When Agile Falls Short: iRise CEO

As iRise launches its ambitious cloud-based visualization platform, CEO Emmet Keeffe tells us agile doesn't actually work on the vast majority of projects.

Chris Murphy, Editor, InformationWeek

January 29, 2015

3 Min Read
Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/raver_mikey/with/7189023490" target="blank">Gene Hunt, (Flickr)</a>

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As CEO of the software visualization platform iRise, Emmet Keeffe talks to a lot of CIOs about software development strategy, and he hears many describe a variation of this struggle:

Business units want working code in 30 or 60 days. That points to iterative, agile development; but agile "doesn't actually work on the vast majority of projects," Keeffe said.

Agile works well for digital, mobile, and consumer-facing Web projects, but that's maybe 20% of projects at most big companies, Keeffe contends. At multinationals -- ones with $10 billion+ revenue and stakeholders worldwide who can't get into one room for code sprints or daily meetings, companies that have most of their coding done by outsourced IT shops -- he sees IT leaders "struggling with traditional, religious agile."

iRise lets business analysts build simulations of what finished software interfaces will look like, without writing any code. I talked with Keeffe as iRise is launching iRise 10, which provides a browser-based, fully cloud option for the first time. Its cloud subscription costs $195 per user a month, for teams of at least three authors and 15 contributors.

[ Want a different view? Read 4 Signs You're Doing Agile Development Wrong. ]

Keeffe's pitch is that companies can do what he calls "agile the easy way," or alternatively transforming pure waterfall development "into an agile plus waterfall." By using iRise visualizations, analysts and business end-users can hammer out how software should work, doing iterative, real-time visualization models to decide what features and workflows should go into the system, in much less time than a written document would take. That's the agile element. Then they can hand that visualization prototype to outsourcers to make it reality. That's the waterfall piece. Keeffe described it as moving the prototype up to the beginning of the process without having to bring the company through a full agile transformation.

What Keeffe proposes isn't a simple change, even without the agile transformation. Business analysts need to change their role, for example, moving from requirement gatherer and documenter to a discussion leader for the prototype. iRise has a services team that helps companies make that change, and CIOs I've spoken with about using iRise, at huge companies such as UPS, say it doesn't work unless the CIO drives the change across the company. "That's our biggest challenge -- convincing CIOs they're going to have to make their organization uncomfortable," Keeffe said.

There's no denying that IT must deliver more user-friendly software, and do it faster. Those are the forces Keeffe sees driving change. Beyond the time pressure we noted earlier, CIOs are seeing that "if the user experience isn't right, [employees] just won't use it," Keeffe said.

But agile development advocates won't like the notion that you can go halfway with agile. Iterating with business users using actual, working code is key to getting quality software from agile development. So is getting that code deployed out to users -- employees or even customers -- to see how software works in the real world, and then iterate features based on that feedback.

Keeffe's counter is that he's meeting CIOs where they are -- wanting agile results, but living with the reality that as much as 90% of their projects are still waterfall development, at least in part.

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About the Author(s)

Chris Murphy

Editor, InformationWeek

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; and a daily newspaper reporter in Michigan, where he covered everything from crime to the car industry. Murphy studied economics and journalism at Michigan State University, has an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia, and has passed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams.

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