Posts Tagged ‘agile’

Ill Served

You’ve been ill served by the software industry for 40 years – not purposely, but inextricably. We want to restore the partnership. – Ken Schwaber

ill served

Battling The Confirmation Bias

January 21, 2015 6 comments

On my first pass through Bertrand Meyer’s “Agile!” book, I interpreted its contents as a well-reasoned diatribe against agilism (yes, “agile” has become so big that it warrants being called an “ism” now). Because I was eager to do so, I ignored virtually all the positive points Mr. Meyer made and fully embraced his negative points. My initial reading was a classic case of the “confirmation bias“; where one absorbs all the evidence aligning with one’s existing beliefs and jettisons any evidence to the contrary. I knew that the confirmation bias would kick in before I started reading the book – and I looked forward to scratching that ego-inflating itch.

On my second pass through the book, I purposely skimmed over the negatives and concentrated on the positives. Here is Mr. Meyer’s list of positive ideas and practices that “agile” has either contributed to, or (mostly) re-prioritized for, the software development industry:

  • The central role of production code over all else
  • Tests and regression test suites as first class citizens
  • Short, time-boxed iterations
  • Daily standup meetings
  • The importance of accommodating change
  • Continuous integration
  • Velocity tracking & task boards

I should probably end this post here and thank the agile movement for refocusing the software development industry on what’s really important… but I won’t 🙂

The best and edgiest writing in the book, which crisply separates it from its toned down (but still very good) peer, Boehm and Turner’s “Balancing Agility And Discipline“, is the way Mr. Meyer gives the agilencia a dose of its own medicine. Much like some of the brightest agile luminaries (e.g. Sutherland, Cohn, Beck, Jeffries, Larman, Cockburn, Poppendieck, Derby, Denning (sic)) relish villainizing any and all traditional technical and management practices in use before the rise of agilism, Mr. Meyer convincingly points out the considerable downsides of some of agile’s most cherished ideas:

  • User stories as the sole means of capturing requirements (too fine grained; miss the forest for the trees)
  • Pair programming and open offices (ignores individual preferences, needs, personalities)
  • Rejection of all upfront requirements and design activities (for complex systems, can lead to brittle, inextensible, dead-end products)
  • Feature-based development and ignorance of (inter-feature) dependencies (see previous bullet)
  • Test Driven Development (myopic, sequential test-by-test focus can lead to painting oneself into a corner).
  • Coach as a separate role (A ploy to accommodate the burgeoning agile consulting industry. Need more doer roles, not talkers.)
  • Embedded customer (There is no one, single, customer voice on non-trivial projects. It’s impractical and naive to think there is one.)
  • Deprecation of documents (no structured repository of shared understanding to go to seek clarification on system level requirements/architecture/design issues; high maintenance costs for long-lived systems; costly on-boarding of new developers)

I’ve always maintained that there is much to like about the various agile approaches, but the way the agile big-wigs have been morphing the movement into a binary “do-this/don’t-do-that” religious dogma, and trashing anything not considered “agile“, is a huge turnoff to me. How about you?

Obscured By Hype


January 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Even though hard-core agilistas (since every cause requires an evil enemy) present it as thus:

agile fight

For large, complex, multi-disciplined, product developments, it should be as thus:

agile plus traditional


November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Wanna go on a wildly fun rollercoaster ride? Then watch Erik Meijer’s “One Hacker Way” rant. Right out of the gate, I guesstimate that he alienated at least half of his audience with his opening “if you haven’t checked in code in the last week, what are you doing at a developer’s conference?” question.

I didn’t agree with all of what Erik said (I doubt anyone did), but I give him full credit for sticking his neck out and attacking as many sacred cows as he could: Agile, Scrum, 2 day certification, TDD “waste“, non-hackers, planning poker, the myth of self-organizing teams, etc. Mmmm, sacred cows make the best tasting hamburgers.

Uncle Bob Martin, the self-smug pope who arrogantly proclaimed “If you don’t do TDD, you’re unprofessional“, tried to make light of Erik’s creative rant with this lame blog post: “One Hacker Way!“. Nice try Bob, but we know you’re seething inside because many of your sacredly held beliefs were put on the stand. You seem to enjoy hacking the sacred cows of the reviled “traditional” way of developing software, but it’s a different story when your own cutlets are at steak.

Mr. Meijer pointed out what I, and no doubt many others, have thought for years: agile, particularly Scrum, is a subtle, insidious form of control. At least with explicit, transparent control, one knows the situation and where one stands. With Scrum, the koolaid-guzzling flock is duped into believing they’re in control; all the while being micro-managed with daily standups, burndown charts, velocity tracking, and cutesy terminology. No wonder it’s amassed huge fame and success – managers love Scrum because it makes their job easier and anesthetizes the coders.

My fave laugh-out-loud moment in Erik’s talk was when he presented Jeff Sutherland as the perceived messiah of software development:


I’ve found that the best books and talks are those in which I find some of the ideas enlightening and some revolting. Erik Meijer’s talk is certainly one of those brain-busting gems.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Only Approval That Matters

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment

At its core, process agility is all about continuous learning, fast feedback loops, and fluid changeability. Unlike pre-agile methods (and even some currently purported agile methods), which assume that people are forward-marching automatons who “better not make mistakes” and must defend the fort against all external forces of change, process agility accommodates the mental limitations and fallibility of REAL human beings.

Having said that, how agile do you think a process which includes a sign-off list like this is:

Blank Approval

Imagine that whatever has been “approved” by a ceremonial sheet like this is post-facto found to be laced with errors, inconsistencies, and ambiguities due to natural human fallibility. How likely do you think that finders-of-mistakes will publicly point them out, demand a production line stoppage to fix the turds, and suggest that the director-manager-lead approval gauntlet be traversed again? Conversely, how likely do you think that finders-of-mistakes will say “f*ck-it!“, keep their mouths shut, and keep goose-stepping forward with the herd.


Fear not, dear reader. BD00 has a simple and clean solution to the director-manager-lead approval gauntlet problem. Collapse the list of approvers down to one – the only one that matters:

BD00 Approval

Please submit your plans for BD00 approval in the comments section. As his executive assistant, I can assure you that his stamp/no-stamp decision will be made pronto. However, don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Stuck And Bother

June 5, 2014 2 comments

I’m currently working on a project with a real, hard deadline. My team has to demonstrate a working, multi-million dollar radar in the near future to a potential deep-pocketed customer. As you can see below, the tower is up and the antenna is majestically perched on its pedestal. However, it ain’t spinning yet. Nor is it radiating energy, detecting signal returns, or extracting/estimating target information (range, speed, angle, size) buried in a mess of clutter and noise. But of course, we’re integrating the hardware and software and progressing toward the goal.

radar pics

Lest you think otherwise, I’m no Ed Snowden and those pics aren’t classified. If you’re a radar nerd, you can even get this particular radar emblazoned on a god-awful t-shirt (like I did) from


OK, enough of this bulldozarian levity. Let’s get serious again – oooh!

As a hard deadline approaches on a project, a perplexing question always comes to my mind:

How much time should I spend helping others who get “stuck“, versus getting the code I am responsible for writing done in time for the demo? And conversely, when I get stuck, how often should I “bother” someone who’s trying to get her own work done on time?

Of course, if you’re doing “agile“, situations like this never happen. In fact, I haven’t ever seen or heard a single agile big-wig address this thorny social issue. But reality being what it is, situations like this do indeed happen. I speculate that they happen more often than not – regardless of which methodology, practices, or tools you’re using. In fact, “agile” has the potential to amplify the dilemma by triggering the issue to surface on a per sprint basis.

Save for the psychopaths among us, we all want to be altruistic simply because it’s the culturally right thing to do. But each one of us, although we’re sometimes loathe to admit it, has been endowed by mother nature with “the selfish gene“. We want to serve ourselves and our families first. In addition, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the vast majority of organizations unthinkingly have dumb-ass recognition and reward systems in place that celebrate individual performance over team performance – all the while assuming that the latter is a natural consequence of the former. Life can be a be-otch, no?


Categories: technical Tags: , ,

A Skeptical “No”

May 5, 2014 7 comments

Just about every agile video, book, and article I’ve ever consumed assumes some variant of the underlying team model shown below. The product these types of teams build is comprised of custom software running on off-the-shelf server hardware. Even though it’s not shown, they also assume a client-server structure, request-response protocol, database-centric system.

SW only

The team model for the types of systems I work on is given below. They are distributed real-time event systems comprised of embedded, heterogeneous, peer processors glued together via a pub-sub protocol. By necessity, specialized, multi-disciplinary teams are required to develop this category of systems. Also, by necessity, the content of the sprint backlog is more complex and intricately subtler than the typical agile IT product backlog of “features” and “user stories“.

SW and HW

When I watch/read/listen to smug agile process experts and coaches expound the virtues of their favorite methodology using narrow, anecdotal, personal stories from the database-centric IT world, I continuously ask myself “can this apply to the type of products I help build?“. Often, the answer is a skeptical “no“. Not always, but often.

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