chalakanth

Agile, by First Principles

Agile gives me the warm and fuzzy, because like all good systems it can be characterized by a small set of rules, first principles, from which we can derive all other relevant lessons.

first principles

Arguably, the Agile Manifesto, is the most famous attempt to lay out the first principles of the agile approach to software development.  The Agile Manifesto comes in two forms – an elegant and concise one, which is shown below, and a slightly longer, more expository one that I will leave you to discover.

Shorter Agile Manifesto

The problem with first principles

First principles are distillations of wisdom that practitioners gained only after a lot of experience.   For that very reason, they often make little sense to the newbie engineer.  We read the words and some of us ask, “Really?  Why ?”.  We don’t have an answer.  I know that is how it was for me.   Eventually, I acquired the critical mass of hard knocks that were necessary to see the inevitability of those first principles.

These days I seem to practice Agile almost instinctively.   So much so, that I struggle to explain what I am doing, and why I am doing it.   In trying to unpack how I go about software development,  I tried to write down the working set of principles that I work by.

Once the words were on paper, I could see how they derive from the Agile Manifesto.  It reminded of a line from Gandhi, “I’ve traveled so far. And all I’ve done is come back… home.”

A very personal agile manifesto

Below, you will find my working principles for agility.  Notice that my words don’t exactly match those of the Agile Manifesto.  That is as it should be.  My own personal manifesto, so to speak, is necessarily colored by my particular work experiences, and my personal strengths, weaknesses and prejudices.

Again, let me emphasize, this is not meant to be consumed blindly.  Ask yourself why this is valid. Think about what implications these ideas have.  Don’t be surprised if you do not understand or even agree with some of these.   This works for me; this, among other things, makes me an effective IT worker.

  • The only acceptable ‘status’ is working software that delivers business value.
    • Don’t tell me the status. Prove it.
      • Where is the code? Let me read the code. Let me see it running.
      • Where is the test? Is the test correct? Is it adequate? Let me see the test working.
  • The earlier you know the status the better.
    • Short iterations.
    • Frequent feedback.
    • Continuous integration.
  • If you can’t answer the question, “what is done, and what remains”, in terms that the business understands, you’ve got nothing.
    • User stories, in strictly business terms.
  • Change is the only constant.
    • You will never get correct nor complete business requirements at any one instant.  The same applies to solution specifications.  Roll with it.
    • No design nor solution will ever be right the first time.  Roll with it.
    • Priorities will change.  Roll with it.
  • Information is indispensable.   Documentation, and meetings are incidental.
    • Putting words on paper, and communicating are two different things.
    • Just because you talk, talk, and talk, does not mean you are communicating anything useful.
  • If you are not putting software in production, for business to do business with, you’ve got nothing.
    • All the process in the world, all the fancy tools, the “best and brightest” people, mean nothing, if you are not delivering.
    • The answer to every question of the kind, “is this the correct process, is this Scrum, is this Agile”, is one simple thing.
      • If it helps you deliver, yes.  If you are not delivering, none of it matters.
  • No battle plan survives contact with the enemy“.
    • Human beings are unreliable.  Human judgment is unreliable.
      • Estimates are less correct, the farther out into the future they extend.
      • You will never anticipate everything that can go wrong.
      • Every process will break down.
      • Remember, Eisenhower’s advice, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.
    • You must be able to adjust and keep moving forward.   How?
      • There are no short-cuts.
      • This comes entirely from the attitude, ownership, knowledge, and skill, that people on the ground can bring to bear.
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