Justin Francis Self-Portrait

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Multi-Project Agile

We have just inherited a new project with existing codebase and developers. The team has grown and the size of the codebase we need to maintain has grown. We are, however, facing some questions about how to plan for both our primary project and this secondary project, which is being end-of-lifed. We are not talking about two major components of the same application; the two projects have different architectures, languages, stakeholders and developer expertise.

A few little problems before we begin. We decided to have the iterations for both projects operate on the same schedule to reduce problems with planning and tracking velocity (described below). We also separated the code repositories and project planning software instances.

The big problem is how do we apply agile planning to both of these projects with a single team? From what I can see there are two major ways to tackle the problem. The first is to divide the team in some way (by day, by developer, etc). The second is to ignore that the second project is different, and plan the team's time as a single entity.

There are a number of ways to divide the team. We could devote all of a developer's time. We could also rotate developers days or a week at a time. The second would be preferable because then all developers are exposed to both projects. This is essentially creating two teams, whether actual groups of developers, or simulated groups of developers (by dividing based on time). We would then have two iteration planning meetings; one for each block of time. The problem with this approach is that the stakeholders cannot control the amount of effort spent on each project. Because there are conceptually two teams with two velocities, they must plan them separately and make concessions separately.

Intuitively, however, I think the second option holds more promise. In this scenario, the extra project works just like a separate component of the existing project. The team has a certain velocity, which the stakeholders can apply to both projects as they feel is appropriate. This means a single iteration planning meeting with a single velocity with the union of all stakeholders to plan the team's iteration. The major problem with this is that it is dirty for developers and planners. Developers have more severe context-switching and planners will probably need tools that can do multi-project planning to track velocity at the team level instead of project level.

In the end, we have opted for option 2 because of the flexibility it adds. It will be rough for us internally until we can get things running smoothly. It is a crummy situation all around to have to maintain an assumed system. Planners and developers will hurt, but it is an experience everyone should go through (just like working on that crummy system) to drive home the principles put forth in agile methodologies and simply good programming practices.

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