It was the first decade of the twentieth century when Ford Motor Company introduced the assembly line, a substantial shift from the customization process it replaced and an advancement that was mimicked across industries. A century later, Rally Software has stepped up to suggest that the assembly line (or ‘waterfall’) method has been a superb process for building many things, but software is not one of them: “It’s not at all like building cars or bridges,” reports Ryan Martens, company Founder and Chief Technology Officer. “Traditional project management is great if you know what you’re building. But because you’re building [enterprise software] for people, they have to learn what they want.” Instead, Martens believes that, “software is much better done as a design process.” This is the approach employed in the Agile development method, where groups of small teams, short time frames, and close collaboration replace linear practices. And when it comes to providing a means to organize and track the iterative Agile approach, no company does it better than the number one Rally.
Rally’s core product is an Agile Application Life Cycle Management (ALM) tool that enhances visibility and facilitates the collaboration needed across Agile distributed teams. The software allows the contributors on a given project to organize and take responsibility of work on the basis of project management, requirements management, test management, defect management, program management, and integrations into existing systems. While the different functional vectors can be confusing for those untrained in Agile, the bottom line is improved product quality, faster time to market, and happier programmers. Says Martens, “Most developers find Agile hugely satisfying. Happiness goes way up, productivity goes way up, quality of life goes way up.”
While the tool can benefit small teams, Martens states “the value of the product increases with bigger and distributed teams working together.” This direct relationship is in line with Rally’s model of offering a free version of the software for small teams (<10), while charging for the larger enterprise editions, as it allows single teams in a company to test the product. Currently there are over 54,000 users of Rally software.
Essential to use of Rally’s product is the continued adoption of Agile as a software development method. This has led Rally – both out of necessity and true belief – to become a key evangelist for Agile adoption. This support goes beyond merely hyping Agile – the company runs a training center called Agile University, as well as an online community called Agile Commons that connects practitioners. But if interested students can’t come to Rally, Rally is happy to go to them: Agile University offers training in over a dozen major cities, from Boulder to Boston, Vancouver to Vegas.
Geography has become a significant variable for the seven-year-old company, as it has users in fifty countries worldwide. Growth in the European markets led the company to open its first international office in the United Kingdom last month. Martens, in discussing this significant step, points to currency, time zone, and the availability of customer service as the key drivers behind this decision. There is, according to Martens, a difference between merely selling into a geography and “doing it right.”
Martens, who in 1999 sold a software development firm he and Rally’s CEO Tim Miller founded to BEA Systems, started Rally in 2002. He believed that the Agile and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) was a substantially better way to design and deliver software, but understood that time and money would be needed in developing the market: “Going in, I knew what we were going to do would require $15-30 million dollars. So I wasn’t going to swing for the fences unless I knew I could raise $450,000 [in angel capital].” The company has raised $33 million from venture partners Boulder Ventures, Mobius Venture Capital, Mohr Davidow Ventures and Vista Ventures.
Rally Software has thus far made significant inroads into the Application Life Cycle Management market, which in 2007 Gartner research estimated to be about $1.26 billion. To Martens, the fact that Agile has been adopted by some of the biggest companies in the world – like CISCO, Microsoft, Ebay, and Boeing – is merely an excellent starting point. The power of Agile, he believes, “is really breaking your perception about how to do things.”