Help! My agile methodology and SAP system are fighting!

Next Friday, Sept 25th, we’ll be hosting our  DevOps roundtable with a focus on methodology. One topic that is sure to come up ...

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Next Friday, Sept 25th, we’ll be hosting our  DevOps roundtable with a focus on methodology. One topic that is sure to come up is the waterfall vs. agile debate. Sometimes described as methodologies and sometimes described as … ahem … mindsets, they are competing approaches to managing projects and portfolios. In many ways the approaches are incompatible, but the fact that the problem repeatedly crops up may speak to a fundamental incompatibility between prevalent management practices and the agile ethos. In order to bridge this incompatibility, many approaches have popped up, including the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) approach that we have have worked with at several of our larger customers.

While named methodologies can be very helpful in solving this conundrum, there is another incompatibility that we see a lot in our work: SAP vs. Agile. It isn’t so much that SAP is architected in a way that is opposed to Agile. Rather, the tools and methods the software industry has developed to execute and manage agile projects are often at odds with the way that SAP implementations have traditionally been structured. At Mindset, we use personas and story-telling concepts in our design thinking and while I’m still a novice at design thinking, I find that these kinds of stories help me think through how things could be different. Let’s do one such activity here, based on a developer persona.

Imagine

Let’s say I’m a software developer named Olivia working on an agile SAP project. I work a 9 to 5, or maybe more like an 8 to 5 (ok, 8 to 5:30), and I take some real pride in my code and doing things properly.

We start a 2 week sprint on Monday and I take up a user story after our sprint planning kickoff in the morning. The story is a small one – maybe 1 or 2 points, and I can probably knock out the development work on a Fiori app in a half-day or so. I happily sketch up a technical approach and get down to work making a smaller change to a UI5 application and backend OData service written in ABAP. I work in a forward-thinking company, so a change request (maybe a ChaRM) and transport has already been created for the sprint with a task for me. I finish my development work mid-afternoon, run my unit tests one last time, commit and push my UI5 changes, deploy the UI5 application one last time. We use ABAPGit for our ABAP version control, so I also commit and push the change there.  Now the real fun begins.

Because my organization requires comprehensive documentation of development changes, I need to attach a couple of documents to the change request documenting what I changed (never mind that my commit messages automatically link to the user story and task I worked on in Jira) and I need to update the technical design document to document the new behavior of the service and application. This is discouraging but I’m a professional and I slog through it. I finish it up first thing Tuesday morning. Now time to move the development to our QA system and test it out!

Release my transport task, and move the change request to testing status. Whoops, an ABAP Test Cockpit (ATC) failure. It’s complaining that I’m using a literal in my code rather than a constant. My team is moving to a Clean Code approach for ABAP, but the rest of the organization won’t let us turn off these ATC checks. That’s alright, I just request an exception and move on to another task while I wait for that to be approved.

Our approvers are pretty quick, so when I check back a couple hours later, the work has been moved to our QA system and I can test there. Unfortunately when I log in with our test user to check in QA, the user has gotten locked. I don’t have access to unlock the user, so I open a ticket with our security team to get the user unlocked. This takes a few hours also, so by the time I’m notified that it has been addressed, it’s the end of the day.

And so-on and so-forth. You get the idea. If our definition of done on our agile project is that code is ready to deploy to production, there’s a lot of stuff that gets in the way on SAP projects. How could this be different and still satisfy the need to be able to manage our SAP system? Let’s imagine, starting where the real fun began…

Because my organization requires comprehensive documentation of development changes, I check that the Jira task is properly linked to the commits and that the commit messages I created describe the change. We need comprehensive documentation, so I check that our CI/CD process has updated the Swagger documentation of the OData service and the JSDoc documentation of the UI5 application properly.

Satisfied that documentation is in order, I take another moment to re-test the application in dev (it’s nice to have the time), and then I release my transport task, and move the change request to testing status. I notice an ABAP Test Cockpit (ATC) information message. It’s telling me that I’m using a literal in my code rather than a constant. My team is moving to a Clean Code approach for ABAP, so we use an ABAPLint configuration for checks and I can safely ignore the ATC check. Sure glad that my company doesn’t have that check set as a hard error like a lot of companies.

It’s almost the end of my Monday, but I have just enough time to test the application in QA (the test user was locked, but I have access in this QA system to unlock users) and set the story to ready-for-testing status so that our product owner can get in and verify the acceptance criteria on the user story are met.

Resolutions

These stories point out a few pain-points and possible resolutions. Each of us can think about what we can do in our positions to find ways to make life a little easier for developers like Olivia without compromising on our ability to manage SAP landscapes. And the best part about all of this is that it pays off. In this simple story, Olivia can move that user story to done a day earlier, stay more focused and efficient with fewer interruptions and interventions, and feel less frustration in her job. Meanwhile, development managers can focus on more important exceptions, documentation is always up to date, and the security team can focus on security instead of managing escalated minutiae. That’s the power agile, the DevOps mindset of empowering developers, and a little imagination.

Next Steps

If you have thoughts on these sorts of topics, stories, or ideas we’d love to hear from you. If you can make it to our DevOps Roundtable on Sept 25th, please register and come listen and share. The format will be almost entirely discussion between fellow practitioners so it’s the perfect forum for sharing and learning. If you have immediate thoughts or what to know what we think of a conundrum, use the hashtag #askmindset on Twitter or LinkedIn, or get in touch directly.

See the complete agenda and Register Free For DevOps Roundtable HERE.

 

Ethan Jewett

Ethan Jewett

Ethan Jewett is an experienced and innovative SAP developer and technical architect. He is focused on improving development practices and developer capabilities in organizations he works with, while delivering successful projects and just plain being nice. Ethan is an SAP Mentor and recognized expert in the SAP ecosystem. He writes on SearchSAP, the Mindset blog, and elsewhere, and speaks at SAP and non-SAP conferences.

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