Saturday, January 31, 2009

Being Agile

Being agile means focusing on features and the product as a whole. Being agile means to iterate and, after each iteration, have a working version of the product. Being agile means to deliver predictable value on the short term and act with the client's priorities in mind all the time.

When presenting Agile (Scrum) to programmers one of their main concerns that rise up is that their code will become spaghetti in no-time and that too much time will be used for changing what has been done. The general perception is that they need do hacks now to deliver an increment and then clean up the to deliver the next increment which means loosing a lot of precious effort. It seems so at first, but what is wrong with re-factoring? Yes, hacking is bad but hacking something quickly as proof-of-concept and have the designers test it quickly can eliminate a lot extra work needed to polish something that may be thrown away. And yes, once the proof-of-concept is validated, management expects the programmers to ask for time to clean up their prototypes and turn them into fully working, state-of-the art pieces of engineering that is then merged with the main development branch.

a) Agile starts from the premises that specs change over time and that the client is free to change his mind anytime after an iteration. This means that is very likely that the feature we try so hard to make room for will not be implemented after all, and that it's very likely that another feature will be requested that breaks the initial architecture. This also means that you need to make your code modular and flexible and be ready for constant refactoring. Good specifications means good enough to start working with and good architecture means something very simple that allows you to build modular code. And then clean it up!

b) Preserving the teams constant over time ensures that that the product is known and understood by everyone. The team takes full ownership of their code, cherishes it and keeps it tidy because, after all, they are the ones who suffer first if it becomes unmaintainable (then comes the whole product as it cannot be delivered on time, then come the customers that may receive poor quality as the result). Since the code ownership is shared across a small team, peer-reviews are constant and, if a culture of constant refactoring is in place, the code actually becomes better and better as new features are added - instead of constantly decaying.

c) Scrum is a tool that allows programmers to keep their code tidy and clean. It guarantees that during the sprint no one will interfere and that they are free to do their job as they see fit. Traditional models allow leads to randomly assign tasks, change specs all the time, in a word create chaos which is the prerequisite of hacks and unmaintainability.

d) Working in small teams leads to better understanding of the source code and knowledge sharing. Code becomes more uniform and has increased quality because more people work on the same areas, share ideas and help each other. Teamwork also minimizes the danger of having some programmers that are the only experts in some areas of code, just because they were the only ones assigned to those areas ever.

e) Traditional models have the risk of loosing track of what the project is all about and get lost in technical details. It is easy to loose a great amount of time developing some sort of cool technology that everyone is very proud of that, from the client's perspective, has very little or no value at all. Especially during the "technology development" phases clients, become very nervous and anxious because they have little visibility of what happens and they see no apparent progress. Therefore boxing technological changes in fixed term sprints increases client's confidence because he/she has at least some sort of deadline visibility and the illusion that that black hole that eats his/her money will, eventually, end soon.

More on this some other time :)


Saptelapatrat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saptelapatrat said...

Am gasit un articol interesant despre "agile". M-am gandit ca te-ar putea interesa.