Sunday, October 26, 2008

Towards Agile Talking Points [was: Towards an Agile Litmus Test]

Last week, I published a poll which tried to identify criteria for an agile litmus test.  I wanted some talking points to complement the Nokia test as I start to coach a new agile project. There seem to be strong feelings against testing. The inquiry generated little enthusiasm on dzone, whereas Michael's criticism of these tests came up strongly positive.

As I started the above mentioned project, I discovered that the questions I proposed were not that helpful.  The real problems become obvious very quickly as I watched the team do its sprint retrospective and sprint planning. Reacting to what I see is more important than doing an academic evaluation.

As I write this article, 8 people have voted on the poll. Not exactly the wisdom of crowds, but you can get an idea of what people consider important. Here are the top vote getters:
  1. Colocated: Is the team colocated? - 8
  2. User Stories: Do you define the product in terms of user stories? - 8
  3. Releases: Have you delivered running, tested, usable functionality to users at least twice in the last six months? - 7
  4. Continuous: Do you do continuous build / test / deploy? - 7
  5. Retrospective: Does you team conduct a retrospective after every iteration? - 7
  6. Testers: Do you have testers? - 6
  7. Bug DB: Do you have a bug database? - 6
  8. Access: Does it take less than three days from when you have a question to when an expert answers it? - 6
  9. Build: Can you build in a single step? - 6
  10. Talk: Does everyone talk to each other, constantly? - 6
One of the more interesting suggestions in ensuing the discussions was, When starting a project, I should not be looking for practices, but rather but looking for smells (or symptoms). I could identify a couple from the questions in the poll:
  • How many releases have you put out in the last 6 months? ( 0 or 1 is a problem)
  • How much effort is required to build and test the software?
  • Does fear play a role in deciding when to give the boss bad news?
I still think it is useful to have some tools and approaches, readily available in my backpack, for "debugging" an agile development project. Some would be used when talking to management about their problems, to convince them of the need to do something. Others might be asked of the team in the course of a retrospective. Still others might find their way into an Agile RFP, so that non-agile companies don't make the cut.

Question for you, gentle reader: What are the symptoms and smells of bad software development and especially bad agile development?