Keeping agile

This week the Agile Alliance voted me in as the director of the new Agile Awards Program. The alliance is an organisation dedicated to the promotion of, and research into, agile software development.

This week the
Agile Alliance voted me in as the director of the new Agile Awards Program. The alliance is an organisation dedicated to the promotion of, and research into, agile software development.

But what is agile development?

The principles of the alliance, as written in the agile manifesto are: individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and responding to change over following a plan.

In short, this is a philosophy of working together with the business to return the maximum value on the software development investment.

Why would you want to be agile?

The benefits can be huge. Some agile processes can increase your productivity and quality and reduce your costs and risks. However, this isn’t a silver bullet – agility takes skill and discipline, and it’s hard work.

New Zealand is getting closer to the centre of the agile movement. As a country we’re recognised internationally as agile thinkers and have a far greater impact than our size would indicate, and we continue to draw the best and brightest minds to our shores to let us participate in the debate.

There are currently only a handful of formal agile processes. The most widely known is extreme programming. Kent Beck, who was over here for the XP conference in Auckland last year, created XP at Chrysler-Daimler, who are reportedly using XP for all their software projects now.

Then there’s Ken Schwaber’s Scrum, a process that takes our beloved game, rugby, as its metaphor. While XP is engineering-centric, Scrum is management-centric. Bringing the two practices together produces an interesting, and powerful, hybrid. Schwaber is the director of the alliance, and also one of the keynote speakers at this year’s Agile Developers Conference in Wellington.

Anoterh popular agile methodology is Alistair Cockburn’s Crystal. If XP is based on tight control and homogeneity of developers, Crystal is exactly the opposite, cherishing individual freedom of choice. Crystal is a methodology – a family of methods – starting with Crystal Clear, for small projects of around two to six people, to Crystal Yellow for six to 20 people, Crystal Orange for 20 to 40 people, and so on, and a mechanism for choosing the right one and adapting it to your exact needs.

Cockburn, who’s been invited to talk about this at next year’s conference (but hasn’t yet confirmed), says XP is more productive but a lot harder. Crystal is the result of years of studying software projects and actually observing what’s going on, rather than making assumptions.

In my opinion, Cockburn is the world’s leading expert on software development practices. Although I agree with Ron Jeffries when he says that Crystal is a process for hippies, cry-babies and people with no ...

A, perhaps surprising, addition to the agile stable, is Rational’s Rational Unified Process (RUP). Grady Booch – if you don’t know who he is you may as well stop reading right now – is an alliance board member, and one of the judges for The Agile Awards.

RUP is an oft misunderstood methodology. It’s not a process, but a meta-process – similar to Crystal, in that it is a family of processes, and a mechanism for choosing the appropriate ones. RUP can be agile if you let it, and Grady is pushing it further in this direction all the time. Rational even showed how XP can be a configuration of RUP – they called it dX (which is XP written upside down).

Meanwhile, Scott Ambler, who was a keynote speaker at the developers conference in 2000, and with whom I had a great time in Sydney (we climbed the bridge together) has developed a process called agile modelling. The idea is that modeling should be done just-in-time and be barely-sufficient. The focus is on modeling as an activity to enhance communication, rather than the production of physical artifacts. Agile modelling is a process pattern that works with whatever process you’re currently using.

As for the awards, they are to promote excellence in the field of agile software development. We’ll be giving awards to those individuals and companies who’ve done the most to advance the agile movement over the previous year, through a contribution of tools or knowledge. So, we’ll have a tools category, and a book category and others, each with their own sub-category.

For the judges panel we have myself as the head judge, Grady Booch has just agreed and so too has a French agile author called Laurence Bossavit. I’ve invited other luminaries and a few normal IT people too.

The winners will be announced at the end of the year – so if you’re developing a product, book, or anything else, that will be of benefit to the agile community, work harder, quickly.

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

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