Monday, January 21, 2008

The Chinese Finger Trap Part II: Architecture, Development, and QA

In Part I of this series I introduced the idea that traditional development is like a Chinese Finger Puzzle. Solutions to problems often make the problem worse instead of better. This post will cover two more areas that illustrate this phenomenon.

Future-Proof Architecture, Major Releases and Large Feature Sets
A common sentiment when using traditional development is that because it is so hard to redo architecture, because it takes so long to make changes, because it takes so long to produce a release, we had better get the architecture right the first time. We had better take into account all possibilities and eventualities. Since we are going to spend a long time on the architecture, we better plan to do a lot of features for the release. All of those features mean we need to take more variables into account and have an even more thoroughly thought out architecture. In a traditional project, the interplay between architecture, release timeframe, and feature set create a vicious cycle which tends to increase the scope of all three.

In an Agile project, the practices of short iterations and iterative design reinforce each other to keep the amount of architecture that is required as small and simple as possible yet no less than necessary. The product backlog and short iterations keep the feature set focused on those features which will produce the highest customer and market value instead of trying to build a product which takes into account all possible future requirements.

Read more about iterative design: "Designing Software is the Same as Predicting the Future."

Separation of Development and QA
A common pattern in traditional development is the separation of development and QA. Of course everybody always says that “QA is everybody’s job” and “you can’t test quality into a product” and “QA should be involved right from the start,” but what usually happens in practice is that QA occurs at the end. One contributor to this problem is that “during development” the product isn’t stable enough to test and you want to get the most bang for the buck out of your testing because it is so expensive to do and it takes so long to qualify a release. The natural result from these circumstances is the separation of development and QA which is constantly reinforced. Using traditional development patterns, all efforts to unify development and QA are inevitably defeated. Nobody is consciously trying to make it happen, it just happens.

But sometimes it is also on purpose. The separation of development and QA can feel “more honest.” Sometimes development doesn’t want QA to know what is going on because they are sure that they can catch up and fix things and then deliver something to QA which is good. But in order to get the benefits of QA without the help from the official QA folks, development ends up having to do QA themselves which reduces the time spent on development. In any case, traditional development practices tend to separate development and QA.

Agile practices do just the opposite, they tend to bring development and QA closer together. The writing of tests for a particular change is done either before the coding starts or during the coding, not in a separate phase at the end of all coding. Tests are run constantly using the practice of Continuous Integration. QA doesn’t have to wait until the traditional code-freeze to start the bulk of their work. This creates a positive feedback loop where QA gets to show its value on a regular basis, development spends less time fixing things at the last minute, QA learns more about the product, and development and QA become even closer.

Next: Short Iterations

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