02
Apr 10

Agile dilemma

The time has come to truly retire the word agile. I like the word. I love the idea of agility. But I’m starting to dislike how it’s starting to constrain software development and how it’s endlessly used in software literature these days for the lack of anything else to talk about I guess.

What was supposed to be as phrased in the agile manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

has become infested with these non-developer type parasites who at any sign of anything having a chance of making mainstream, inject their bureaucratic venom into it forcing a self preservation act by most smart developers. That act is to run for the hills.

So what happens next? Well, its a never ending lifecycle. Agile will reincarnate as something very similar to where its origins once lie, but in smaller development circles, until it’s crippled again. This cycle will repeat indefinitely. This cycle is not only apparent in software development lifecycle methodologies, but also in programming languages, frameworks, etc…

Software development is as much art as it is science and engineering. I think when some hear engineering, they think bridge engineering or what today has almost become a ubiquitous term for anyone doing anything. In engineering a bridge, one can reproduce rather predictable set of results. In developing software, one can’t. Engineering is as American Engineers’ Council for Professional Development put it: The creative application of scientific principles to design… Creative is the keyword here. Not constrained by process the kills creativity. We as professionals should be able to discerns these things and stop applying absolutes to the creative process. Just because we have successfully applied processes in the manufacturing discipline, doesn’t mean that same processes or processes at all, can be applied to software engineering. Sorry folks, no software factories for you.

Useful precise estimation is a delusion, and the sooner we realize it, the faster we can get back to developing quality software. Process is disadvantageous. All designed to give the businesses a warm fuzzy feeling of certainty around something that’s not certain. So why are there some that can give good estimates? There are only two reasons. One is that they are lucky. No really, they are lucky at predicting the unpredictable. This happens, trust me. Just ask someone who has a financial advisor and trusts them to set up their financial investment portfolio. Do you trust your financial advisor? If you do, please read Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. Also, there is actually one other reason for good estimation. Sorry developers for exposing this to your managers. This reason is overestimation. Yes, you heard it right. You overestimate, then you finish your task early, but instead of looking good by marking it as done early, which will in turn screw up estimation reports at the end of the sprint by showing that you chronically overestimate, you choose not to and though find something else to do to kill time or start on another task in case that one turns out to be underestimated. At the end of the project, you have accumulated so much time, that your friends have to ignore you on facebook and un-follow you on twitter.

One might say it doesn’t matter, as long as the overall estimates are close. Well, whatever makes you sleep better at night. Just know, software estimation is not science, it’s gambling.

Ah, one other thing, mostly related to XP. My favorite topic, Pair Programming. Sorry folks, this one’s not really for me. There are many issues with it. First, it’s disruptive in the way I think and to my personal creative process (I’m sure it’s not just me either). When I think, I don’t want anyone interrupting my train of thought just because they have an idea. Great, but if your idea doesn’t pan out, my idea just got lost in the shuffle, thanks for the context switch partner. In any other field that requires critical thinking, people work alone a lot (maybe not all the time). Just ask all the researchers. They come up with their best ideas/research and when ready, share those with colleagues or other researchers. They don’t gather up in a room and participate in committee based research. That would never work. One might say it’s because they are egotists. That might be true, but that’s not necessarily a bad quality being that it drives them to outperform someone else. At the end of the day, most innovations come from these weird acting egotists.

In pair programming, we have to be on the same schedule. When my brain doesn’t click, I like to go for a walk or pace around the room to get me into the creative process again. A lot of my ideas come not when I’m sitting at the desk writing code. Now, do I have to coordinate that schedule with my pairing partner? Should we hold hands and skip together? What about if I want to use the bathroom or grab a cup of tea? Should I be conscious as to ensure our bathroom/tea schedules are in synch? Are you kidding me? What is this, grade school all over again or a software factory (laughably some actually like that term).

Well here it goes. I’m a software artist/developer. I write code because I love to, not only because someone’s paying me big bucks to do it. I get aroused by solution revelations and enjoy compliments when I solve hard problems before others, or that others couldn’t, or in a more elegant/concise way than others. Software development is a creative process. It brings with it the ability to create a masterpiece. It’s also a process that requires critical thinking, reflection, and most of all “quite”. Private offices are great, but sometimes not realistic depending on the company’s financial situation. The office doesn’t have to be private, as long as what ever your arrangement is, it’s quite enough and not distracting for you to do your work without having to context switch every 10 minutes to hear some rant going on around you and/or answer questions. There are time for questions, but not when you’re in the zone.

I’d like to see Michelangelo or da Vinci create masterpieces under the constraints of a process. Better yet, I’d love to see those two pair paint.

We all don’t think or work the same. We’re humans. The key to good software is to hire great smart developers that can hold their own. Keep the teams small. The rest will be worked out as a team not as a process. It’s about common sense and good people, not processes.

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  • sez

    I need to have that catch-phrase printed up on my business card: “non-developer type parasite who injects bureaucratic venom into the agile manifesto.”

  • sez

    I need to have that catch-phrase printed up on my business card: “non-developer type parasite who injects bureaucratic venom into the agile manifesto.”

  • http://profile.typepad.com/isterin Ilya Sterin

    Sez, this wasn’t in any way directed towards our group. We practice agile, without the BS. We take what works, try new things, and use what ever gets the job done. That’s what agility is about. This is more towards my frustration of agile becoming the be all and end all of software development as well as these folks that think pair programming is some absolute. Forgetting that the folks that really make things happen are the developers, with all their weird ways of getting the job done. We at Nextrials always had a great team and responded to challenges as needed, not through some absolute process.:-) And although it’s all relative, we’ve been very successful and productive thanks to all of you.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/isterin Ilya Sterin

    Sez, this wasn’t in any way directed towards our group. We practice agile, without the BS. We take what works, try new things, and use what ever gets the job done. That’s what agility is about. This is more towards my frustration of agile becoming the be all and end all of software development as well as these folks that think pair programming is some absolute. Forgetting that the folks that really make things happen are the developers, with all their weird ways of getting the job done. We at Nextrials always had a great team and responded to challenges as needed, not through some absolute process.:-) And although it’s all relative, we’ve been very successful and productive thanks to all of you.

  • KingCode

    Wow…That’s got to be the most refreshing rant I’ve read in a long time – thanks for articulating my own thoughts so perfectly! I used to work in a place where you’d get constantly interrupted by stupid meetings, managers regularly made you drink the bureaucratic venom by the gallon at every curb of each project, and office lighting and noise (radios, loud talk and gossip) forced me to cover my cubicle with cardboard and wear earmuffs…whatever little creative work I got to do had to be done after hours and often got me criticized by the “suits”. I’ve never tried pair programming and wouldn’t want to criticize it unfairly, but have to confess that I dread it for the same reasons you give – at the very least, everything I’ve read about it hasn’t done anything to dissuade me from my impression (Once a ‘guru’ assigned to ‘train’ me in my first job in a pair programming setting, wrote all the code and kept ranting about the project and going off in wild lectures about his religious views).

  • KingCode

    Wow…That’s got to be the most refreshing rant I’ve read in a long time – thanks for articulating my own thoughts so perfectly! I used to work in a place where you’d get constantly interrupted by stupid meetings, managers regularly made you drink the bureaucratic venom by the gallon at every curb of each project, and office lighting and noise (radios, loud talk and gossip) forced me to cover my cubicle with cardboard and wear earmuffs…whatever little creative work I got to do had to be done after hours and often got me criticized by the “suits”. I’ve never tried pair programming and wouldn’t want to criticize it unfairly, but have to confess that I dread it for the same reasons you give – at the very least, everything I’ve read about it hasn’t done anything to dissuade me from my impression (Once a ‘guru’ assigned to ‘train’ me in my first job in a pair programming setting, wrote all the code and kept ranting about the project and going off in wild lectures about his religious views).

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