agile in highly regulated environments
November 2, 2016

Agile Documentation

Agile
Application Lifecycle Management

The Agile Manifesto has been around since 2001. Most people involved in software development have at least a passing knowledge of the methodology and its benefits. And many teams have transitioned to Agile.

That said, a number of organizations — especially in safety- and quality-critical industries — believe the complexities of their product prevent them from adopting Agile.

But is Agile truly a bad fit? Or do these organizations simply require a better understanding and the right tools to see how Agile can work for them?

There are five common barriers to Agile adoption for these organizations.

In this blog, we'll cover Agile documentation — or the lack thereof.

Agile Documentation — Or Lack Thereof?

When it comes to Agile adoption, many organizations struggle to overcome the following mindset:

“Our product needs to have a specification up front, so we can demonstrate that the design has been approved and ultimately delivered. We can’t have the product changing every five minutes, just because someone on the development team had a good idea.”

So, Does Agile Prevent Documentation?

Many believe Agile prevents you from creating documentation.

In fact, the Agile Manifesto says no such thing. It merely states that you should value a working product over “comprehensive documentation.” You’re free to create whatever documentation you require.

What About a Documented Plan?

Another misconception is that you can’t have a documented plan. And developers do whatever they want.

Again, this is not an Agile mandate. There needs to be some level of advanced planning, no matter what development method you’re practicing.

However, attempting to complete all of your detailed design up front is a recipe for disaster. The only thing that is certain about a fully defined and approved detailed software specification created up front is this: it will change.

Accepting that reality is a key to successfully adopting an Agile process.

How to Approach Agile Documentation

The real cause of documentation issues is that Agile embraces change, rather than seeking to control and limit it.

Managing reviews of large interlocking documents and gaining sign-offs is often one of the hardest, most time-consuming parts of the development process. So, the idea of the documentation changing all the time makes Agile seem “just not feasible.”

And you know what? That’s absolutely correct.

It isn’t feasible to manage large levels of change if you use what most teams use to manage projects — Microsoft Word and Excel documents stored in a version control system or on a shared network drive.

It’s also difficult if you use an Agile-only tool that doesn’t integrate with your broader process.

The problem with a Word document is that it’s a single entity that has to be approved or rejected in its entirety. If even one requirement, test, task, or other item in the document changes, you have to review the entire document. Otherwise, it’s impossible to know what changed. That method of change management makes it too large a task to efficiently accommodate the frequency of change required in an Agile process.

If you want to be able to manage change with agility, you need an Agile ALM tool — such as Helix ALM.

Helix ALM lets you manage individual items as unique records within the document they are part of. Once you can do that, you will be able to handle the level of change that is standard in an Agile process.

agile-reg-fig-1
This sample requirements specification document shows how Helix ALM lets you manage individual items within it.

 

4 More Barriers to Agile Adoption

There are four other common barriers to Agile adoption in regulated environments. Learn how to overcome them:

Transition to Agile Successfully

Transitioning to Agile can be tricky for any organization. And it's trickier for organizations in highly-regulated industries. 

Until now. 

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