Sources: Beck, Kent. Extreme Programming Explained, Addison Wesley, 2000; Ottinger, Tim; Langr, Jeff.

When I first started teaching XP, I remember having more than enough to say about the other three XP values (communication, feedback, simplicity). Courage? Uh... well, you know, you need it to be able to stick to your guns with respect to the other three values. Moving on...

So I particularly like this card for its specifics on when you need to be courageous. It also highlights the opposite dependency of courage on the other three values: An environment where you're not communicating, acting simply, or generating lots of feedback is going to make you feel like Tommy (or Helen Keller) piloting a helicopter.

  • To make architectural corrections - It takes little courage to put a model on paper and make everyone sign their name in blood, insisting that we cannot change anything going forward. We're all courageous about the distant future (which we might never be a part of).

  • To throw away tests and code - "I worked on that mess all day long, are you kidding?" Often the best results are produced by discarding a poor solution and reworking it. Even short-term, this takes far less time than most people think, and long-term it usually returns many times over the modest rework.

  • To be transparent, whether favorable or not - It's so easy to hide in your cube, or to use a long, drawn out development period that makes it seem like real progress is being made. Yes, short iterations can make it obvious that you know nothing about things like getting the software successfully integrated in a timely fashion.

  • To deliver complete, quality work in the face of time pressure - Push back. If your manager tells you, "never mind with the testing, just get it out the door," push back. "We don't have time to pair or review this iteration." Push back.

  • To never discard essential practices - Ditto, from the last one. If your manager says, "you're not allowed to refactor the code," push back. You will pay for omission of essential activities, to the point that having done them at all in the first place will have seemed like a waste of time. (In other words, if you're going to sling code like a cowboy, just do it and stop pretending you're agile or at all professional.)

  • To simplify code at every turn - Does this really take courage? Fortitude, maybe. Perhaps the courage here is learning to accept that your code probably does stink, and that you can almost always improve upon it.

  • To attack whatever code the team fears most - The usual reaction is to tread lightly. What's particularly interesting is that treading lightly can often lead to the worst possible design choices. For example, I need 3 lines of alternate behavior in the middle of a 2000 line method. My fear leads me to believe that the safest thing is to copy the entire method and change the three lines in the copy. Courage would allow me to refactor to a template method pattern or some other solution that resulted in only three additional lines of code.

  • To take credit only for complete work - The business can't use software that's 99.99% complete. If it doesn't do what the customer asked for, it's not complete. The courage here is to accept that incomplete work delivers no value, and admitting incomplete work must be reflected on the very visible plan.

Courage is excessively important with respect to communication in an agile environment, so there are many more specific elements that we could add here. It requires courage to speak up about the challenges we face on a development effort. Retrospectives, for example, are not at all useful without the XP value of courage.

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