How To Be Agile

29. November, 2008

The article “When Agile Projects Go Bad” got me thinking. I’ve talked to many people about XP and Agile Development and TDD and the usual question is: “How do we make it work?” And the next sentence is: “This won’t work with us because we can’t do this or that.”.

This is a general misconception which comes from the … uh … “great” methodologies which you were taught in school: the waterfall model, the V model, the old dinosaurs. They told you: “You must follow the rules to the letter or doom will rain on your head!” Since you could never follow all the rules, they could easily say “Told you so!” when things didn’t work out.

Agile development is quite different in this respect. First of all, it assumes that you’re an adult. That you have a brain and can actually use it. It also assumes that you want to improve your situation. It also assumes nothing else.

When a company is in trouble, it will call for help. Expensive external advisers will be called, they will think about the situation for a long time (= more money for them). After a while (when the new yacht is in the dry), they will come up with what’s wrong and how to fix it. Did you know that in most companies in trouble, the external advisers will just repeat what they heard form the people working there?

It’s not that people don’t know what’s wrong, it’s just not healthy to mention it … at least if you want to work there. So people walk around, with the anger in their hearts and the fist in the pocket and nothing will happen until someone from the outside comes in and states the obvious. Can’t happen any other way because if it could, you wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

Agile Development is similar. It acknowledges that you’re smart and that you know what’s wrong and that you don’t have the power to call in help. What it does is it offers you a set of tools, things that have worked for other people in the past and some of them might apply to you. Maybe all. Probably not. Most likely, you will be able to use one or two. That doesn’t sound like much but the old methodologies are pretty useless if you can’t implement 90%+. Agile is agile. It can bend and twist and fit in your routine.

So you’re thinking about doing TDD. Do you have to ask your boss? No. Do you have to get permission from anyone? No. Do you have to tell anyone? No. Can you do it any time you like, as often as you like, stop at will? Yes. If it doesn’t work for you in your situation, for the current project, then don’t use it. No harm done, nothing gained either.

But if you can use it, every little bit will help. Suddenly, you will find yourself to be able to deliver on time. Your code will work and it will be much more solid than before. You will be able to do more work in less time. People will notice. Your reputation will increase. And eventually, they will be curious: How do you do it? “TDD.” What’s that?

You win.

Be agile. Pick and choose. Pick what you think will work, try it, drop it if it doesn’t deliver. And if it works, try the next thing. Evolve. Become the better you.

Agile is not a silver bullet. It won’t miraculously solve all your issues. You still have to think and be an adult about your work. It’s meant to be that way. I don’t do every Agile practice every day. Sometimes, I don’t even TDD (and I regret every time). But I always return because life is just so much more simple.

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