On Agile Practices

I have recently read the article What Agile Teams Think of Agile Principles from Laurie Williams and it got me thinking. The study conclusion is as follows:

The authors of the Agile Manifesto and the original 12 principles spelled out the essence of the agile trend that has transformed the software industry over more than a dozen years. That is, they nailed it.

Here are the top 10 agile practices from the case study.

Agile practice Mean Standard Deviation
Continuous integration 4.5 0.8
Short iterations (30 days of less) 4.5 0.8
“Done” criteria 4.5 0.8
Automated tests run with each build 4.4 0.9
Automated unit testing 4.4 0.9
Iterations review/demos 4.3 0.8
“Potentially shippable” features at the end of each iteration 4.3 0.9
“Whole” multidisciplinary team with one goal 4.3 0.8
Synchronous communication 4.4 0.9
Embracing changing requirements 4.3 0.8

These are indeed practices instead of exact science and I am going to elaborate more on this topic. But first I would like to recap a few things from the history of the software industry.

Making successful software is hard. Many software projects failed in the past and many software projects are failing now. There are a lots of studies that confirm it. Some studies claim that more than 50% of all software projects fail. In order to improve the rate of successful projects we tried to adopt know-how from other industries. The software industry adopted metaphors like building software and software engineering. We started to apply waterfall methodologies and rigorous scientific methods for defining software requirements like UML. We tried many things in order to do better software but not much changed.

Then people came up with the idea of agile software methodology. Agile manifesto states:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Agile methodology proposes different mindset. We started put emphasis on things like creativity and self-organizing teams more than engineering. Nowadays, we use metaphors like writing software much more often than 15 years ago. Some people go further by comparing programmers with writers and consequently in order to do good software we need good writers instead of good engineers. While I find such claims a bit controversial they are many people who share similar opinions. In general, today we talk about software craftsmanship instead of software engineering.

These two approaches are not mutually exclusive. I see good trends of merging both of them whenever it is reasonable. It is natural for people to select the best from both worlds. Still, agile methodology is considered young. Most of the software companies still publish their job offerings as “Software Engineer Wanted” instead of “Software Craftsman Wanted“. This is only one example of what we have inherited in IT industry. It does not matter how much an IT company boasts how agile it is, the fact is that we need time to fully adopt the new mindset. The good thing is that the new mindset focuses on the individual and I think this is the key for better software.

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