Are you getting XPed on?

I'm writing this just before I talk to the Worldwide Institute of Software Architects, Wellington Chapter about the role of software architecture, and the software architect, in XP. I'm planning to tell them about evolutionary architecture and how to achieve it.

I'm writing this just before I talk to the Worldwide Institute of Software Architects,
Wellington Chapter about the role of software architecture, and the software architect, in XP. I'm planning to tell them about evolutionary architecture and how to achieve it.

However, I’m a conscientious bloke, so I asked a few friends (about 4000 of them) if there was anything missing from my message. I got quite a few responses, one of which stuck out. I’m repeating it here with the author’s (William Pietri) permission:

“People who don't see a place for themselves in XP can feel threatened and stir up a lot of unneeded trouble. So please make them understand that even though there isn't a title ‘architect’ in [XP], we immensely value their experience, their skills and their appreciation for good design. Point out that although we have disdain for reams of UML documentation, we love UML (and that the author of a good UML book is also very active in the Agile movement). Let them know that although we hate architecture phases, we love beautiful architecture so much that we refuse to let an hour go by without working toward it. Help them see that by participating in an XP project, either as a first-among-equals developer or as an external design advisor, [XP] gives them more influence over actual design and a much better playground for trying out new design ideas.”

I can’t make people understand anything. I can only repeat William’s advice, and hope that people understand it. XP is revolutionary, it’ll change everything, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. XP is driven by business value, and quality – we always aim for perfection, despite it being unachievable.

I say: obsolescence or change – choose one.

XP can change everything in a company. It’s only a few simple practices, but they can be deceptive and pervasive. If you’re an architect, or a project manager, or a BA, then XP will deeply affect whatever it is that you do … But, it will be a change for the better.

If you’re an architect you’ll get to spend more time being creative, because the cost is low. You can spend more time doing the thing you’re good at – optimising the gross structure of multiple systems. You could try things out, and rapidly discover if they work. If they don’t work then you can try something else.

Experimentation is cheap with XP – you get feedback every couple of weeks, and if something is causing the team pain then you get feedback more rapidly than that. We have engineering practices in place to facilitate this type of experimentation – we lower the co-efficient on each step of the cost of change curve from 10 to approaching 1.

If you’re a project manager you get to throw away that old saw (MS Project), and start managing people again. You can talk to people, get involved in the human side of your teams, start removing the roadblocks that often hamper success, play politics and protect your team. You can do all of this without once firing up MS Project.

Project managers -- imagine what you could do, on a personal level with your staff, if you could throw away your copy of Project? You could actually talk to your team.

Perhaps you’d discover that one of your developers really needs some training in a particular technology and you could arrange for it. If you’re stuck behind Project and Gannt charts and reports, then you don’t get to manage. Right now, you’re an administrator. We’d rather have your experience and skills help the team rather than wasted talking to software.

If you’re a business analyst, then you become a customer. You get to provide the details for our stories, and you get to instantly see the results of your wisdom being applied and manifested in software. You can throw away your copy of MS Word – you won’t need to practice your touch-typing any more. You can get back to the business of studying the business rather than writing about it. And, just for a change, you’ll get to talk about your observations and thoughts with humans, rather than with a blank screen.

BAs -- imagine what it would be like if you could say one thing and then come along a week later and contradict yourself without fear of costing the project millions of dollars? Would that make you more creative in your definition of requirements? You could treat the facility as an experimentation method. You wouldn’t have to spend ages speculating with the users about the best way to achieve a particular task – you could just have us build it one way, and try it, and if the users don’t like it, we’ll change it.

Your experience as an architect, designer, digital artist, project manager, business analyst, tester, whatever, is of immense value to us. We will change your job forever, and turn it into something more rewarding, more instantaneous and more human – all at the same time. What’s more, we’ll make you better at your job – our rapid feedback loops will tell you if you’re not doing great, and you’ll get the chance to adjust over time so that you are doing great. More than that though, if you have other skills and can contribute in other ways, we’ll take that too and make use of it. Anything that can be useful will be made use of.

No matter what your current business card says, you’ll get involved in all aspects of the project. Your experience level will rocket, your CV will look great, and working any other way will seem like a step back into the dark ages.

So, if disenfranchisement is your problem, I hope it’s less of a problem now.

Dollery is a Wellington IT consultant. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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