From Nothing, to Monumental, to Agile – web info shared
Most software development is a chaotic activity, often characterized by the phrase “code and fix”. The software is written without much of an underlying plan, and the design of the system is cobbled together from many short term decisions. This actually works pretty well as the system is small, but as the system grows it becomes increasingly difficult to add new features to the system. Furthermore bugs become increasingly prevalent and increasingly difficult to fix. A typical sign of such a system is a long test phase after the system is “feature complete”. Such a long test phase plays havoc with schedules as testing and debugging is impossible to schedule.
The original movement to try to change this introduced the notion of methodology. These methodologies impose a disciplined process upon software development with the aim of making software development more predictable and more efficient. They do this by developing a detailed process with a strong emphasis on planning inspired by other engineering disciplines – which is why I like to refer to them as engineering methodologies (another widely used term for them is plan-driven methodologies).
Engineering methodologies have been around for a long time. They’ve not been noticeable for being terribly successful. They are even less noted for being popular. The most frequent criticism of these methodologies is that they are bureaucratic. There’s so much stuff to do to follow the methodology that the whole pace of development slows down.
Agile methodologies developed as a reaction to these methodologies. For many people the appeal of these agile methodologies is their reaction to the bureaucracy of the engineering methodologies. These new methods attempt a useful compromise between no process and too much process, providing just enough process to gain a reasonable payoff.
The result of all of this is that agile methods have some significant changes in emphasis from engineering methods. The most immediate difference is that they are less document-oriented, usually emphasizing a smaller amount of documentation for a given task. In many ways they are rather code-oriented: following a route that says that the key part of documentation is source code.
However I don’t think this is the key point about agile methods. Lack of documentation is a symptom of two much deeper differences:
- Agile methods are adaptive rather than predictive. Engineering methods tend to try to plan out a large part of the software process in great detail for a long span of time, this works well until things change. So their nature is to resist change. The agile methods, however, welcome change. They try to be processes that adapt and thrive on change, even to the point of changing themselves.
- Agile methods are people-oriented rather than process-oriented. The goal of engineering methods is to define a process that will work well whoever happens to be using it. Agile methods assert that no process will ever make up the skill of the development team, so the role of a process is to support the development team in their work.