Agile development practices at Microsoft

Friday, May 30, 2008 – 12:27 PM

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy pointed me at a great paper from Microsoft Research:

Usage and Perceptions of Agile Software Development in an Industrial Context: An Exploratory Study

There are lots of interesting pieces of data in this paper. Two things that really stood out were firstly that about a third of the survey’s respondents use agile software development and over 80% work on co-located teams.

Reading through the data makes me think that the agile adoption number is actually a bit lower than that. The data on methodology adoption (figure 1) makes me suspect that people who are using “other” methodologies or “don’t know” what methodology they’re following might well be doing something like Scrumerfall – which I don’t consider . The usage of different agile practices (figure 2) also suggests that a reasonable number of people who describe their daily process as “agile” may not be using any of the common agile practices. I’m not saying that following the practices makes you agile, or visa-versa, but it does seem less likely. Successfully delivering a continuous stream of value to customers in the face of changing business requirements is much harder if (for example) your team has no direct interaction with the customer (25%) or doesn’t continuously integrate code (15%).

The co-location data (table 2) is also interesting. Co-location doesn’t vary between agile and non-agile teams. In other words over 80% of teams at Microsoft are located within the same building, regardless of their approach to software development. I was actually expecting a much lower number for this as almost all of p&p’s teams are in some way distributed. Very few teams, less than 10%, share the same office. This is in part due to Microsoft’s cultural use of individual office spaces as a sign of status as they are assigned based on length of service. Given the size of some buildings at Microsoft defining co-location as occupying the same floor or building may seem like a stretch to many agile practitioners who work in the same room.

I’d encourage you to read this paper as to some extent what’s happening at Microsoft reflects larger trends within the industry. I remember the day I realized that all the common meeting places in building 41 now had signs up booking them for standup meetings at various times during the day!

Note: If your interested in how Microsoft has been using Agile on large projects then the paper I co-authored last year on scaling agile for the Visual Studio Tools for Office product team “Agility and the Inconceivably Large” is also available online.

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Portishead – Third

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