Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Agile?

Sitting in a day-long vendor presentation yesterday doesn't give me much to blog about, but one interesting thing that the vendor did talk about was their use of the agile software development methodology. They did, in fact, dedicate considerable time to talking about it, and even distributed a book, Agile & Iterative Development: A Manager's Guide to give us a background for what they were talking about. I had read their presentation the previous evening, and found a somewhat earlier work by Alistair Cockburn in PDF format that gave me some idea.
The methodology seems to address some of the things that frustrated me in the last project I worked on, namely that we never saw actual working code, ever. We saw documents. Agile emphasises that owner and user interaction in the project is based on working code. That is hugely attractive. It also addresses the issue of matching requirements to out of the box functionality: Without user input, even a well-written requirement, taken completely literally and without the frame of reference of a certain package, will often result in a custom-built functionality. I saw this on my last project. A more consultative approach seems attractive. Having run the CR (change request) part of a project which basically failed on CRs, I am really in favor of anything that reduces complexity and the cost of change. Agile seems to help there. My colleagues were not so enthralled, however: Documentation is a big deal in a big development project, and agile calls for the minimum required documentation. Comments that they would in certain cases expect that customers would give up certain requirements, while dead honest and true (which I actually appreciated), did not go over well with some people.
I plan on reading the book, and finding out more. If this vendor gets the contract, there is a chance that I would need to be involved, since the methodology requires full-time, dedicated resources from the customer to work closely with the vendor. The book, in any case, should give me an idea of a different way of doing things, which, after the last project, can only be a good thing.

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