Introduction to Agile Methods part 1

I have become well aquantied with Kristin Runyan as we are both members of a Wednesday morning coffee group.  Although just a few years ago I remember watching her present about how they were using Agile at CDS before we knew each other.  She had a real understanding of the whole Agile process.  Kristin worked together with Sondra Ashmore to create the Agile textbook entitled Introduction to Agile Methods.  The book covers a lot of ground so I am going cover it in three parts.  In this post we are going to cover the first three chapters.


The History and Value of Agile Software Development

The book starts out with discussing the origins of the Agile movement and how it compares with the Waterfall methodology.  The Waterfall Methodology advocates sequential processes, where each stage must be complete before the next begins.  The main criticism of this style is it doesn’t allow for the inevitable changes that come about.


The Agile movement capitalized on this by embracing iterative processes that allow for changes and the ability to react quickly to desired changes.  Agile is an overarching term that encompasses many iterative development approaches, such as Scrum and Kanban to name a few.


The Agile Manifesto was created when many lightweight development practitioners came together to discuss the alternatives to the heavyweight Waterfall techniques.  They highlighted a willingness to work together to find better ways to develop software.  Focusing on individual and interactions over processes and tools.  This is first part of the manifesto and speaks to the strong adherence to the process for some.


Organizational Culture Considerations with Agile

In the second chapter they talk about the how the culture of an organization can change when changing to an Agile approach to software development.  The culture of business is very important and an  organization must have a willingness to embrace the change to even consider moving to Agile.  One major shift is the teams become self-organizing, they are empowered to work what they choose.  Some people embrace this autonomy while others don’t like this.  If you were the one that used to assign work you might not like this either.


Continuous improvement of the team is practiced through periodic retrospectives.  The team comes together and discusses what successes they have had as well as failures.  Learning from both is important to the improvement of the team.  This is coupled with the teams frequently delivering to their customers and getting feedback.  One important shift for some Agile teams is that the team is numerous specialties.  For most Waterfall teams the developers were on one team and the testers were on another.  The team in Agile has a few of each and this aims to remove the “Us versus Them” mentality.  By getting everyone working together on the goal of working software it changes the dynamic.


Understanding the Different Types of Agile

 One thing that can sometimes confuse people is the many approaches that are part of the Agile community of approaches.  Agile organizations are simple adaptive to change using some of these approaches.  In the third chapter Sondra and Kristin try to touch on a few of them and share what they focus on.  Extreme Programming is detailed first, where the focus is on efficiency and customer feedback.  The development process uses Test Driven Development and short development cycles to deliver often to the customer.


Scrum methodology focuses on organizing the team and prioritizing the work flow.  It introduces new roles such as the Scrum Master who is the servant leader of the team.  Along with the Product Owner who represents the stakeholders of the business.  Kanban is another method that uses a pull approach to keep work flowing through the system.  It embraces visual prompts such as a Kanban board to illustrate the workflow.


In these first three chapters Sondra and Kristin lay the ground work for what Agile is.   They also detail the many approaches that make up Agile.  In just reading the first three chapters you really learn a lot of the various aspects of Agile.   In our next post we will move into the middle portion of this book.


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