Agile software development is at the core of Salesforce.com’s success, providing a framework for predictable high quality releases while fostering innovation, said the cloud provider’s head Agile coach, Evan Willey, in a session at Dreamforce 2012 last week. In this post, TheServerSide.com shares the Agile development techniques and advice Willey and Salesforce’s top development leaders delivered in that presentation.
Willey moderated the session, and panelists were Salesforce.com vice presidents Brian Zotter, Engineering and Cheryl Porro, Platform Quality Engineering, as well as Jason Winters, Principal Design Architect, User Experience; Pratima Arora, Director, Product Management; and Rajani Ramanathan, COO, Technology & Products.
Rapid growth pushed Salesforce.com toward its Agile practice, dubbed Adaptive Delivery Methodology (ADM), in the early 2000s. Delivering products quickly became difficult. Release schedules slowed down, and quality control was difficult. In fact, Saleforce.com issued only one major release in 2006. http://scottdunn.blogspot.com/2010/01/salesforcecom-success-with-agile.html
“It was a big shift going from waterfall to ADM,” but the release slowdown had to be fixed, said Porro. The company had to act quickly to deploy high-quality and innovative releases more frequently. The key to success was buy-in throughout the organization. “The whole team got on board,” Porro said. That’s true today, too, and every Salesforce.com employee is trained on ADM.
The team is a lot bigger than it was back in 1999. Salesforce.com started with three people in research and development when founded in 1999, and now has about 300 times more.
Like Agile development, an ADM core practice is iterative development with a goal of rapid feedback. Other key principles include:
- Eliminate waste by focusing only on what customer wants, not extra features. “Focus on the highest value delivered to customer, and get the most important thing out quickest,” said Porro.
- Build quality into every step and every player’s work. Salesforce.com embeds testing and quality in every process, said Willey. Porro noted that quality also drives innovation.
- Respect people, because that’s the engine that drives excellent delivery. “It’s about inspiring the team,” which requires continuous education and being open to ideas from all levels, said Porro.
Respect can be built into processes, said Ramanathan. “Provide a framework to take advantage of the talented people you’re hiring,” she said. One example is giving employees the option to change teams if they’re not happy on a team. Also, simple changes in processes can show respect for remote team members. When her stand-up meetings include on-site and remote team members, everyone calls in. “So, there’s not the dynamic of one group together in a room and others alone on the phone” missing non-verbal cues and often unable to hear everything said in the on-site room, she said.
- Empower team members to make just-in-time (JIT) decisions. Giving team members the ability to make urgent decisions helps break dependencies that can cause missed iteration deadlines. Give your team members at every level room to operate, said Willey. Arora noted that rapid changes in technology and strategy calls for empowering JIT decision-making.
“Agile is a bottom-up process, which gives authority at the bottom to say what works best or doesn’t work in the process,” said Aurora. “It gives power to the people.”
- Fast delivery is crucial. “Fast delivery helps us meet our goals of getting feedback and validation quickly,” said Zotter. ADM teams use pilots, focus groups and other means of getting quick feedback. Winters noted that seeking constant feedback is a “way to protect the trust of enterprise customers while innovating.”
Agile-based ADM has been an unmitigated success for Salesforce.com. Late releases are non-existent, and a three-times-a-year release schedule for product lines is a reality.
ADM and Agile will help Salesforce.com adapt to market and technology changes, said the panelists, naming mobile development as a current top challenge.
“The mobile revolution is pushing the limits of Agile and Scrum,” said Winters. “It’s an innovation explosion!” ADM principles help to make it through.
Winters also delivered the session’s final piece of Agile advice: “Always question what you are doing!”