In late 2006, salesforce.com made a fundamental change in the way it builds software, adopting the principles of a methodology known as agile development. Few enterprise companies have done so as successfully.
Since agile development was invented in the mid-1990s, it has revolutionized how software is created by emphasizing short development cycles based on fast customer feedback. But for much of its history, agile was missing a crucial component: a development platform that supports, rather than thwarts, the rapid development cycles that make the methodology work. As the salesforce.com experience has demonstrated, the missing link was cloud computing, which eliminates the cumbersome distribution requirements that can bring agile development to a crawl.
After just two weeks of training, the entire salesforce.com development staff, consisting of 30 teams, made the transition to agile development. The results have been dramatic. The time to market for major releases has been reduced by 60 percent, with productivity across the organization up by 38 percent. Release cycles have become far more predictable: since moving to agile, R&D has deployed each of the four successive major releases on the day it was scheduled. Transparency has risen: Force.com platform division head Steve Fisher says he now has best handle on the state of an R&D team in his 25-year career. And the staff is energized: agile development has helped recapture the spirit of creativity and excitement that marked salesforce.com’s days as a startup.