perspective Technology

HOWTO: Adopt Agile

I’ve heard the stories, read the reports, discussed and debated, disagreed and agreed, worked together and against each other; i think there may even have been blood spilled at one stage? I vaguely remember something about a keyboard and a dwarf… Indeed, if there ever was a word in the software industry which could raise the room temperature, it’s the little word “agile”.

HINT: If you ever find yourself listening to a techie and he/she/it is boring you with details from another universe and you don’t have a clue as to what they’re talking about (or what language they’re using even if it does sound remarkably close to your mother tongue), just randomly blurt “Agile!”- then stand back or run.

One of the concepts in agile is iterative development because iterative processes help achieve a goal efficiently by giving you the flexibility to change your trajectory as the goal itself moves. If you’re aiming at a goal that never moves, then this story is not for you. Also, check your goal for a pulse- it might be dead. Hence, it makes ironic sense to adopt agile in the same manner: iteratively. That is assuming you want to adopt it at all because if you don’t then there’s no point in proceeding any further. There are none so deaf and blind is how i remember the expression…

And the processes, practices and insights that agile opens us up to- testing, refactoring, pairing, reviews, continuous integration, dry, yagni and company- are also metaphors for adopting the very process itself. And even deeper, the metaphor for every software project should also be embraced for setting up your own company’s adoption of agile. Can you feel the power of recursion starting to make your head throb?

So think of adopting agile as a software project on its own and take it from there. Create stories like “get Paul* to integrate more than once a day consistently”. Get team players to estimate on the story. The team players in this case are those who actually want to get agile ticking along (volunteers). So it’ll probably take 2 weeks before Paul gets it right. Maybe if Igor* took the story he could “convince” Paul inside a week? Create your storyboard, organise the flow, derive a project plan, split it up into more iterations (if need be)- the usual. Then “code”.

Having trouble with Paul? Pair-up with someone. Tag-team it. Refactor. Check in your working “code” regularly. Review what’s been done. Write new stories. WARNING: You might actually start having fun. Role-playing is an essential survival trait of almost every developer. It’s addictive and to pretend that you’re actually the software is going to be a little mental for some, a little esoteric for others but hysterical for a geek. Oh, and don’t be surprised if your developers start to get a little carried away and come dressed as hexadecimal numbers to work. Just keep a straight face and say “Ah. Good morning, 1.6A09E667”.

On the serious flipside, when you start to setup a project plan for adopting agile in this manner you also get to eat your own 0xbaadf00d; practise agile more; refine valuable skills; learn lessons; incorporate it into team culture; get an empirical idea of how close you are to hitting the mark and have a working team at all times (this is most serious). All the feel good fluffy things you want to hear.

And on the negative, less fluffy, pessimistic , dark and evil side of things, when you start to overrun your estimates badly on a lot of stories, you also start to get some really good feedback on when to can the adoption and/or start again or try a new tact. Ok- that’s actually good news too. But how much you try will depend on the strength of the character flaws in your project leader.

And before you know it, you’ll be miles away from being the perfect agile team. Indeed, just like software, there’s always one more feature you can add or take away. There’s always that one routine that can be a little better. And over time, you need to make changes that help you stay relevant and marketable and profitable. It’ll always be perfectly imperfect. And so you keep coding, creating and evolving something even more beautiful (and useful) than you ever imagined in your wildest electric dreams.