. One size does not fit all companies.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @11:58AM (#43821617)

    Agile/Extreme programming is the alternative medicine of software development. It's a collection of mostly unrelated and sometimes contradictory concepts, the only common thing between them being lack of widespread adoption. Like alternative medicine, it has components that are useful in some circumstances. These give unearned credibility to Agile, even though they were there well before it. The problem is also similar, these components are taken to the extreme and are claimed to be universal solutions to every situation. For example, acupuncture is useful to ease pain, but no matter what the charlatans say it doesn't help against cancer. Similarly, frequent testing during development can be useful, but test-driven development is taking it to the extreme, and it doesn't work at all in for example web development. And like alternative medicine has homeopathy, Agile/Extreme has their own set of ideas that are total bullshit like pair programming.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:11PM (#43821723) Journal
    Basic problem here is non-programmers in the management visualize software "product" being manufactured somewhat like a very sophisticated assembly line or teams of workers putting together a product like they did before the assembly line was invented. But software is organic, it is grown. It is not grown like rows and rows of corn in a field but more like growing a city from a village. You are not going to plunk down a new 80 story skyscraper in downtown without huge disturbance to existing structures and users near by. You are not going to add a new Lorentz transform based asymptotic wave form expansion feature in the middle of the simulation sequence without huge disturbance. Or add payroll processing of German employees to you American HR system without serious disturbance.
  • by devent (1627873) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @12:35PM (#43821927) Homepage

    This should be suppose an article about "agile" and the Universal Credit. After reading the article there is no information what-so-ever, except that the Universal Credit project has been admitted to be failing.

    So why is Universal Credit an "agile" project?
    Why it is failing?
    What is Universal Credit anyway?

    Maybe that is why Twitter is so successful, the whole article is just a Twitter message: "Universal Credit, suppose to be biggest Agile Software Project, is failing".

    Here is some more information:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/apr/29/universal-credit-pilot-scheme [guardian.co.uk]
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/30/universal-credit-iain-duncan-smith [guardian.co.uk]

    Is it called "agile" because it's a "step-by-step approach" ?

  • by Loki_666 (824073) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @02:07PM (#43822585)

    Over my career, i've worked in the UK Benefits Agency processing claims, i've worked in their IT departments, i've worked for the outsourced departments later supporting them, and i've worked for a software company which loves agile (but will do waterfall if pushed).

    The problem here isn't waterfall/agile. The problem here isn't .Net/Linux.

    The problem here is the parties involved. On one side you have a government agency where people obtain seniority largely through age, not skills, and the main skill that is relevant is passing the buck when things go wrong and taking the credit when things go right (really, this is government agencies through and through - not to mention, most people with real skills/brains get out as soon as they can). On the other side you have the dinosaurs of development (not necessarily age, but sizewise).

    Somebody earlier in the thread stated this whole project could have been delivered with much lower cost, with just a few devs, in a much shorter time. I'm 100% in agreement with them. The only real complexity of most government systems is the labyrinthine workflows, but they are documents and strictly followed in their paper variants, its just a matter of getting an understanding of this and turning it into software.

    My recommended development approach for this project would have been as follows:

    1) Hire some decent devs. They don't need to be hotshots, what is being developed is fairly simple from a technical standpoint. Mainly guys who can follow a spec.

    2) Take a bunch of people who actually do the work for real, the paper pushers. Take them down the pub and get them rat-arsed. Listen to them bitch and whine about all the idiotic things they have to do in day-to-day operations.

    3) Take notes of their bitching! It may help if you are drunk!

    4) Any requirements given to you through the official channels are probably worthless. Dump them. They will simply mislead you from what is actually required.

    5) Build the system based on what you learned from the drunk employees.

    6) Demo it to the stakeholders and hand over.

    7) Contract fulfilled.

    Oh, and of course.... 4) Profit... erm...

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @02:17PM (#43822673)

    Two principles were key and could be used in any methodology.

    1) Address risky (new technology, undefined specs, etc.) first
    2) Regular time boxed functional builds.

    If you can't address the risks successfully, then at least you can cancel the project early.

  • by chicago_scott (458445) on Saturday May 25, 2013 @09:32PM (#43824859) Journal

    There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people... Religion, Politics, and Agile.

"Success covers a multitude of blunders." -- George Bernard Shaw

Working...