Shahzad Bhatti Welcome to my ramblings and rants!

October 12, 2006

Agile Methodologies Under the Hood

Filed under: Computing — admin @ 6:54 pm

Agile Methodologies Under the Hood
Based on research and Scott Ambler’s article, agile methodologies have crossed
chasm and moved to mainstream. But I find most companies seems to follow
practices without understanding or adopting underlying foundations for these methodologies.

Agile manifesto describes four principles such as:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools; Working software over
comprehensive documentation; Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
Responding to change over following a plan. But how do we adopt these
principles. Most people focus on practices, for example they may follow
practices of XP such as
Pair Programming, TDD, Refactoring, Small Releases, Continuous
Integration, Collective Ownership, Sustainable Work Pace, etc. without
accepting all of its values. Crystal Clear has similar properties, though some
of they are like practices such as Frequent Delivery, Reflective Improvement,
and Automated Testing, whereas others are like principles such as
Osmotic Communication, Collaboration, Personal Safety.
Scrum is PM based process that
practices such as Frequent delivery, Daily Scrums and principles such as
Customer focus, Transparency, Energized work hours.
Lean Software Development is
largely based on practices such as Delivery Fast and TDD (Quality) and
principles such as Eliminate Waste, Knowledge, Defer Commitment and Respect.
ASD don’t have practices and is
largely based on principles such as Speculate, Collaborate and Learning.
I don’t include RUP,
though there are a number of agile variations.
Similarly, FDD is also iterative
based process, but it’s a bit more BDUF similar to RUP.
Though, I have not looked closely at DSDM and PRINCE2, but they seem to be
general purpose PM based methodologies.

As you can see there are common themes across them such as:

  • Short Iterative Development
  • Up front Quality using Testing, Pairing
  • Communication/Reflective Environment
  • Transparency/Big Visible Charts
  • Respect/Personal Safety
  • Collaboration

However, at deeper level agile methodologies are about two things: egalitarian
culture and giving up control. In agile organizations, everyone works
for a common goal without any selfish motives. Principles such as collaboration,
honest communication, self-organizing teams, responsibility, accountability
requires people will do the right thing without any kind of control. This is
probably biggest reason, why agile methodologies are adopted only at skin
level because most people are driven by personal success, ambition and power.
At many companies, people use information as a tool of control and power. Some
of the practices such as respect, collaboration and honest communication
are hard.
Agile processes assume developers, customers and core stake holders have
same commitment. However, in practice it often falls short. For example,
XP recommends collective ownership of code that can be really difficult in
teams where a few developers are not responsible and don’t believe in

Second, Agile methodologies are all about giving control: the management
gives control of planning, deliverables to the development team.
Most companies are run based on command-control and don’t give up such control.
development in turn gives control to the customers for dictating what needs
to be delivered. The development team work on features defined by customers,
they can’t just spent months on big architectures or frameworks without
providing real software. Obviously, it works only if everyone is collaborating,
communicating and have a reward system that favors these principles (instead of usual hero based culture or firefighting culture).

In most places, clients don’t trust software companies, that is why they
work on big requirement specification because otherwise they will be
cornered into expensive change-request cycles. These companies create RFPs
and software/consulting companies respond by providing services for entire
project. On the other hand agile projects cannot be run based on BRUF,
they need continuous collaboration and the best form of delivery is piece
meal. It means the software developers may risk being fired if they
can’t deliver in first few iterations.

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