Impediment Management and the Agile Triangle

The Agile Triangle, a concept that was discussed by Jim Highsmith in his book Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products, describes how teams and organizations can go beyond the traditional Iron Triangle in defining project success criteria. In the Agile Triangle, the traditional project constraints of schedule, cost, and scope are confined to one point of the triangle. Balancing out the triangle are quality and value. Agile software development practices have provided huge innovations in delivery of working software from an internal and external perspective. Practices such as automated unit testing, Test-Driven Design (TDD), and Continuous Integration (CI) have transformed our industry and enabled new go-to-market strategies for the business of software products.

Agile Triange (Jim Highsmith*) adding Software Debt

Agile Triange (Jim Highsmith*) adding Software Debt

When looking at the Quality point on the triangle, this is where I see the realm of Managing Software Debt providing a strategy to support greater value generation within the defined project constraints, as shown in the diagram above. Creating a software debt management strategy involves thinking about feedback mechanisms for each type of software debt: technical, quality, configuration management, design, and platform experience. For technical debt, which tends to be focused on code, we can use tools such as Sonar to provide feedback on changes. For quality debt, we can look at defect containment metrics, bugs escaping iterations and into releases, as a feedback mechanism to trend. Configuration management debt could include the ability for an application to use 2 scripts, deploy and rollback, for all environment deployments and promotions along with monitoring branching in source control for potential integration issues (Sonar is integrating this capability, as well). Design debt can be monitored using Sonar and design assertion frameworks such as TisUgly for Java that I created and never marketed well a couple years ago. Finally, we can monitor the effectiveness of our platform experience debt management strategy based on impediment resolution cycle time or other team and management measurements.

This last point about impediment management is incredibly important and doesn’t get enough attention in the Agile community, in my opinion. In fact, as someone who is experienced in supporting enterprise Agile adoptions for defined business objectives, impediment management can be a critical element of sustained Agile software development effectiveness. When organizations hit a wall with impediments, mostly organizational impediments to delivering increased value to customers, they become susceptible to reverting towards past practices to reduce noise and ignore the effects of these impediments. The diagram below shows how impediment management is a wrapper around the Agile Triangle to support increased and sustained value delivery over time.

Agile Triange (Jim Highsmith*) adding Impediment Management

Agile Triange (Jim Highsmith*) adding Impediment Management

Impediment management comes down to communication. How are impediments raised? When impediments are not within the team’s realm of control to resolve, how does management support their resolution? At enterprise scale, is there a need to provide visibility to more than 1 or 2 levels higher in the organization? If so, how do these enterprise impediments get handled at strategic levels in the organization? What is your impediment management strategy?

Please let us know your thoughts on the relationship of impediment management and Agile Triangle. Also, tell us in the comments section how you see impediments managed in your organization. What is going well? What could be improved? How are they escalated? We look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences.

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