Wake up to the passing revolution

The second annual Agile Development Conference (ADC) was in Auckland last week and, to be honest, it's all getting a bit old now. Using classical processes is akin to using an abacus to calculate your company accounts.

The second annual Agile Development Conference (ADC) was in Auckland last week and, to be honest, it’s all getting a bit old now. Using classical processes is akin to using an abacus to calculate your company accounts.

Technology has moved on, and if you’re still using classical processes then you’re anachronistic at best and negligent at worst.

I’ve heard all sorts of excuses and, to be honest [Bryan, that’s the second time you’ve been honest in the space of two paragraphs – what’s going on? – Ed], they’re mostly just that. One excuse I can believe, though, is most commonly heard in Wellington.

Normally when people tell me that their customers don’t understand agile processes and are allocating work on terms that unfairly select for classical processes, I tell them that they need to educate their customers. However, in Wellington software houses are most commonly in the employ of the government, and it’s turning out to be quite difficult to educate. It’s not only that government agencies don’t listen, that is bad enough, but they also don’t seem to be seeking information in the area. At the ADC I met very few people in public service.

Just in case anyone in public service is reading this, let me reiterate: agile processes have the potential to significantly reduce software development and maintenance costs, and can completely remove the risk of anything as horrific as INCIS ever happening again. And by potential, I don’t mean that they can one day help a little in this area, I mean that they can already provide these benefits, as long as they’re applied correctly.

Not all public service organisations and government departments are turning a blind eye to agile processes. I know of a handful that are considering them, or that are actually experimenting with them. The Correspondence School, where I am development team coach, is betting that we can turn out the software system that will manage the education of tens of thousands of students every year, using pure XP [that’s extreme programming, not the Microsoft operating system – Ed].

The real problem is the tender process in which software houses are forced to compete. Competition is a good thing, of course, but the whole process selects against agile techniques. Try supplying a proposal that actually says that you don’t know what you’ll be building over the next six months, but that it’ll still cost $500,000. It may be the truth, but it’s not going to get you the work. Government departments don’t simply encourage companies to lie to them, they actively reward it – the best liars get the richest jobs.

The agile revolution has happened, and it’s time that all of you, especially the government, woke up and paid attention.

Dollery is a partner at GreenPulse in Wellington. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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