Organizations must respond rapidly and robustly with business agility nowadays which increases the pressure on the corporate IT. ERP systems have been so far developed in a traditional way due to their size and complexity, but strategic decisions by software providers such as SAP are increasingly leading to the need to develop these systems in an agile manner as well. In agile software development, the importance of automated software testing is significantly increasing. This is crucial for accelerating the rollout frequency, increasing quality and reducing transaction costs. A prerequisite for this is an agile scaling framework with a suitable Architectural Runway. This forms the necessary technical and architectural basis for the orchestration and further development of automation approaches in all areas. This article will present the decisive importance of Architectural Runway as a technical-architectural basis for automation in all areas and the benefits it can offer to the companies.

 


 

SAP is moving towards Cloud-first, and SAP HANA-related services represent the fastest growing segment. At the same time, large-scale SAP system implementations are influenced by constant changes in technology, systems, employees and business requirements and models.

Market developments and impact on the ERP ecosystem of companies

Most organizations have experienced the challenges and disadvantages of a classic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation in the past. Despite this, transition to a more scalable agile delivery is still rare. A research by Gartner shows that senior management often has limited knowledge and experience in applying lean-agile principles and practices to implement and operate ERP solutions [GAR17].

Building this capability is, however, essential for survival, to overcome the above-mentioned challenges.

Following practices have been particularly proven to be best for successful implementation of large-scale lean-agile ERP implementations [Acc17]:

› Plan and organize the work for the delivery within a regular development cycle, a cadence where cross-functional, capable teams, scaled for efficiency, are used to reduce handoffs and improve productivity.

› Visualize work and dependencies, with the focus on limiting work in progress (WIP) to reduce delays and improve productivity by reducing task changes.

› Accelerate automated testing to reduce transaction costs and improve quality.

The following section will focus on the third point, acceleration, and elaborate the influence of the Architectural Runway.

Lean-agile development approach – the SAFe®-Framework

SAFe® offers an operating model to enable lean- agile transformations of large enterprises and provides ten critical Agile Release Train (ART) success factors [SAFeARTSF], which enable complex and large-scale enterprise solutions to contribute to continuous profitable growth that matters. The ART is a permanent team of agile teams that, together with its stakeholders within a value stream, incrementally develops, runs and deploys one or more solutions wherever possible.

SAFe®s ten critical ART-success factors

All ten critical ART-success factors from Table 1 are highly relevant to quality management, this article particularly highlights the importance of success factor # 9- Architectural Runway. Which is usually underestimated as an acceleration factor for testing according to the third key practice from the above list. A detailed description of all ten success factors adopted to SAP Implementations can be found in the white paper [Kum19].

# 1 – Lean-Agile-Principles # 6 – System Demo
# 2 – Real Agile Teams and Trains (ART) # 7 -Inspect and adjust
# 3 – Cadence and synchronization # 8 – Innovation- and planning iteration
# 4 – Program Increment Planning # 9 – Architectural Runway
# 5 – Customer focus, DevOps and Release on demand # 10 – Lean-Agile-Leadership

Table 1: The ten critical ART-success factors of Safe® [SAFeARTSF]

Success factor #9 and its influence as an accelerator for testing

“The Architectural Runway is used for short-term implementation of features. It consists of existing code, components and technical infrastructure that can be used without excessive redesign and delay for the implementation of these features.” [SAFeGl]

The term Architectural Runway in the Safe® Framework is based on an analogy for aviation. If the Architectural Runway is too “short” at the beginning of a Program Increment (PI), the corresponding features can’t be done and the ARTs cannot “land” the PI successfully. This means that the respective PI Objectives cannot be achieved. A PI like an airplane needs a runway. The analogy also means that the larger and faster  a system flies, the more runway it would need for a safe landing. [SAFeAR]

The Architectural Runway supports continuous flow of “value” through the CD pipeline, by providing the necessary technical basis. Therefore, from our point of view, the Architectural Runway is the most important instrument in the SAFe® Framework for implementing the agile architecture strategy.

Image 1: An automated product pipeline is the core of the quality funnel and an essential lever for reducing transaction costs Image 1: An automated product pipeline is the core of the quality funnel and an essential lever for reducing transaction costs

A feature in this context represents a service that meets the needs of a stakeholder. Each feature contains a benefit hypothesis as well as acceptance criteria and is so small that it can be delivered by an ART within a Program Increment (PI). The maintenance and development of the Architectural Runway through a continuous investment in “Enabler Stories” supports a stable velocity across all teams. The larger the IT system to be developed and the more innovative the technical platform (e.g. SAP S/4HANA), the greater the importance of the Architectural Runway, since several ARTs with little experience of the new architecture are involved in the system development. [SAFeAR]

The speed of innovation and the ability to react quickly and efficiently to changes decides who thrives in today’s market. Built-in quality, one of the core values of SAFe®, is an integral part in the creation of the Architectural Runway, as it can ensure system quality, execution speed and predictability. This requires a combination of technical practices, processes and a suitable business culture.

Architectural Runway – a prerequisite for DevSecOps

The Architectural Runway also forms the necessary basis for any kind of DevSecOps-approaches and intensive use of test automation as represented in Image 1.

DevSecOps bridges the gap from the development environment to productive operation by providing automation-, integration-, security-, measurement- and recovery capabilities. It helps various departments, involved in providing a solution, to align towards a common goal. The introduction of frequent integration and “shift-left” testing methods breaks down the silos and drives early error detection and cost reduction [Acc17].

Lean engineering, quality assurance-led processes and an automated pipeline form the core of the quality funnel are the landmark of agile quality management. New automation functions enable higher quality and agility of software and process implementation which automate regression testing and even the testing of an SAP S/4HANA implementation.  [Acc19]. As represented in Image 1, the transformation from the traditional world to a lean-agile requires an Architectural Runway as an enabler.

Although the agile manifesto states that “the best architectures, requirements and designs come from self-organizing teams” [MAN], this does not mean that “[…] you should never spend time on architectural decisions in advance.” [Mar09]

It is a good practice to take relevant Key Design Decisions (KDDs) for SAP-implementations before implementing the basic architectural runway to avoid an expensive redesign at a later stage.

The automation of most of the manual processes represents the realization of SAFe®’s first Lean-Agile-Principle: “take an economic view”. This enables significant reduction of effort and transaction costs associated with the changes.


Image 2: Accenture case Study – benefits of SAP S/4HANA Automation based on an Architectural Runway 

Image 2 shows possible results of a consistent implementation of the “take an economic view” principle. By consistently implementing all the above- mentioned principles and recommendations, the S/4HANA implementation has been successfully gone live in production with 0 errors. A key success factor for this was the automation rate of over 80 percent in product- and regression- testing across all test stages. As a positive side effect, the testing budget could be reduced by 50 percent in the following year, despite investment in the Architectural Runway, due to significantly lower transaction costs.

A detailed description of how exactly the benefits could be achieved can be found in the white paper “Applying Essential SAFe® to large-scale SAP Implementations and Operations” [Kum19], as this would by far exceed the scope of this article.

Architectural Runway – An economic necessity in the age of digitalization

In summary, agile software development leads to an increasing importance of automated software testing, as this is crucial for accelerating rollout frequency, increasing the quality and reducing transaction costs are critical pre-requisites to achieve business agility. In addition, the high (time) pressure generates errors in manual testing along with follow-up-and error costs. Test automation therefore helps to avoid these problems.

A suitable Architectural Runway is thus a necessary prerequisite for this. This forms the technical-architectural basis for the orchestration and further development of automation approaches in all areas.

 

This article was originally published in German in the German Testing Magazin.

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References

› [Acc17] [Acc17] Agile for SAP Solutions, Accenture, 2017, refer to: https://accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-71/Accenture-Agile-for-SAP-solutions-PoV-nov17-web.pdf

[Acc19-a] Test Automation, Accenture, 2019, refer to: https://accenture.com/us-en/success-sap-test-automation

[Ber20] T. Bergander, J. Prumann, DevOps und SAP – Wie passt das zusammen? in: German Testing Magazin, 2/2020

[Gar17] Gartner, First Steps in Applying Agile and DevOps to ERP Support, 2017

[Kum19] M. Kumlehn, SAP Delivery Agility – Applying Essential SAFe® to Large-Scale SAP Implementations and Operations, Whitepaper, 2019, refer to: https://www.scaledagileframework.com/?ddownload=46949

[MAN] Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Juli 2019, refer to: http//agilemanifesto.org

[Mar09] R. C. Martin, The Scatology of Agile Architecture, Clean Coder, 2009, refer to: https://sites.google.com/site/unclebobconsu