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Unread 16 Mar 2007, 21:35   #1
Structural Integrity
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Are you Agile?

I've been working the Agile way for six months now and I'm loving it. The way I experience it I don't think I ever want to go back to a CMM-level-3+ or "total chaos" way of working ever again.

I never heard of Agile/XP back in the days when I went to school and I heard that very few companies in the Netherlands are using it. Many people seem to believe it's not a disciplined way of working, and managers/customers seem to dislike it because it does not "guarantee" (as if any other process does so) a certain featureset at a certain deadline and because it requires a lot of interaction with the customer.
So I was wondering if the Agile way of working is more popular in the rest of the world or if you are doing it yourself?
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Unread 17 Mar 2007, 16:22   #2
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Re: Are you Agile?

I really hate tags like this being assigned to processes or tasks, its the executive branch trying to understand programmers the only way they can I geuss.

That aside I'm not professionally involved in programming so tags like this are meaningless anyway.

After reading the description though I would say my development cycles are very much as described, but most of that just seems plane logic to me. Good software is always the result of something that has been soak tested and built little bits at a time over a long period. The waterfall method as described could result in an inferior product because chances are most of the process was rushed in order to meet some arbitry deadline.
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Unread 24 Mar 2007, 09:49   #3
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Re: Are you Agile?

I'm not involved in any software development, but some of that rings true for the things I am involved in. I work for a housing group and (for fairly obvious reasons) a GIS / mapping system would be useful. So for something like four of the last five years we've considered getting something in, but it has to be some huge formal project involving dozens of (very busy) people who work in different offices all having to give their input, a series of rigid bureaucratic steps and budgets being agreed - none of which rarely work out.

If we do eventually do obtain a GIS system it'll inevitably be horribly poor value for money, because we'll have a £100k budget or something, get some consultants in, and inevitably all the budget will be spent, the product will be released internally, a thousand complaints/suggestions/ammendments will emerge but the budget will be all gone so nothing will ever change.

Instead, the much cheaper alternative of just putting a server aside and trying some basic OSS development incrementally isn't even considered. Perversely it's seen as too risky, or perhaps something which smells of anarchism.

Fortunately I do my own thing, but imagine if I wasn't around? We'd be doomed.
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Unread 24 Mar 2007, 15:19   #4
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Re: Are you Agile?

We don't strictly adhere to any methodology in particular in my place, mostly because the projects we're working on are less collaborative than things like Agile and CMM are really useful for. In most of what we do, it's short development cycle 'code-test-refine' kind of thing, but in no way to a set of rules or guidelines.
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Unread 24 Mar 2007, 18:04   #5
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Re: Are you Agile?

XP is utter bollocks. 'Agile' programming seems like the common sense version of XP and has a broader and less prescriptive definition. Of course, like anything that comprises 'common sense', it is mostly rather obvious stuff that any sensible person would be doing already. The fact that there are a considerable number of people who do not develop this way is utterly baffling.
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Unread 24 Mar 2007, 18:42   #6
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Re: Are you Agile?

Ive been doing a course on agile programming this semester ( the scrum method in particular ) , for which we have to write a 'blog' as we go along about how we are finding things and what we did ( i cringed when they said this in the lectures, another sodding buzzword. )
In it, theres a bit of critisicm about it all :/

It has its place in small software development teams which have to develop something tangible quickly i guess, but certainly not for enterprise level development where you are developing a huuge system which has to be pretty damn good and thought through in how everything is going to interact with each other thing ( UML diagrams , the works for planning etc )

The test-driven development aspect of it is good, and easily retrofitted to a more robust dev model but aside from that... :S
Its just the lack of overall planning which i dont like primarily about it. You have no idea where the thing is going in the end or if the whole thing is going to be done on time, only where you are supposed to be at the end of a particular sprint.
On the plus side it does put more pressure on the customer to say precisely what they want and to stop faffing about with indecision since they are what drives the process on. If anything goes wrong outside of the acceptance tests that they agree too then its their own fault and not that of the developer which is good for us. a rather nice CYA approach
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Unread 25 Mar 2007, 11:45   #7
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Re: Are you Agile?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil^
It has its place in small software development teams which have to develop something tangible quickly i guess, but certainly not for enterprise level development where you are developing a huuge system which has to be pretty damn good and thought through in how everything is going to interact with each other thing ( UML diagrams , the works for planning etc )
I agree that Agile is hard to implement in huge teams of hundreds of developers, and even more so when interacting with different dsciplines. But I think you can split up any huuuuge system up in smaller subsystems that then can be developed by smaller Agile teams. It's like the SCRUM-master approach, though personally I think an approach where every team is a customer of another team makes more sense.

Quote:
Its just the lack of overall planning which i dont like primarily about it. You have no idea where the thing is going in the end or if the whole thing is going to be done on time, only where you are supposed to be at the end of a particular sprint.
So, when you plan a huge project the traditional way you can say EXACTLY when it's going to be finished? They're no more than gut-feelings of when something is done. And an Agile-gut-feeling is no less than a traditional-gut-feeling.
Yes, it's possible a project never ends, and that's OK as long as the customer pays for it. And it's also partially true that a piece of software is never really done.

Quote:
On the plus side it does put more pressure on the customer to say precisely what they want and to stop faffing about with indecision since they are what drives the process on. If anything goes wrong outside of the acceptance tests that they agree too then its their own fault and not that of the developer which is good for us. a rather nice CYA approach
Yes, it puts more pressure on the customer and you need a willing customer if you want to successfully do a project in thr Agile way. It can be a pain trying to convince the customer that in return the has a better chance that he gets what he wants because he can give feedback and change priorities every iteration.
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Unread 27 Mar 2007, 16:38   #8
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Re: Are you Agile?

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Originally Posted by Phil^
It has its place in small software development teams which have to develop something tangible quickly i guess, but certainly not for enterprise level development where you are developing a huuge system which has to be pretty damn good and thought through in how everything is going to interact with each other thing ( UML diagrams , the works for planning etc )
Does "enterprise level" mean anything, objectively speaking?

Again, speaking as an outsider (to the CS), I'm not sure it does. I write this posts minutes after receiving an email sent to all our company telling us our invoice processing system has just crashed and won't be restartable until tomorrow (it is the end of the financial year in a few days). It is a system responsible for a good proportion of our (non-staffing / financial) revenue accounting, perhaps about £6-7 million worth of orders. And it's crashed because there's more than a hundred invoices were processed on the same order, or something equally shit and pathetic.

Our capital projects (about £40m-£50m worth of expenditure I guess) are managed primarily through some badly linked excel files (which breaks every month when someone adds a new row into some file without telling anyone). This is the enterprise level a lot of the time.

The point I'm making is that lots of organisations making do with really shit software which (in the case of our invoice system) has undoubtedly gone through a full planning process. We'd have been better off developing something inhouse and at least being able to improve it as we went on. At the moment, all we can do is moan at the developers a lot.
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Unread 27 Mar 2007, 17:04   #9
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Re: Are you Agile?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dante Hicks
Does "enterprise level" mean anything, objectively speaking?
When i say enterprise level, im referring to things which generally follow whats known as the waterfall development method and are planned out in absolute detail before moving onto the next stage.
This is what ( im led to believe by lecturers ) is done in the upper echelons of enterprise development most of the time for large software development teams.

This has its drawbacks of course, the further along in the development cycle you are the more expensive it becomes ( in both time and resources ) to make changes to things previously done
When you do make a change, you have to go back to that point and redo the work
Customers are generally gits for this, they see what has been done and go "ooh wouldnt it be nice if..." or " i dont want that anymore..."

Thats what i guess the agile method was developed to guard against
In the agile method, generally speaking you do development in iterations. You start off with a few small tasks to do in each and go through the plan,implement,test,deploy,evaluate,(document?) cycle for each one of those iterations. At the end of each cycle the customer comes in and evaluates the progress, reprioritises the remaining tasks, adds new ones in / removes old ones which are no longer wanted and so on. They then sign off on the criteria for which the next cycle will have to pass, ie "the system shall be able to cope with invalid orders without crashing by creating an error message and moving onto the next order" or the like, And the cycle begins again. Some more tasks are chosen and planned,implemented,tested,deployed,evaluated etc etc

The theory is that the customer ends up getting precisely what they want, and its more forgiving of change then the traditional 'waterfall' approach however since you are only doing planning for specific tasks at any one time, there is no overall master plan when it comes to things like individual components on different iterations and how they are all supposed to interact together nicely. Its achieved through refactoring of old work and generally seems ( to me ) like a cludge/hack effort to make it work together.
It is also quite difficult to do agile development in monolithic teams, its best suited for smaller groups

Enterprise level development tends to favour the waterfall approach purely because of the masses of planning done beforehand ( and i guess because there are times you can have an unresponsive customer which does not help the agile approach much )

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dante Hicks
Again, speaking as an outsider (to the CS), I'm not sure it does. I write this posts minutes after receiving an email sent to all our company telling us our invoice processing system has just crashed and won't be restartable until tomorrow (it is the end of the financial year in a few days). It is a system responsible for a good proportion of our (non-staffing / financial) revenue accounting, perhaps about £6-7 million worth of orders. And it's crashed because there's more than a hundred invoices were processed on the same order, or something equally shit and pathetic.

Our capital projects (about £40m-£50m worth of expenditure I guess) are managed primarily through some badly linked excel files (which breaks every month when someone adds a new row into some file without telling anyone). This is the enterprise level a lot of the time.

The point I'm making is that lots of organisations making do with really shit software which (in the case of our invoice system) has undoubtedly gone through a full planning process. We'd have been better off developing something inhouse and at least being able to improve it as we went on. At the moment, all we can do is moan at the developers a lot.
Indeed, that sounds like your company had some real cowboys in there who failed to adequately test the system they sold you or even to plan for the event that something unexpected happens. What *should* happen is that such an order would fail gracefully without taking out the rest of the system - alas this appears to not be the case.
I would urge you to moan at management for choosing these developers in the first place and suggest that they look into replacing the system entirely with something developed more professionally and perhaps even in-house ( and with contractual obligations to have a certain level of reliability ). If the current system is costing you money that might light a fire under their arses to do something
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Unread 27 Mar 2007, 18:49   #10
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Re: Are you Agile?

See there're only four software devs in our place, which means that applying a specific methodology isn't really practical. I'm trying to institute an environment of test-driven development which fits in quite nicely with the Agile thinking, but Agile does, as previously mentioned, just seem to be applied common-sense for small dev teams.

In fact, the initial overhead of going Agile would probably cost more dev time than would just continuing as we do. It does however worry me how often we just sit down and start coding rather than properly spec'ing out the deliverables we're working on.
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Unread 27 Mar 2007, 19:01   #11
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Re: Are you Agile?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil^
Thats what i guess the agile method was developed to guard against
In the agile method, generally speaking you do development in iterations. You start off with a few small tasks to do in each and go through the plan,implement,test,deploy,evaluate,(document?) cycle for each one of those iterations.
We skip the documentation part. We are currently producing a demo for the big Philips demo fair and getting the software going is more important than writing user documentation.
In general Agile methods say that documentation is bad because it is subject to change. So unless it is documentation we can create with very little effort (class/method listings) we don't do it. Also, code comments are also evil because it is classed as "documentation". Think of the kind of code comment from which you generate Doxygen documentation.

Quote:
The theory is that the customer ends up getting precisely what they want, and its more forgiving of change then the traditional 'waterfall' approach however since you are only doing planning for specific tasks at any one time, there is no overall master plan when it comes to things like individual components on different iterations and how they are all supposed to interact together nicely. Its achieved through refactoring of old work and generally seems ( to me ) like a cludge/hack effort to make it work together.
It is also quite difficult to do agile development in monolithic teams, its best suited for smaller groups

Enterprise level development tends to favour the waterfall approach purely because of the masses of planning done beforehand ( and i guess because there are times you can have an unresponsive customer which does not help the agile approach much )
In a previous project we were asked to give an estimation for the duration of the project and we based our planning on the major requirements the customer gave us. It was like "a milestone like that will take us one month", and "this feature will take a week or so".
In the end it took us less time, and we made something completely different than what the customer asked for on day 1. He got a C# usercontrol because it suited his needs better while in the very beginning he was thinking about a complete application.
Not planning might be something the XP purists might do, but in a business environment you won't get away with that.

What Agile in my opinion is far superior in is always delivering something usefull to the customer even if the project is stopped prematurely. For example, if you have a budget of $100,000 for a project, and you spend 70% of that for planning and designing you spent $70,000 without even delivering one line of code. You better get everything coded in the other 30% of the time or you might not be able to deliver a product with enough or the right features to be accepted by the customer. So in the end, if you implemented 60% of the features, it might not be the features that the customer thinks are most important.
Whereas if you had started coding features right away you would ideally have 70% of the features ready. Or if the project isn't going well you might have 40% of the features ready. But because you have been prioritizing all the time, those are the 40% most important features to the customer. And we all know that the other 60% of the features customers want are bollocks anyway.

This can make a difference between delivering something even remotely usefull, and something useless. Think along the lines of an email client that is 60% done. We're out of budget and have no money to implement the actual mailing part. But it CAN do rich text editting, insert tables, parse HTML, burn CD's.... But it can't send mail. 60% done, 0% business value.
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Unread 27 Mar 2007, 19:08   #12
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Re: Are you Agile?

Give agile a test out for a project and see how you get on with it. Once you get into the mindset its not that hard to go with. four devs is fine for agile, its about the size of teams we had in coursework assignments.

Our course introduced the concepts in a 'fun' way by having tasks done through the agile method which had nothing at all to do with programming so it might be an idea to run a mini-workshop to get people into the way of thinking

Things like cards with numerical challenges, card pyramid building, card sorting, balloon tying etc etc etc
Each challenge card had its 'business value' written on it and you assign a complexity to them from 1-5. you then divide business value by complexity and order them in descending order. You agree acceptance tests with whoever is organising the workship and then you then get through as many of these tasks as you can in a fixed period of time. After the time is up you get more tasks given to you and you use the experiance of the last 'sprint' to reassign complexities to tasks and work from there again
The idea is to get as high a resulting total from b.value/complexity as possible at the end of a few sprints
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Unread 28 Mar 2007, 13:40   #13
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Re: Are you Agile?

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Originally Posted by Phil^
I would urge you to moan at management for choosing these developers in the first place and suggest that they look into replacing the system entirely with something developed more professionally and perhaps even in-house ( and with contractual obligations to have a certain level of reliability ).
Oh, don't worry I do continually raise these issues, but it's a huge cultural shift required inside the (quasi)public sector to not accept poor quality IT products/solutions generally. For our CRM product we made a request for keyboard shortcuts (in given contexts) four years ago. It was put in the "development mix" (whatever that means) at the time and still nothing. We're certainly among the larger companies who use this product, but the suppliers (who predominantly deal with public sector software) know that we'll put up with it.

The other problem isn't really related to development but that 95% of the software we get pitched is basically already a finished product. The sales reps of course promise that it'll fit whatever peculiarity of your operations and can be tailored to do whatever, but unless you actually ensure this is the case before you place the order you tend to be left with whatever product and unless their agenda is improving the product in that direction anyway, you're stuffed.

(It's your taxes paying for hilarity like this btw)
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Unread 1 Apr 2007, 23:17   #14
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Re: Are you Agile?

Where I work, we're around 30 programmers, plus another 100 or so doing gfx, sound and other stuff.

We're using a semi-agile model for our development. Plans have been drawn up ahead of time, but they are continuously revised and evaluated as work progresses. We've basically picked some parts of agile, and dropped others and are continously evaluating taking more parts into our methodology.

Our budget is in the multi-million dollar range, and we've been working on our product for several years now.. If that doesn't count as enterprise, then what does?
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Unread 2 Apr 2007, 17:46   #15
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Re: Are you Agile?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Epcylon
Where I work, we're around 30 programmers, plus another 100 or so doing gfx, sound and other stuff.

We're using a semi-agile model for our development. Plans have been drawn up ahead of time, but they are continuously revised and evaluated as work progresses. We've basically picked some parts of agile, and dropped others and are continously evaluating taking more parts into our methodology.

Our budget is in the multi-million dollar range, and we've been working on our product for several years now.. If that doesn't count as enterprise, then what does?
I have heard quite a few claims that Agile does not scale up very well and that teams of give or take 10 people are really the max. What do you do to scale up to 30 programmers? Do you split the project into smaller subprojects or so?
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Unread 2 Apr 2007, 21:22   #16
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Re: Are you Agile?

One could argue that we've had problems with scaling up aswell, but I think we are better off than we would have been with a different model...

The programmer team is split in tools, rendering and gamecode (we're a game developer if you hadn't figured that out ) but with a lot of work crossing the borders between the coder teams. Tools and gamecode need to use same dataformats, and the tools use the same rendering engine as the game etc.

I guess the most Agile part of how we work doesn't just relate to the programmers. For a particular feature, we create a "strike-team" that consists of one or two coders, some graphic artists and some designers.

That team is then responsible for making that feature, and once the feature has been completed, the team is broken up and the people in it are put on other strike-teams, implementing the next set of features.
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Unread 15 Apr 2007, 11:19   #17
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Re: Are you Agile?

Can someone point me to a good source of free information about the various agile methods?

I'm trying to get a case together to promote some software methodology in the company I work for and agile seemed like a good fit. I am particularly interested in comparisons with other ways of working, criticisms and testimonials (not evangalism).

I've been reading some stuff from Alistair Cockburn but it all seems a bit out of date, so any help is appreciated.
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Unread 15 Apr 2007, 13:38   #18
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Re: Are you Agile?

http://www.agileinaction.com/ is a good read

http://www.extremeprogramming.org/ has lots of info
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Unread 16 Apr 2007, 00:16   #19
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Re: Are you Agile?

there is also some information on agile methods on wikipedia
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Unread 17 Apr 2007, 17:47   #20
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Re: Are you Agile?

I agree with ComradeRob. How the hell else are you suppose to design programmes? It really baffles me. It's selling common-sense. It's probably worthwhile if computer scientists have been forced to write software in a really, really stupid way, using UML for everything and using the waterfall model to an extreme (but I always assumed that wasn't a methodology per se but just what you told management) for example, and they need to be retaught how to be clever again.

Re: Enterprise software.
I've never understood that term either. I assumed it's what you use when you want to sell things to corporations who want feel they're special. I.e. Look we've turned on a few features (or more likely, we've turned them off in the desktop version). It seems like a marketing trick to me. It's certainly what they do with OS X.

You could say it relates to scalability. But to be frank, if a piece of software isn't scalable and robust it's just not a good piece of software.
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