Agile Insider reality bytes…


Agile Requires Skilled Developers

In a recent tweet from @EstherDerby, she states

Some ppl complain agile only works w/ highly skilled developers. Never been clear 2 me that ANY dev. method works w/o highly skilled devs.

I think the subtle distinction is that agile REQUIRES skilled developers to be successful, whereas some of the "heavier" methodologies would be better with skilled developers but don't actually require them.  I also think that when we look at many of the agile successes, it would be interesting to determine whether there was any correlation between the level of skill of the developers compared to the level of skill on the non-successful and/or non-agile projects.

And taking this just a little bit further...  Would a small group of skilled developers be successful regardless of the methodology?  Truly skilled developers tend to be very pragmatic and will always find ways to simplify the complexity around them, so I'm sure that if you took 8 highly skilled, highly successful agile developers and stuck them on a waterfall project they would deliver a successful result, at least in terms of the customer...

What's also quite interesting about this dynamic is that once a developer "sees the light" and becomes "agile" they can't imagine going back to waterfall, despite the fact they can add immense value by being part of a waterfall project and improving the processes.  There is something very selfish about this which has not yet been picked up in the mainstream...  This is also possibly one of the reasons why agile suffers an identity crisis, often being regarded as a cult.

And no, I'm not advocating waterfall, I'm just wondering whether skilled developers have more impact on success compared to the methodology.


Slack Is Important

I'm a very strong advocate for slack. I believe introducing slack as a policy improves the overall quality produced during productive hours compared with the traditional approach of applying constant pressure. Just like pair programming, it is actually very difficult to get managers to understand the real benefits of having 'slack'.

For me, slack is just another way to improve the transparency of an agile project and is also the ideal vehicle for introducing diversity, continuous learning and continuous improvement. Given slack, developers will naturally use this to either improve their own networks, improve their understanding on a topic they found difficult or explore new technologies. Any of these will ultimately add significant value to your project.


I’m Agile, But!

Stop right there...

You're not agile...
There are no buts in agile...
If something is wrong, you change it, you don't say "but"...

If you truly can't change it, then you're truly not agile either.

To be agile doesn't mean you must follow any particular methodology, to be truly agile you must be actively seeking to constantly improve every aspect of what you do. If this involves trying out some lean principles to eliminate waste, or TDD to improve the quality of the tests, it doesn't matter.

I'm a strong believer that agile has now become synonymous with many of the methodologies, which is very sad since agile is so much more than a methodology, it's a culture...

So, the next time you hear yourself saying I'm agile, but... You've just identified the next problem to solve in your own methodology and your also just a little bit more agile than you already were...


Too Many Broths Spoil The Cook

Too Many BrothsI' ve got several things bubbling over at the moment and because I never bothered capturing them as stories and placing them in a backlog I'm really struggling to make headway with any of them.  Some are personal experimentation, others are professional and finally there's a few projects which may end up as open source.

So what's stopping me making this backlog?  It's the lack of a single coherent customer to do the prioritisation of course.  I could certainly pull out all the things I want to do into a set of stories, but would it be right for me to also play the customer role?  I certainly don't want to ask my work to do the prioritisation, since I know which side of the fence they'll lean on...

I think my personal challenge is quite similar to many projects I have witnessed where there has not been a single customer.  It becomes extremely difficult to prioritise stories and deliver a single useful end to end feature and instead we deliver lots of little bits and pieces.  Of course, switching contexts in itself is extremely expensive in terms of productivity, but unless there is a single customer, with clear goals and a solid backlog of well expressed stories then switching contexts is inevitable.

What do I plan to do?  Well first and foremost I'm going to take the baby-step of at least creating my backlog of stories...  By definition, these are my stories, so in reality I am the customer, I guess I'm just like all other customers, I'm not a very good one and I like to keep changing my mind - oh well...


Qualities of a Good Developer?

Just what exactly is it that distinguishes a good developer from an average developer?  Certification in a particular language or technology demonstrates the ability to be "average", but certainly doesn't demonstrate good.  I believe a good developer is someone who has an aptitude for developing, which is inherently extremely difficult to measure or quantify.  However, there are possibly a few things that can help you identify your good developers:

  • They are capable of using several languages to get things done
  • They are pragmatic in their approach
  • They understand the concepts as well as the solutions
  • They can think at multiple levels of abstraction
  • They can get things moving despite uncertainty
  • They champion quality and continuous improvement
  • They like to share their knowledge and expertise

Of course, these are very subjective measures and very hard to qualify or quantify.  It can be very hard to demonstrate an ability to use several languages if the working environment dictates a single language.  Red tape may prevent pragmatism.  If the environment prevents these qualities being expressed then it is very likely the most important qualities of the best developers are being suppressed.

If you wish to get the best from your best developers, and achieve that 10 times productivity that is often quoted, you should look to make sure that you have provided them with an environment that allows them to demonstrate (through action) the above characteristics.  If there is anyone you can think of right now with some or most of these characteristics, why not take the opportunity to ask them how you can help to allow them to improve.