Skip to main content

Back to the agile values

In recent years the term agile has become overused. Many seem to think that if they have have unit tests, standup meetings and burn-down charts, they're agile. All these practices are good, but they don't necessarily make you agile. Even iterations or some kind of certified master don't necessarily make you agile.

So what is agile? If I were to sum it up with one word it would be communication. Communication is everywhere in the agile manifesto:

[We value] individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
I see this as a reaction against processes like RUP that felt like a software development factory where developers were replacable cog wheels. Agile recognizes that it's individuals with intelligence, creativity and drive that make a project succeed.

But individuals are not working in isolation, they need to interact with others. Interactions means communication. Not one-way communication but interactive dialogues. Misunderstandings are inevitable in communication. When you say or write something, it is almost certain that the receiver will misunderstand something. You can't just send someone a document and think they will understand what you mean. You need to verify what they understood, and the best way to do this is in a face to face conversation.

A key part of agile is to have close communication within the team and between the team and the customers.

[We value] working software over comprehensive documentation.
Documentation is a form of communication. Some teams stop writing documents "because that's not agile", but that's a huge misunderstanding. Agile does value documentation, but it values working software more. Working software demonstrates progress better than completing a number of documents, and it demonstrates the team's understanding of the requirements better than a requirements document. But documentation may be useful to explain what you were thinking when you developed the software.

I said that iterations don't necessarily make you agile, but iterations are definitely needed to be agile. Iterations is not a goal in itself, the purpose of iterations is to improve communication with the customers by getting feedback often. It is inevitable that we misunderstand what the customers need. Iterations help us to discover these misunderstandings early, before they get too expensive to fix.

[We value] customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
Collaboration certainly means communication. The development team needs a positive dialogue with the customers, and not just communicate with formal documents.

[We value] responding to change over following a plan.
This may not seem like to be about communication, but actually it is. Where do the changes come from? From the customers. The customers and the team should communicate often, not just up front.

These values are the basis for practices like on-site customer, iterative development and pair programming. It's the values that make you agile, not various practices. The practices vary depending on the size and complexity of the project.


Popular posts from this blog

Database dump with Java

I need to update a database that is created by PHP. The problem is that I am not a PHP coder, but a Java coder, and I need to use some other Java libraries to get the job done. So how can find out exactly which tables to update and how? It would take me weeks to search the PHP code, and I still wouldn't be sure if I got it right.

The first step is to install a clean application on my computer. There is no user data in the database, so if I perform commands like creating a user etc in the web application, I can look at what changed in the database. I'm sure that could be done in MySQL, but I'm not an expert on that either. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So, I'll use Java for that to.

So, I wrote a small Java application that produces exactly the output that I need. It reads metadata from the database to find all tables and columns, lists that metadata and the content of all the rows.

Here it is:import;

The Future of Programming

The problem with abstractions Programmers are experts in abstract thinking. To program is to generalize: A method is a general specification of different execution paths. A class is a general specification of objects. A superclass is a generalization of several classes.

Although our minds are capable of abstract thinking, concrete thinking is more natural, and concrete examples are the foundation for abstractions. For instance, how do you teach children what a car is? You don't give a definition like: 'A car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers.' Instead, you point at a car and say: 'Look, a car!' After seeing a few cars, the child understands what a car is.

Notice what I just did! I started with a general principle and then gave an example. Which part of the paragraph above is easier to understand, the first sentence (general) or the rest (example)?

Einstein said that examples is not another way to teach, it is the only way to teach. It is…

Examples and Objects

The most successful and fun project I have been part of developed a network simulator for operator training. We had a great team and freedom to work how we wanted, but another key to success was the domain model. The analyst drew object diagrams to explain to the programmers and testers how a network topology could be, for instance like this:

This may look simple, but these diagrams explained a lot to us. We used them to discuss what should happen in different scenarios, such as what should happen when a Trunk is connected to another Port. Then we implemented these scenarios as unit tests. This resulted in a robust implementation with few bugs.

But in most projects, we don't have anything like this. In one project I spent several days trying to understand how a trading system worked. I had the domain model and database schema, but it was not clear when these objects were created, updated and deleted in the database. I read thousands of lines of code and run the program in a debu…