Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Art of Agile Development

Keep this book to hand
The Art of Agile Development was recommended to me by Jeff McKenna when he provided some Scrum coaching to those of us in the Dublin office working on Oracle Social CRM. Back then it was a new, hot off the press book, but I have recently reread it because I have found it useful in providing guidance on what to watch out for when changing agile development practices. This was necessary due to changes in teams and technologies as some of us focused full time on Fusion Applications. Practices, roles and responsibilities we had gotten used to had to be adapted or dropped to blend in with APM, Oracle Fusion Application's development methodology.

The book, by Shane Warden and James Shore, is a great introduction to agile development methodologies by covering both XP and scrum. Practical examples are generally from XP projects because that is where the authors have the greatest experience. The authors identify a broad set of practices that would be considered as characteristics of agile development methodologies in way or another. Recognising that it is very rare in most organisations to be able to follow an agile methodology completely as prescribed alternatives are mentioned, but not in every case. Shane and James are also very clear that many of these practices are often taking place at the same time in a software project rather than in a sequential waterfall methodology. However, categorising practices by what sort of activity and the nature of the activity give a very useful matrix for teams to analyse how agile their own practices are and perhaps identify areas where realistic improvements can be made. Just being able to have a label or term for a specific practice makes discussing within a group easier.

Download poster from James Shore
I see the collection of practices being grouped by nouns (planning, analysis, design & coding, testing, deployment) and verbs (thinking, collaborating, releasing, planning, developing). For example, when team members are working on implementing a specific feature that kind of collaboration is 'design & coding collaborating' and the section in the book covers some pair programming techniques. In fact, this particular section addresses the misconception that pair programming is a fulltime 'paired for life' regime. It is a useful tool that can be used for a few hours a day to make some significant progress, reduce interruptions, and spread the knowledge of how and why parts of the system being developed work.

Other useful techniques peppered through the book include the Agility Self Assessment and the many skill development routines, which the authors called 'etudes'. These are short exercises that may help in getting the feel for a more agile approach. When reading the chapters you might be thinking we don't have the development experience to let team members do organic, incremental architecture design, or implement thorough automated testing. I wonder how many people never complete the book because they do not believe they can carry out these changes and deliver software in a timely fashion. It's not until towards the end of the book that the authors address the reality of the mixed capabilities of the team. If this was at the beginning it might give the readers more staying power. The book does have some helpful advice on working with and around the politics, the mixture in experience levels, and heavy weight project management within your organisation. It has to be read in it's entirety though and does make for an excellent reference book to dip in and out of.
This article has been edited since it was first published.

2 comments:

Bob Rhubart said...

The words "planning, analysis, design & coding, testing, deployment" as used in your post are nouns, not adverbs.

Peter O'Brien said...

You're right Bob. Well spotted. I had two analogies in my mind at the time of writing. The article text will get updated. Thanks for the feedback.