Friday, December 28, 2007

Agile Development is People Oriented

[This post is a remix of an earlier post and also a repost from my WordPress blog]

There’s a lot of literature available on the usability of both software and everyday objects. But have you ever considered the usability of the process of software development itself? Do you feel like you know exactly what to do next at every step of the process? Or do you feel pulled in a million different directions at once and lose track of what you’ve already done and what you need to do next?

In my experience, traditional software development involving long iterations suffers from poor usability and hinders the ability of otherwise intelligent people to get their work done. On the other hand, there is something special and people-oriented about Agile: short iterations leverage human nature and thus allow us to fall into a more natural rhythm in which we make fewer mistakes and work more productively.

While it is true that people can succeed on projects that have very long timeframes and involve a high degree of stress at the end, people are much more productive and much less prone to error when they work at a constant and sustainable pace. This also means that when there are unforeseen circumstances, people are more likely to be able to respond well.

Consider the following statements. I’ll bet that you’ll agree with most of them.

• When working on software for personal use, people make changes and then use the new version right away.

• One of the things that developers enjoy about software development is the fact that they can make a change and see the result right away.

• When working on a hotfix, people are more likely to cross all of the “t”s and dot all of the “i”s and take extra care to make sure that everything is done just right.

• It isn’t easy to create something that the customer thinks is exactly right the first time.

• People prefer to delay making important decisions as long as possible.

• Towards the end of a release when a new bug is found or a great idea for an enhancement comes in, it is tempting to just put it into the current release rather than the next release because the next release won’t happen for quite a while.

Each of these is a part of human nature. All of the positive points are reinforced with short iterations, and all of the negative ones are reduced with short iterations. Conversely, the exact opposite is true of long iterations. Long iterations go against the grain of human nature and thus create usability problems.

Next: The Agile Waterfall

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