How can companies know that their development process is on track, and that the product they’re developing is actually what they need to provide to customers?
Scott Roth, CEO of Jama Software, believes predictive product development is essential for that. The key is visibility into your development processes, and comparing it to benchmarks – either internal, or against a cohort of other companies in the same industry.
But let’s back up. Jama Software, founded in 2007, has its core in the creation, documentation and management of requirements. And one of the things they’ve come to learn is that when there’s volatility in requirements early in the process, success is sure to follow.
Why is that? Roth explained. “If you go out and you define the requirements for what you’re going to be building, and those requirements have a high level of volatility early on in the life cycle – meaning that requirements are being updated, they’re being deleted, there’s more requirements are being added – the more of that you can see spike at the beginning of the process, the smoother things will go as you go throughout the rest of the process, because you’ll have less rework, you’ll have less quality issues because you’ve really spent the time up front to collaborate on and beat up those requirements. And so with a volatility report, what we are able to do is draw that trend line where you see a high-level spike at the beginning and then it drifts down over time, and what we’re able to do is take any live project or product that one of our customers is building and map their requirement volatility to that curve.
“That’s one simple example of the predictive nature that we’re attempting to do,” he added. “How do [our customers] know that they’ve really done their work from the requirements standpoint to know their development process is actually going to run smoothly?”
Yet the notion of doing heavy up-front work on requirements flies in the face of the agile, continuous delivery model organizations are adopting. Roth, however, argues that requirements are critical to all software development projects. He believes that “requirements gathering and requirements management can and should live together with agile development and continuous deployment operations.” It’s just that the idea of spending time and writing hard and fast requirements that aren’t expected to change for 18 months – the duration of a waterfall software project – is not conducive to the kind of development being done today.
Agile organizations, he said, understand they need some level of requirements gathering and collaboration on what it is they’re going to build. It’s just that they’ll likely spend less time defining and collaborating on requirements than “an organization that is building a satellite system that’s going to take two years to develop.”
Jama has expanded its platform beyond the core requirements capabilities over the years, and now can offer test management, workflow management, an analytics layer and integrations with popular platforms widely used today. Roth said the analytics layer was added to give product development teams a single place to manage and gain insights from their data being generated from the multiple used in a typical project. Jama wants to better guide development teams as to how they’re building products, as well as what products they should be building.
The Jama platform is a relational database that can offer a document view of requirements, but Roth explained “it’s all bite-size bits within tables and forms and it’s very much structured for today’s modern, agile way intentionally because of the need for that flexibility and in many cases a much lower level of fidelity into the upfront requirements gathering and definition process.”
And they’ve moved their target upstream, into larger organizations writing mission-critical software, and focusing more on physical products that are being embedded with software and connectivity. “Our sweet spot is if it is software with a high level of complexity, with multiple teams collaborating and working on it,” Roth said. So, large financial services firms, telecommunications, hospitals, insurance companies – basically, any organization building massive systems.
“One of the challenges that companies have when they get bigger is they struggle to have visibility into the portfolio and the body of work that’s being done,” he said. “By having upfront gathering of requirements and success criteria at the end is one way to help them get visibility into the process versus a mysterious pipeline of work that just magically comes out the other end.”