Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Agile Blast

Steve Yeggey @ Google has blasted Agile and InfoQ has carried a significant post on it. Rants like these sell like hot cakes and, no wonder, the last time I checked Steve's blogs, I found 161 comments posted against it. Martin Fowler has posted a quiet, but convincing dictum in his bliki regarding his agile practices in Thoughtworks. Of course, Martin's post contains no reference to Google Agile practices of Steve - but the timing is significant.

Any practice, done the wrong way is bad, and Agile is no exception. The Agile Manifesto never talks about imposition, never dictates any forceful action from the upper management - it talks about individuals, interactions and collaborations. It's never an enforcement of RigorousAgile.

We have been practicing many of the principles of agile methodology in Anshinsoft in our offshore software development model in India. To a large extent we have been quite satisfied with the results. We do *not* do pair programming, but we follow principles like customer collaboration, short iterative model of development, merciless refactoring, early builds and short release cycles. Developing in collaboration with the client team, 10,000 miles and 12 hour timezones away, these have worked out great for us.

Steve has mentioned about many of the Google practices. We need to understand that Google hires its staff after a very thorough and careful screening process, has a completely different business model and does not have to think about the red-faced fuming client hammering for the red dots of the project dashboard late at night. So whatever is Google Agile, cannot be applied to houses that deliver run-of-the-mill project solutions at nickel-a-line-of-code priceline.

Here are some of the other Yegge rants ..

- there are managers, sort of, but most of them code at least half-time, making them more like tech leads.

In a typical project, the project manager has to do external client management and keep all stakeholders updated about the project dashboard. Managers coding half of the time simply do not work in a large enterprise scale development project. Well, once again it may be a Google specialization, but for people working further down the intellectual curve, it's all bricks and mortars - managers need to work collaboratively with a very strong client facing role.

- developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked; just say the word and the movers will show up the next day to put you in your new office with your new team.

A real joke when you are delivering a time critical project to your client. Again it's Google Agile, but definitely not applicable to the business model in which the lesser mortals thrive on.

- there aren't Gantt charts or date-task-owner spreadsheets or any other visible project-management artifacts in evidence, not that I've ever seen.

When you don't have the deadlines and the client manager sniffing at your project dashboard, you can indulge in creativity-unlimited - sorry folks, no place for this one too in my delivery model.

The agile methodology does not force you to use (or not use) Gantt charts or excel sheets for project management. It's all about adding flexibility and making your process easier to manage and make teams drift away from the reams of useless documentation. Agility, practiced bad is Bad Agile, but one model does not fit all and Google Agile is not for the general mass to follow.

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