Skip to main content

Agile Purity: How Agile Is Agile Enough?

A Tale of Two Projects
I have been fortunate enough to work on two "green field" projects in a row. Both are/were "agile", but the way they're being managed is quite different.

The first project is/was characterized by:
  • The business folks knew at the outset what market they wanted to engage, but not exactly what they wanted the application to do. The direction was "figure it out as you go".
  • Virtually no up-front documentation.
  • Frequent changes to existing features.
  • Considerable 1x1 time between the product owners and developers.
  • We had no BA and one QA specialist was assigned shortly before production release.
  • The product, content and software development people all sat together in one big room.
  • The system is currently in production maintenance mode, with a possible version 2.0 in the future.
The second project is characterized by:
  • We are in "Sprint Zero" - doing technology and design spikes now.
  • We have detailed specifications of many required features.
  • We have several wireframes, scenarios and related documentation available up-front.
  • We have a BA assigned to the team and two QA specialists.
  • The business team is not currently sitting with the development team (though we expect / hope to change that once we start Sprint 1).
Better / Best?
The big question is, "which is better?" I think that depends entirely on which developer you ask. There are certainly advantages to having documentation and someone with a formal BA role. You don't need to have difficult conversations with the product people - that's the BA's job. One of the main disadvantages is that "you don't need to have difficult conversations with the product people" - these are the conversations that drive a better understanding of what the feature/system should do. (Determining if it does it right is another conversation entirely.)

Project 1 did get a bit wearing when we would add a feature, then remove it, then add it back in. It was the most fun I have had on a software project, though, and our velocity was enormous.

We'll have to see how things play out on Project 2. My expectation is that the documentation and specialization of roles will make some things go more smoothly. My fear is that we will find out quite late in the game that some core components of the system aren't quite what the business & customers need, and will be expensive to change.

Expect a detailed side-by-side case study in a few months, and more blog posts on related topics in the interim.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Agile Performance Management: Why Performance Reviews Suck

Many thanks to Mary Poppendieck, who wrote about this topic in 2004, and proposed a comprehensive solution.  She is the inspiration for much of my thinking on this subject.  She is also a better writer than I am a cartoonist.


Performance reviews suck.  I don't know of anyone who goes into their appraisal without some trepidation.  Your boss is guaranteed spring some surprise criticism on you that is ill-informed or misses the point as you see it.  It's a real challenge not to get defensive about that.

The only thing that makes your own performance review suck less is having to give them.  As a manager, I have dished out quite a few, and some of them went pretty badly.  (To the people at my first management job: Thanks for helping me learn how to get better at them.  Your sacrifice was not in vain.)  Since then, receiving one isn't nearly as gut-wrenching, if only because I try to make it easier for the guy on the other side of the desk.  I've been there, and I know how …

Do. Not. Optimize.

You've probably heard this quote before:
Premature optimization is the root of all evil.
 - Tony Hoare
Speculative optimization is always wasted time.  In the absence of an actual performance problem, you're just burning time that could be better spent on refactoring your code to make it clearer.  This is exacerbated because performance-optimized code is usually harder to read than code which hasn't received such treatment.

Here is what you're doing when you optimize:
Adding code that now must be maintained.Obfuscating the existing code.Spending time writing code that doesn't add value. But what's that you say?  You have the experience and know-how to decide when optimization is needed?  Maybe, but probably not.   The people at Sun and Oracle may or may not be smarter than  you or me, but they certainly know more about optimizing Java bytecode than we do.

For example, some people think that having a large number of classes is slower than the alternative.  This …

Software Craftsmanship Day at my workplace

Well, we finally pulled together a schedule and planned out all of our sessions for a Software Craftsmanship day at my workplace. 
The coolest part?  I didn't have to beg anyone to make it happen.  One of the VP's suggested that we could devote a day per month to honing our development skills.  How many organizations do that?  Very few, I think.
Since I was already leading a craftsmanship group, my boss asked me to lead the effort to put this together.  I just asked for volunteers, called a weekly meeting to work out what we wanted to do, and we did it!
I'll be sure to report what I learned once the first one is over.  I expect this to be a very useful and interesting day, but I won't know for sure until after Friday, Nov 12.
The best way to describe what we're doing is to paste the invitation I just sent to all of the agile teams here (about 120 people are invited, I expect around 100 to attend).
Craftsmanship Day (a.k.a. "Craft Day") takes place all day th…