Thursday, October 22, 2009

Agile Purity: How Agile Is Agile Enough?

A Tale of Two Projects
I have been fortunate enough to work on two "green field" projects in a row. Both are/were "agile", but the way they're being managed is quite different.

The first project is/was characterized by:
  • The business folks knew at the outset what market they wanted to engage, but not exactly what they wanted the application to do. The direction was "figure it out as you go".
  • Virtually no up-front documentation.
  • Frequent changes to existing features.
  • Considerable 1x1 time between the product owners and developers.
  • We had no BA and one QA specialist was assigned shortly before production release.
  • The product, content and software development people all sat together in one big room.
  • The system is currently in production maintenance mode, with a possible version 2.0 in the future.
The second project is characterized by:
  • We are in "Sprint Zero" - doing technology and design spikes now.
  • We have detailed specifications of many required features.
  • We have several wireframes, scenarios and related documentation available up-front.
  • We have a BA assigned to the team and two QA specialists.
  • The business team is not currently sitting with the development team (though we expect / hope to change that once we start Sprint 1).
Better / Best?
The big question is, "which is better?" I think that depends entirely on which developer you ask. There are certainly advantages to having documentation and someone with a formal BA role. You don't need to have difficult conversations with the product people - that's the BA's job. One of the main disadvantages is that "you don't need to have difficult conversations with the product people" - these are the conversations that drive a better understanding of what the feature/system should do. (Determining if it does it right is another conversation entirely.)

Project 1 did get a bit wearing when we would add a feature, then remove it, then add it back in. It was the most fun I have had on a software project, though, and our velocity was enormous.

We'll have to see how things play out on Project 2. My expectation is that the documentation and specialization of roles will make some things go more smoothly. My fear is that we will find out quite late in the game that some core components of the system aren't quite what the business & customers need, and will be expensive to change.

Expect a detailed side-by-side case study in a few months, and more blog posts on related topics in the interim.