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Modified Agile Practices For Outsourced Software Projects


Frustration with the bureaucratic nature of the disciplined approach has led to the call for agile development. The new approach is defined by the Agile Manifesto (http://agilemanifesto.org/), which values individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and agility in responding to change over following a prescribed plan. Agile development does not focus on process improvement; instead it focuses on customer satisfaction and employee empowerment. This is evident from reading the stated values and principles of the Agile Manifesto, which include fairly extreme positions such as "welcome changing requirements, even late in development" and "the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams."

An interesting issue arising from the call for agile development is its role in distributed development, which usually translates to offshore development. A recent study indicates that agile practices can reduce temporal, geographical, and socio-cultural distances in distributed development projects. The study researched agile development between teams located in the U.S. and Ireland, and while it reported that overall communication was improved, it also noted problems related to geographical, temporal, and even language distances. Although there are other reported successes of distributed agile development, the projects are generally small, the team members are likely familiar with each other, and the participants are largely experts or high caliber developers.

This raises a research, as well as a practical, question: can we extend the use of agile practices from small projects to medium and large projects that involve a significant outsourcing component? To address this question, we must drop constraints such as small size projects, and expert developers belonging to the same company, and examine problems arising from geographical, temporal, and cultural distances. Accordingly, agile practices may need to be modified.

In this article, the key issues of software projects with an outsourced component are first identified. These issues are then used as a background to evaluate how standard agile practices stand up when applied to larger projects. This evaluation is followed by recommendations for modified agile practices for outsourced software projects.

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