Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When Agile got its legs

If you work within the software industry, you are probably familiar with Agile and many of you may be developing this way. If you aren't, you may see this as a lean approach that could be translated into other industries. Before I get into what this type of software development looks like, let's discuss what has been traditionally been the way to develop software - Waterfall.

Waterfall software development was named as such because work is performed in phases, with each phase needing to be completed before the next phase started. People will call these phases different things, but essentially they are the following:

------> Plan
----------> Design
----------------> Implement
-------------------------> Test
------------------------------> Release
-------------------------------------> Review

Each of these phases would concentrate on the entire scope of the project, and people could not move to the next phase until the previous phase was completed. Because of this, an emphasis on formal documentation was needed due to the amount of scope going through each phase and the fact that team members may not have participated in the previous phase and need information to start their part.

End users and other primary stakeholder are usually involved in the first couple of phases, then would not see the end result until it was ready for release. The review is usually some kind of project post-mortem with lessons learned. Depending on the overall timeframe of the project, people that participate in this review may have been on the project months ago, and many people cannot remember what the start of the project was like.

Several years ago, people started to get together and determined that there must be a better way. They also started their own "lightweight" or "agile" process that suited their environment. One of the better known methodologies out there is XP or Extreme Programming.

When I started seriously thinking about a different way for my organization to develop, my research quickly sent me to the Agile Alliance. What is the Agile Alliance? Here is what the site says:

In the late 1990's several methodologies began to get increasing public attention. Each had a different combination of old ideas, new ideas, and transmuted old ideas. But they all emphasized close collaboration between the programmer team and business experts; face-to-face communication (as more efficient than written documentation); frequent delivery of new deployable business value; tight, self-organizing teams; and ways to craft the code and the team such that the inevitable requirements churn was not a crisis.

Early 2001 saw a workshop in Snowbird, Utah, USA, where various originators and practitioners of these methodologies met to figure out just what it was they had in common. They picked the word "agile" for an umbrella term and crafted the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, whose most important part was a statement of shared development values.

The Manifesto struck a chord, and it led to many new Agile projects being started. As with any human endeavor, some succeeded and some failed. But what was striking about the successes was how much both the business people and the technical people loved their project. This was the way they wanted software development done. Successful projects spawned enthusiasts.

The Agile Alliance exists to help more Agile projects succeed and to help the enthusiasts start more Agile projects. This particular page is to help people learn more about Agile software development. In keeping with the Agile emphasis on face-to-face communication, we urge you to visit a users group and talk to your peers about their experience.

With this in hand, I was ready to learn more about the details of what it meant to be Agile...

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