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Jamie Kurtz Promoting architectural simplicty

When was the last time you ordered a pizza like this:

“I want the high school kid in the back to do the following… make a big circle with some dough, curl up the edges, then put some sauce on it using a small ladle, then I want him to take a handful of shredded cheese from the metal container and spread it over the circle and sauce, then finally I want the kid to place 36 pieces of pepperoni over the top of the cheese” ??

Probably never. My typical pizza order usually goes more like this: “I want a large pepperoni pizza”.

In the world of software development, we try so hard to be all things agile. We:

  • Write lots of unit tests
  • We refactor our code, then refactor it some more
  • We avoid writing lengthy requirements documents
  • We try to keep processes to a minimum, and give developers freedom
  • And we are proud of our constantly shifting focus (i.e. we’re “responding to change”)

Yet, after all this, we fail to really lean and capitalize on one of agile’s main differentiators (from the twelve principles behind the Agile Manifesto):

“Working software is the primary measure of progress.”

That is, we foolishly commit to delivering tasks instead of features and bug fixes. Like my pizza example above, we fall into the trap of signing contracts that bind us to doing tasks – rather than delivering working software.

And the biggest problem here… by far the most troubling outcome… is that we don’t let working software be a major force in all the work we do. When teams manage to ruthlessly focus on the end product, it puts them on the path of true agile. It doesn’t let them accidentally write too much documentation, or spend lots of time and money on processes and fancy tools. It forces early testing that reveals problems in the feature or bug fix. And it forces lots and lots of customer interaction. 

Without that focus on the end product as your deliverable… by committing to a list of tasks instead of a list features and bug fixes… you are doomed to NOT be agile. You will end up just doing stuff, spending time on the keyboard, burning time on timesheets. Doing tasks doesn’t force you to minimize documentation. It makes it much harder to respond to change. And it will eventually force you and the client into contract haggling. Because the customer isn’t really paying you to do stuff. He’s ultimately paying for features and bug fixes. And when the customer doesn’t get what they want, responding with “well, look at the contract - we did all the tasks we committed to” doesn’t typically generate referrals or callbacks.

In short, if you’re trying to deliver real value to the customer by going agile, you will most certainly fail if all you commit to is a list of things you’re going to do. Give agile what it needs by committing to features and bug fixes – not a list of ToDo items.

So the next time you are writing up a contract, remember that the customer should be buying this:


Not this:


Posted on Sunday, June 24, 2012 11:29 PM | Back to top

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