Four Options for Agile Projects

Source: Extreme Programming Explained, chapter 3, The Economics of Software Development.

Kent Beck, et al, say that XP makes a lot of sense if you examine the options that it gives management. These options are less open to managers whose teams follow a more traditional, specification-heavy method, but become feasible with early and continual feedback.

With XP, there is regular measurement of progress in running, tested features. Because running, tested, demo-ed features is a concrete and meaningful kind of completion, the data can be used as the basis for making decisions.

This from
The theoretical basis for XP is an options-based pricing model of software development. As software is developed in an environment where technological, business, and human risk abounds, investing for the future through careful architectural design, elaborate code structures that will support all possible future requirements, and producing matching documentation can be a waste of effort. Changing requirements or technology may render parts of the system obsolete; design and coding energy expended in those parts will have been wasted. Kent Beck's insight lies in discounting elaborate design for future needs in favor of today's simplicity. Big and important design decisions are deferred until a particular feature is needed. Most important features are developed first, rapidly providing the customer with the functionality required and minimizing the risk of total project failure. As code evolves it can always be refactored in response to new needs. Surprisingly, Beck takes for granted that current technology state-of-the-art and programmer skills will not stand in the way of these continuous design changes.

The options an XP customer or development organization is granted through early, accurate management:
  • Option to abandon the software project. If the team is not gaining traction, or the functionality provided by the software is not a useful as expected, the project can be canceled. The ability to "fail fast" is a benefit of XP.
    This has the additional advantage of allowing XP advocates to refer to canceled projects as "agile successes". :-)
  • Option to switch direction. Because the software is ready for use so early, there is an opportunity for the business to decide that they don't really want the system they specified. Agile teams can change direction because they don't have a lot of investment in the system "as specified", only in the system "as built".
  • Option to defer before investing. Since building is done incrementally and interatively, the business can choose not to produce features that may not have the same potential as others. Does the social networking bit have to be done before e-commerce? Should the e-commerce bit happen before we have full catalog capability? Being able to defer means that we can have the pieces we want most now. Of course, we can defer indefinitely (AKA: abandon) some features for further savings.
  • Option to grow to take advantage of a market that is taking off. This includes building scalability into the application as needed. It clearly also can mean growing the app in the direction of its uptake, such as adding social networking features or commerce features if those are drawing people to the application or SAAS.

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