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Agile Development != Chaos

The most agile project teams I have seen are those that do not claim to be agile or lean

The most agile project teams I have seen are those that do not claim to be agile or lean. They have a solid well-documented architecture in place as well as designs of the modules being built. They have separated the responsibilities amongst the team members according to the team member's skill set. They don't try to pretend everyone has the experience levels that would allow them to contribute to all aspects of the development process. Requirements, Architecture, Analysis and design, and Proof of Concepts take up 80% of the projects resources of time and money, and coding takes up 20%. As the team's process becomes repeatable and reuse starts to be capitalized on, the project's time to production is shortened, estimates are actually accurate, and budgets are met.

In my career I have come across approximately 20 teams claiming to be agile, one actually was. The rest of them used agile as an excuse to remove internal documentation and use refactoring as the excuse for horrible coding practices and coding efforts put into requirements that were not fully understood. Refactoring exists to improve code design, not fix broken code. So if your team is spending a ton of time refactoring, they are wasting your money trying to fix their broken code, not improve their code design. Making changes to fix bugs or correct requirements that were missed due to lack of discipline or poor requirement elicitation practices is simply wasted money. Wasted money because your team does not have the skills to properly execute a proper software development process.

If your team is:

  • Missing Dates
  • Comes in over budget
  • Suffers from unpredicted team member levels (adding unexpected man hours to complete a project)
  • Bugs in production
  • Development team needs to be part of the maintenance team in order for the maintenance team to understand the application's architecture and module design
  • Doing one-off development (cut, paste, and modify the previous project's code base)
  • You need to eliminate promised features to hit your dates


Then you are simply failing to execute whatever process you are claiming to have whether that be agile or not. Claiming to be agile is how most teams mask their incompetence. It is a shame because I know agile and lean processes work. What most of the IT industry does not understand is that executing an agile process correctly and delivering a solid product is much more difficult (requires more experience) than executing a traditional process like the Unified Process (UP). Read Agile Principles, Patterns, and Practices in C# to find out what your team should know and be doing to be able to implement an agile process. Very few teams I have come across have the skill level required to do anything with an agile process except create chaos.

One of my experiences turning this around involved removing what a company had deemed to be an agile process and implement an instance of the UP. Please don't get me wrong here, without the proper experience on your team, no process is going to be executed correctly. UP is just a process that includes iteration and milestones deliverables. Executed correctly these deliverables provide confidence as they start being delivered on time and start being used as communication tools during meetings and in other conversations.

The biggest hurdle to get over was the minds of the business owners who had been sold on the idea that agile = chaos (not literally). It doesn't. After a company spends a lot of time in the chaos mode (putting out the hottest production fire, missing dates, going over budget) it is hard to break them out of it. The worthless motion is perceived as productivity, and the internal teams never get the time to step back and take a look at the rat race they are running. Many times no one in the company has ever experienced any other way of doing things. You may have the same difficulty convincing the development teams as well.

Sometimes the only way I have found to break the cycle is to ask for a small project you can execute on your own from scratch to finish, or take on all the jobs considered drudgery yourself on a project team. Doing all the boring documentation, sitting through the long requirements elicitation meetings, simply doing all the stuff that allows a project to succeed but no one wants to do, or they don't know how. The concept is simply know as mentoring. Getting in at every level to help accomplish the tasks that would not be done, or would be done with the attitude of "this is stupid". It is the only way to show the value of the things that make a software development project succeed.

If you can get the development team to play ball, the business will warm up to the new process when dates are hit, they are within budget, and software starts going to production without bugs.

When the fires start going out and the chaos is tamed, the business can actually start thinking about their business.

Some other things Agile does not equal...
Agile Development != Low Ceremony
Agile != Ignoring Requirements

Original Post: http://realworldsa.blogspot.com/2011/01/agile-development-chaos.html

More Stories By Tad Anderson

Tad Anderson has been doing Software Architecture for 18 years and Enterprise Architecture for the past few.

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