Agile and ISO: Applying certifications and standards to software development
Agile and ISO aren’t incompatible; it’s time to challenge conventional beliefs. In this article, Nathan Sykes makes the case for Agile and ISO.
To many, it undoubtedly appears agile development and ISO certifications are incompatible. That is because ISO is technically the exact opposite of agile, with heavy emphasis on processes and documentation.
But such a belief aligns with a more conventional outlook on ISO certifications and standards as a whole. Many feel they are burdensome, especially when it comes to passing audits. ISO 9001, for example, has a less-than-desirable reputation because many companies go into it prematurely and fail their first time. As a result, they increase their process documentation to make up for any shortcomings and ensure they pass future audits. Believe it or not, this goes against the point of the standard, making it seem more involved than it is.
You don’t need shelves upon shelves of documentation. In fact, too much documentation can lead to an ISO certification failure, because it goes against organization and proper handling. That is where agile can help.
By definition, you should be able to pass ISO certification much more easily when adhering to agile development, because it requires less process documentation and is more efficient.
Making the Case for Agile and ISO
ISO 9001 requires reliable and accurate documentation, improved traceability and appropriate controls. However, that doesn’t necessarily dictate how much documentation and process development you have in place.
Agile, on the other hand, focuses on speed and efficiency, emphasizing the leanest possible development. It’s difficult to reconcile the two concepts when you’re looking at an ISO environment that is so much more complex, but that’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be.
In agile development, there is a certain limit or requirement for how many documents you can involve, without ruining the concept of “agility” at its core. It’s not necessarily the case that all documentation hinders your performance, but the quantity in which it exists. If you can parse down total documentation by making it more compact and precise, you can still stick to agile principles.
As long as you remain focused on overall efficiency, you can achieve both concepts without favoring one or the other.
ISO or IEC 27001, despite its different focus — information security — is similar in this regard. Many feel it is a highly involved and comprehensive process that can cause quite a bit of slowdown. When you dive in, however, you realize that’s not the case, provided you retain your focus on efficiency.
ISO — 9001 especially — doesn’t require or demand incredible masses of processes and documentation, only that you have enough to succeed, and that you follow what you do have. It can be incredibly beneficial to agile software development, and vice versa.
The Path to ISO Certification
The ISO 9001 standard forms the basis of a quality management system that is designed to help any size of business meet customer demands and requirements. It also sets forth a series of processes and strategies for continuous improvement regarding business operations.
ISO emphasizes several high-level planning topics, including purpose, context, strategic direction, quality and objectives. It filters to top management specifically and their commitment to an overall push for quality and efficiency.
As mentioned, this leads many to believe it is incredibly involved and burdensome. Small businesses often fall into the trap of thinking it doesn’t fit for their setup.
What are the actual requirements, though? Where can you find help?
For starters, the general focus is efficiency, and ensuring a company can serve customers satisfactorily now and in the future. Here is where the concept of continuous improvement comes into play. You stay aligned with market alterations to meet evolving and ever-changing demands.
There are a few places where you can find helpful resources for meeting requirements, especially consultation and training support. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking these support systems — and ISO as a whole — isn’t viable because you already have an agile process or system in place. They work well together, and complement efficiency nicely.