It was very interesting to interview Siddharta Govindraj, the founder of SilverStripe Software as we talked on a variety of topics related to Agile development, including the processes involved, agile development tools, myths & realities that surround agile development and even briefly about the origins of the agile movement.
Silver Stripe Software is a startup based in Chennai, India. They specialize in agile project management tools that ease the pain in making software deliveries. They believe that project management is as much about communication and social aspects as it is about numbers and metrics. Hence, their goal is to make software delivery a little less hard with elegant solutions to difficult problems.
I decided to break down the interview questions into a series of posts to make for better reading. Here is the first part.
There is a tendency among some of the folks who practice agile to interpret the “Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools” in the Agile Manifesto to mean that Agile software development does not require any defined set of processes. So what is your take on that?
Siddharta: This is a good question, because the Agile Manifesto actually says individuals over processes – so why are we all talking about agile processes? There are two parts to this question – one is about processes and another is about defined processes. Now, what agile says is when you have different projects running, they all run in different conditions. You might have one project which is composed of a lot of senior people, you might have another project with a lot of junior people and a couple of senior people.
Now what we say is that we can’t have the same process for both the teams because the team structure is different, so some practices that work for the senior teams will not work for the mixed team and so on and so forth. So while they will follow some practices, they might follow different set of practices. Now that’s a process, but then it’s not a centralized defined process done by someone sitting in an ivory tower who then enforces it among all the projects in the company…that’s something which people are genuinely against.
Now, what we say is have a process – but have a process which is suitable for your condition. And that’s where agile comes into the picture because there are numbers of practices within agile. If you look at Scrum, there is a retrospective which encourages teams to take their own process decisions to introspect about what they feel and decide if they want to things differently. And that’s all under the idea of evolving the process to suit your own conditions.
So you have to see and adapt accordingly.
Siddharta: Inspect and adapt – that’s the core word here. So while you may follow a process – it’s not a centrally defined, enforced process among all the projects – that’s bad.
Let’s move on to how the tool market is doing. The agile tool market has well-known (enterprise market) players like Rally, VersionOne, TargetProcess and a host of other lean agile tools – so where does Silver Catalyst fit in, how does it compare and how do you hope to make an impact?
Siddharta: The strategy followed by Rally, VersionOne is slightly different from what we are doing. Rally and Version One are really targeting big enterprises who are transitioning to agile, so apart from the tool they provide a whole lot of other services, for example coaching, certification, training. So you can take a tool or company which is not agile and move them to agile, and the tool is just one component of it. So they are looking at companies that are transitioning to agile.
What we follow is targeting teams who are already following agile and the difference is – if you search the internet about what people think about these tools, you’ll find Rally, Version One etc are targeted a lot towards management because they are the guys who are pushing the adoption and change, so there is a need of reports. But the people that are actually using the tool are developers and testers. And a lot of them find it too complicated and too cumbersome to use. It’s not really suited from their line of thinking – what they need to do on a day to day basis.
So Silver Catalyst, because we are targeting teams who are already agile, we are really focusing on how we can make a tool that’s easier to use and better for the developer. We want to make a tool such that you can get your job done in 2-3 min and get on with your work. We don’t want you to spend half a day or one day just figuring out the tool and grappling with it. That’s just a waste of your time because you could be doing a lot of productive work on your project in that time. So that’s kind of different markets which we are targeting and different mindset with which we started when we developed Silver Catalyst.
That’s a very interesting take. But like I said there’s a lot of lean tools in the market, is there any key difference that Silver Catalyst brings to the table?
Siddharta: When it comes to lean tools, I disagree that Silver Catalyst is only a lean tool because it’s got lot of integrations with 3rd party software which many lean tools don’t have. And we have hosted as well as onsite versions. Again, many of the smaller, lean agile tools tend to be hosted only.
There is a difference when you talk about enterprises. One of the key factors which they look at is security of their data – they don’t want their data stored on a 3rd party server and so lot of these companies actually want onsite server versions which they can install and use. Enterprises also want integration with all their other tools, where as smaller companies may be ok – it can be pure project management. But an enterprise or the bigger company will want integration between the parties and between the tools that they use to provide an integrated workflow.
So that’s your key strength.
Siddharta: Yes, we have a server version as well as integration with third party tools that many of the smaller tools don’t have.
I’ll be posting the next few questions shortly or you can LISTEN TO THE AUDIO of the full interview right now.