The customer doesn't know what they want
Agile assumes as a first principal that including the customer throughout the development process will align the building team and the customer to come to the same conclusion.
This is almost never actually true. Having built and managed a lot of products I can state fairly confidently that the amount of time the customer has, and clarity about the problem they want solved is orders of magnitude more ambiguous than is required to actually build and deliver something to their satisfaction.
In my opinion successful products, and I mean ones with significant flywheels with customers and viral growth and stickiness are with few exceptions - accidents. It was someone who had an interesting thought and a lot of people for whom the product was good enough for their desire that they often didn't even know they had
You can't write down how to do that, it's like asking a nobel prize winner how they came up with their discovery. It's not repeatable. Some people have better intuitions than others and these are the people who are repeatably successful with products. But it doesn't generalize.
That said, the fundamental problem isn't wrong in theory, it's just naiive in practice.
This is not what the article is about. If you look at the Agile Manifesto, it says e.g.
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Responding to change over following a plan
What you get in quite a few big companies following "Agile" with the air quotes is the opposite:
- Processes and tools over individuals and interactions
- Following (and making) a plan over responding to change
Because that's what makes middle management happy.
So this perversion of "Agile", which is actually the opposite of Agile, is the FUNDAMENTAL problem.
I once had it used against me to justify not writing tests ("processes and tools!"). We had meetings about bugs instead. Seriously. Complain all you like about perversion, that was a perfectly valid interpretation coz those hallowed commandments are, frankly, ill-defined bollocks.
The principles are better but still suffer the same problem. If the most efficient way to convey information in a dev team is face to face why don't you come over here and I'll whisper my pull request in your ear. Jesus.
There's no point complaining about the perversion of a thing that was never very specific about what it wanted to be in the first place.
Once people (especially managers) get specific about what agile means to them it turns out it means very different things to different people. This is entirely the fault of the originators.
One benefit of Scrum (the catholic church to agile's christian sect) was that it was proscriptive and was specific. Unfortunately it's also a bit shit and its practitioner-priests LOVE to tell you that if it isnt working, well, You Probably Just Weren't Doing It Correctly.
thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU!
It is a useless set of vague platitudes which offered nothing but a sense of seeming aphoristic depth. How so many people fell for it is still a mystery to me. Instead of focusing on the core problem of Requirements gathering and Software Specification, well known trial-and-error approaches were dressed up as something profound and a whole industry was created out of thin air. People seem to have forgotten the works of Fred Brooks/Barry Boehm and that their iterative "Spiral Model" IS Agile. There is nothing new i could find in the "modern" Agile/Scrum movement except mindless emphasis on Processes/Tools which is insanity, eg; The position of "Scrum Master" is the very definition of a "Bullshit Job" and should be abolished forthwith.
Where I work there was a huge shift in this.
From Business analysts (BA), who usually had comp sci or engineering degrees, and an expectation to get PMP and CBAP / PMI-PBA / other BA certification to move up, were responsible for requirements.
Now we have product managers and scrum masters with a 1-3 day agile certification and no comp sci or engineering background who are responsible for requirements.
Nothing is worse than non-domain knowledgeable, non-technical people lording it over actual Technical Engineers who do the work.
I always recommend Dave Packard's 1960 "Speech to HP Managers" to every "Manager" - https://gizmodo.com/the-hp-way-how-bill-hewlett-and-i-built-...
Over the years we have developed the policy that it is important for the supervisor to thoroughly know and understand the work of his group. A debate on this has been carried on by management people for years. Some say you can be a good manager without having the slightest idea of what you are trying to manage, that the techniques of management are all important. There are many organizations which work that way. I don't argue that the job can't be done that way but I do argue strongly that the best job can be done when the manager or supervisor has a real and genuine understanding of his group's work. I don't see how a person can even understand what proper standards are and what performance is required unless he does understand in some detail the very specific nature of the work he is trying to supervise. We have held closely to this philosophy and we intend to continue to do so. We expect you who are supervising to learn techniques of supervision and keep up to date. I want to emphasize you can supervise best when you know a great deal about the work you are supervising and when you know the techniques of supervision as well.
This is how great companies were built.
At least the Church only had confession once a week in private.
And treat this comment as an acknowledgement for all future occasions on which I quote you.
I wish I could upvote this more.
Then you're just complaining about the nature of language, because people do the same thing with religious text, literary text, the law, contracts, even daily conversations and flirtations. This is hardly a point that you can hold against the Agile manifesto.
> I once had it used against me to justify not writing tests
If you thought of your work as a complex system where there are a lot of variables which have multiple underlying causes, then you would have been able to describe some undesirable effect as being heavily caused by not having writing tests. And really, this is why people don't get Agile--they don't see their work and their organization as a complex system.
Funnily enough the features of language which are ideally suited for flirtation and writing poetry and preaching religion or nationalism and other such "let your fantasy go wild and fill in the gaps" uses of language aren't as appropriate when you're doing engineering.
Law and contracts ARE different (more like engineering), incidentally. What is described as "legalese" actually exists because non-legal equivalent language is often insufficiently precise and subject to dangerous and costly misinterpretation. Mathematical discussion has the same problem to such an extreme degree that it's almost pointless using English at all most of the time.
>And really, this is why people don't get Agile
The reason people say "people don't get Agile" is because they don't get that when the manifesto flirted with them it encouraged them to fill in the gaps with their own idealized version of software development that wasn't necessarily shared by everyone else.
Yeah but that's not the point that I'm making, is it? What I'm saying is that people project their own meanings into language all the time regardless of whether the language is being used in deeply personal interactions or in professional settings; therefore you can't just fault the Agile manifesto for its supposed "ambiguity".
On the point re: how laws and contracts are different -- sure, these things have gotten more precise over time, but if the language of law was inherently precise then we wouldn't have a need for judges and courts and congresses. Heck, even mathematics isn't safe from the problem of the imprecision of language. Wasn't there a time just in the last year or two when people were debating about the correctness of the statement, "one plus one always equals two"?
Which, really, brings us to the ultimate question, which also happens to be my response to your last sentence:
> The reason people say "people don't get Agile" is because they don't get that when the manifesto flirted with them it encouraged them to fill in the gaps with their own idealized version of software development that wasn't necessarily shared by everyone else.
So then is it a problem with the manifesto or with the people?
That was MY point.
>therefore you can't just fault the Agile manifesto for its supposed "ambiguity".
You absolutely can. They didn't have to write it in an obtuse, ambiguous and metaphorical way that practically required people to project their own meaning. They deliberately chose to.
Scrum is a clear example of a methodology that is relatively (not completely) unambiguous. It's describing (in theory) a much more concrete form of "aspirational agile" and as such is at a lower risk of becoming all religious.
>On the point re: how laws and contracts are different -- sure, these things have gotten more precise over time, but if the language of law was inherently precise then we wouldn't have a need for judges and courts and congresses. Heck, even mathematics isn't safe from the problem of the imprecision of language. Wasn't there a time just in the last year or two when people were debating about the correctness of the statement, "one plus one always equals two"?
It's a sliding scale. Flirting and poetry is way over on the far left with the agile manifesto. Scrum is further to the right. Legalese is further still to the right. Math further still. It's fairly self-evident that the level of specificity required in the language used varies depending on the task. Being too specific when you flirt is common sitcom grist and nobody's ever made poetry out of a shopping list.
>Which, really, brings us to the ultimate question, which also happens to be my response to your last sentence: So then is it a problem with the manifesto or with the people?
It's the manifesto.
Beautifully said, you have a way with words!
The outputs they seek are emergent.
You also belittle scrum for becoming too specific.
Seems you’re still processing what to make of any of it.
Knowledge work is immaterial and should have no prescribed rails or all you get is run of the mill outputs.
It’s similar to business; billions have been spent investigating what technology or management style brought the biggest gains. The math quickly becomes so Byzantine there no meaningful conclusions.
No matter how detailed our consciousness will let us imagine, there’s still one reality ruled by physics. Esoteric math may be correct in that it has the order of operations right, but that truth doesn’t give it any real influence on physical reality.
Yes they were. The cynical side of me says that this was because they were purposefully trying to create a rallying cry or something akin to a religion to better sell their wares and were unconcerned about the fallout that would ensue.
The less cynical side of me says they did it because they came up with "extreme programming" and knew that a lot of it was kind of bullshit, disagreed with each other on the details, but wanted some way to push people in "that sort of direction".
The net result either way was... well, a kind of religion.
>You also belittle scrum for becoming too specific.
No, I didn't belittle scrum for being specific. It's one of the good things about it. It is, however, a specifically defined bad way of running a team. We do need designed processes as specific as scrum, that are less one-size-fits-all and that have a more systematic and refined approach to software quality, estimation and design.
"Scrumban" is definitely an improvement, but even that is still lacking.
I'd like to see software team processes treated in many respects as a kind of "software to run teams", specifically meaning:
* That it gets iterated frequently and responds to feedback at every level (not just team, but philosophically - by its founders).
* That it's clearly and precisely defined.
* That there are a variety of different config switches depending on circumstances (e.g. number of people, skill distribution, are you building CRM or flying space rockets, etc.).
* That the individual pieces (e.g. retros, sprint planning) can be chopped and changed and upgraded/iterated on individually and yet still couple to each other sensibly - akin to the UNIX philosophy.
>Knowledge work is immaterial and should have no prescribed rails
No, anarchy is no good either.
> they came up with "extreme programming" and knew that a lot of it was kind of bullshit, disagreed with each other on the details
I had attended a presentation by Kent Beck on "eXtreme Programming" well before the Agile/Scrum movement started and came away with the exact sentiments listed above.
Anarchy is no good.
Your efforts are constrained by physical science, social objectives.
There’s plenty of structure to prevent anarchy.
But you would further impose problem solving constraints on others thought work.
Shit n hellfire; what a dumpster fire of a culture.
Would you say something as minimal as “E=mc^2” promotes anarchy? It hardly illustrates the full meaning of relativity.
Perhaps where you perceive emptiness and anarchy, others perceive correctness and order.
Like religion; one mans abstraction is another mans insanity.
The 17 authors of the manifesto.
>But you would further impose problem solving constraints on others thought work.
I would, yes. I've worked with a diversity of methodologies and several times with no explicit methodology all and in a team context we ended up a disorganized mess.
It’s not to bring order to chaos. It’s to afford shelter, food, and healthcare.
Sorry, not sorry.
Perhaps you’d be happier living as a hermit, where you can organize as you wish; everything just so! without the rest of humanity, that does quite a bit of the heavy lifting for you, interfering.
"What ineffable twaddle" !
I highly recommend to you the works of David Parnas, Barry Boehm, Fred Brooks, Gerald Weinberg for edification.
Start with the paper; "A Rational Design Process: How and Why to Fake It."
(1) The Manifesto is written in non-actionable terms.
(2) Many of the same people that initially attached themselves to the manifesto were already pitching canned processes, that may have been the outcome of agile process where they originated but did not put the critical feedback mechanisms more prominently than the low-level processes. So, those became the actionable versions of “Agile”.
It would be so much better if instead of the “X over Y” language, the Manifesto has spent a few words talking about how the less important things were subordinated to the more important ones.
The weird thing is that continuous, bottom-up, empirically-based process improvement wasn't an unknown concept at the time the Manifesto was written. It wouldn't have been hard for it to reference more concrete, actionable, concepts and practices.
I don’t think that people who don't write or never wrote software should have a place in a software development team. We don’t allow scrum masters and agile coaches in hospitals and ask them to “improve the process”, because we know the only “improvement” we will get is millions of dead and injured. But for whatever reason we allow freshly minted certified scrum masters to lecture seasoned professionals on process, to organise 19 meetings a day to discuss the differences between scrum and agile and, in general, to unleash havoc and destruction.
You should collectively have just refused to work for them in this case.
They're not called scrum masters but the healthcare industry is absolutely full of them. One peculiar thing about the covid crisis was, at least around this particular corner of the planet, in the all-hands-on-deck situation where everyone on the floor in healthcare had to help out, these people suddenly found other things to do. It was impressive to see what could be accomplished when everyone was focused on a singular goal, without a coach in sight. I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere.
Concluding: It is certainly refreshing how efficient groups can be once a crisis forces all attention towards one single goal. (Perhaps unfortuntately) that is not a reliable (crisises are usually not predictable) nor sustainable (other goals tend to get neglected in crisis mode).
Since the purpose of a hospital is not to make money but to improve health-related outcomes, this is usually bad.
On the other hand, it turns out that focus on improving health-related outcomes by applying science and statistics works really well... and usually decreases costs, too.
This is no guarantee any more. Newly minted managers coming from a development position that have only ever worked in dysfunctional organisations (and got promoted from within) will only reinforce the existing bad practices.
Give it a few years.
I think the GP meant "in hospitals" as in "among medical people", doctors and nurses, not IT staff.
Because they often don't understand the technology question or even what the issue is, but insist to intercept every decision.
It's easy to blame management because developers and engineers haven't the foggiest idea what management actually does.
Instead of engaging with that problem, they retreat to themselves where they hiss the name management in dark corners.
Fact is: Developers are incapable of self organising, and would drown overnight without management's stiff hand.
I absolutely hate how accurate that is because I always thought I was a big boy and I wouldn't need management if I just had "1 good tech idea".
Docker had the philosophy.
Now they are dying after losing the container wars. That's what happens when you have no idea what a product actually is...
>but insist to intercept every decision
Yes, because left to our own devices, developers will not contribute meaningful business value.
There is a better way, evidently it's not agile, but it needs management's buy in, because well they're in charge (get over it in all honestly, none of us actually want the job, trust me).
WE as engineers need to find a better way to engage management.
But those of you who just grumble "management ruin everything" deserve the pain that such a divide causes and we need to stop wasting lifeboat's on that mentality please
I beg to differ.
A dev team doing agile, with a team leader who is a manager/dev, can definitely self-organise. The team leader interfaces with non-dev management, removes roadblocks, and in collaboration with the rest of the devs sets the direction for a sprint.
You need this team lader role to keep the suits off your back, and to ensure the demands are achievable.
Project managers used to be people who wandered around with GANTT charts, and signed-off expenses and timesheets. Very rarely, I worked with a PM who saw their role as removing roadblocks, and shielding devs from suits. Those few PMs were a delight to work with (this was long before the appearance of Agile etc.)
> Yes, because left to our own devices, developers will not contribute meaningful business value.
I think that's rather obvious; management runs the business and sells the products. They set the business objectives, and there has to be clear communication between the devs and management, otherwise you get the "rewrite it all in X" syndrome.
That’s a view in many large corporates. However, in product focused companies and many startups every developer has to have a customer focused mind. Every single day.
We have to specialise at some point - not everybody that gets hired is going to be an ace industrial strategist. Few devs know how to qualify a sales prospect. If you have such people in management, then as a dev I don't want to do their job for them; they should set strategy and find good customers.
I guess we all have differing perspectives on this kind of thing; one's perspective is partly formed by one's experiences.
I'm not talking about startups - I never worked in one. But I've worked for quite a few companies with < 20 staff.
When I first started we would be doing 1-off feature requests "because the client would _really_ like it". Everything was justified because money and because "we cant afford to lose that customer!" in our SaaS product.
I saw our main product being neglected because we'd invest so much time in these 1 off features only 1 client would use. All we would ever do would be client features, I was going crazy. It took a lot of talking, and still to this day I have to get him to think in terms of the product instead of the individual client.
Now we make more money, have more clients, and better our product for everyone which in turn gets more clients to get more money.
Open source does self-organise, and manages to produce some products of exceptional quality. It’s just almost completely unsteerable.
In a company, you can pretend to order people around. But the truth is that what really matters is how all the personal and political goals happen to align.
The project I work on has around 100 regular contributors, but also a few small teams, either volunteer or staff, who meet regularly and make sure things move forward in a coherent and sustainable way.
If that's true in an organization, its only because either management has failed to hire developers that can self organize, or management has constructed structures and incentives which inhibit self-organization by developers. Usually, both. Often deliberately, because line managers are often more comfortable passively recieving directives from above and crafting directives for below than any other mechanism of management, since this minimizes conflicts with those in organizational power positions.
Problem is that the industry is full of untrained individuals who hustled their way ”fake it until you make it” and will use all their political and manipulatoy clout to justify their positions and fight back any attempt at effective process engineering.
It is very convenient then to shift attention to inadequacy of others.
I don't understand how your vision of things is not also contributory to a strong divide.
Heard of Linux?
Can you find one dev that has ever disagreed with this?
Get to rewrite the micro services, Kotlin, Cassandra, Kafka, mongoDb hardly documented, back into C# on top of SQL Server when the teams have left for the new jobs after haved pimped up their CV.
You need people that care about the how you do it as much about the why and the what. Everything else is going to be disfunctional rather soon.
If you care about quality and productivity, please quantify those and present your findings in terms of tradeoffs.
Both React and Vue.js are now older than jQuery was when both were released. Same for Babel and Webpack. Typescript is older than all of these. SASS/SCSS also older than Typescript. Those are the only things you see in 99% of the frontend job descriptions out there.
If anything, frontend is kinda boring, and it can be argued that some of those tools above need some disruption.
No they haven't. You still write them in Delphi or Free Pascal / Lazarus just the same way you did ten years ago.
Oh, you meant "the way of writing native Windows apps" with Microsoft tools? Yeah, well... Heard the old joke about the guy who complains, "Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this!"? My answer is the same as the doctor's: Well, don't do that then.
The naïve thing to do when you’re a manager is to manage more in response to problems. When you start out with an agile process, and you manage more / manage harder, you end up with no agile process at all.
Scrum masters / agile coaches are very hit or miss. Just like managers, just like programmers. Management takes the blame because their failures have a larger blast radius.
Agile is Dead - https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=a-BOSpxYJ9M
Here’s a blog post by him: https://pragdave.me/blog/2014/03/04/time-to-kill-agile.html
If that’s not following a plan over responding to change, i don’t know what is.
Agile tries to turn software development into a product design process rather than a product manufacturing process. Together with the client, iteratively you try to find the right solution and design for the customer problem.
By being easy to adopt, software lends itself to an iterative design process, where you adopt it multiple times based on the iterative feedback of the customer. But this means that at the end of the design process, you can skip the manufacturing part, as you've already built the software during design.
Alternatively you could argue that this is too expensive, inefficient and slow, and you need some design before you begin to manufacture software. Modeling tools could help here, e.g, low code tooling like CAD tools in fysical product design.
Oh, man. I think you hit the head of the nail. One succinct phrase that describes the entire problem.
(And I think for completeness' sake the next two need to be included too.)
Early in my career somebody said something like "make sure you distinguish between <<what they (customers) want>> and <<what they need>>.". This thought stuck with me for years and in my opinion has been reposible for success I witnessed.
It's important to unwrap "what they want" so you, as developer, can apply more first principle thinking to arrive at "what they need".
BAs have tendency to project their own solutions, however when unwrapped so you see the problem that needs solving, you may arrive at solution that is simpler (like orders of magnitue is not that rare in my experience), reflects reality better, takes advantage of somehow hidden from BAs PoV system internals etc.
Agile enouraged dialogue is the platform where those ideas can surface.
Usually what happens is that you get a customer team, that is supposed to voice how the organization wants the software to be.
So the same mismatch is bound to happen anyway.
And when they do involve the people from the field, depending on the company culture, they might even be quite positive on the demos (cause being negative isn't good) and then completely find it unusable on final delivery.
Agile misses that many engineering teams lack people skills to actually navigate and avoid these scenarios.
EDIT: several typos
Of course, this isn't applicable/possible for all types of software (you can't really iterate your way to an MVP nuclear reactor) but there's less of this than you'd think.
I have always appreciated product managers who effectively intermediated customers, had deep domain knowledge, managed stakeholder expectations, learned how to interpret what they said (and ignore what isnt relevant), asked the right questions, prioritize effectively and output to me a nice set of, de-noised, ordered, precise answers to the question "what do I do next?"
It's a rare skill. It boosts my productivity immensely when done right. It removes cognitive load from the developer.
Even when POs make mistakes and misinterpret requirements I still appreciate that being somebody else's problem. It quells my anxiety immensely and lets me focus on developing the thing right without having to worry about whether Im developing the right thing.
These agile ideas only work in an ideal world of "we are all friends here".
The skunkworks teams the developed the Apple MAC is one very good example.
The majority will rather pick other vendor that doesn't propose such change into their internal processes.
Unless they are asking for consultation on how to change work processes, that is.
"I thought this was your job" is something I've heard a few times from clients when we have sent over wire frames or beta applications.
Especially in B2B and technical realm it is feasible to actually plan in every sense of the word "plan" a new product - business, tech, etc. Of course the plan must be malleable on the facts on ground. And probably is incorrect on a few places. But never the less, a plan that will get a business from place a (no product, but strong understanding of customer needs and business plus strong technical savvy) to place b (final product, customers, revenue etc).
I've seen this many times, both in startups with a new product and new customers (automotive software) and established companies that just expand their existing portfolio (cad software).
I'd say the "not an accident" is feasible if these facts are in place:
- enough A-team players (tech,business,sales)
- healthy culture (that facilitates long term growth and can focus on the product without too much politics)
- understanding of customer business
- identified an OBVIOUS need for the customer
- strong engineering org (can be just a few coders that get things done or larger)
So I agree, you can't train for these requirements like you can train airplane pilots.
But I do claim you can have enough understanding that is the current org in possession of these qualities. And if it is, it's a very reasonable risky investment to try to create a product for the need.
For internal customers or in B2B settings getting the actual users and outcome owners involved early is vital - but they are often poorly incentivized to get into the action as there are layers of business mangers etc in place that are supposed to stand in (but lack the detailed knowledge).
What was the 'standard' way to develop systems when the Agile Manifesto was written: the same as for building a bridge.
You gather and freeze requirements. You write a massive plan and plenty of specs. You code accordingly. You deliver.
Time to working software is long and a lot of the effort that goes into specs is wasted, especially for design specs.
Here's the introduction of Steve McConnell's "Rapid Development" from 1994 - well before the Agile Manifesto! - Chapter 1, page 1:
> The product manager told me he wanted to build a product right for a change. He wanted to pay attention to quality, prevent feature creep, control the schedule, and have a predictable ship date.
> When the time came to actually do the project, it became clear tha getting the product to market quickly was the only real priority. Usability? We don't have time. Performance? It can wait. Maintainability? Next project. Testing? Our users want the product now. Just get it out the door.
> This particular product manager wasn't the manager on just one product. He could have been almost any product manager I've worked for. This pattern is repeated day after day, state by state, all across the country. ...
This is as far from building a bridge as you can get. The next page of the book starts:
> [1.1] What is Rapid Development?
> To some people, rapid development consists of the application of a single pet tool or method. To the hacker, rapid development is coding for 36 hours at a stretch. To the information engineer, it's RAD - a combination of CASE tools, intensive user involvement, and tight timeboxes. To the vertical-market programmer, it's rapid prototyping using the latest version of Microsoft Visual Basic or Delphi. To the manager desperate to shorten a schedule, it's whatever practice was highlighted in the most recent issue of Business Week.
Agile drew from earlier methods ("intensive user involvement", "rapid prototyping") which were pretty common even before Agile.
> > To the vertical-market programmer, it's rapid prototyping using the latest version of Microsoft Visual Basic or Delphi.
Huh? Did you get the year wrong, or was he referring to a brand-new / not yet released / tool as a "standard" for some segment of his audience? AFAICR, Delphi was introduced in 1995, or at the very earliest, late 1994. Feels weird that he should mention it in a book published in 1994.
Of course the shortcomings of this model have been known for a long time to anyone building software and so a number of other models appeared.
From what I can tell, that assertion is common in Agile advocacy.
But from my experience as a professional software developer in the 1990s, and from reading stories about software development, waterfall was not used at Apple, Be, Commodore, Data General, Infocom, Microsoft, VisiCorp, and more.
That's not to say no one used a (modified) waterfall model. Simply that I haven't found evidence that it's meaningful to say it was the standard development model. 
 Technically, DOD-STD-2167A's apparent bias towards waterfall was a "standard", but I don't think that's what most people mean in this context, and in any case it was replaced by MIL-STD-498 in 1994, well before the Agile Manifesto.
I don't see much value in debating this. It seems clear to me that the people who wrote the Agile manifesto have experience in working in such, or similar environment and reacted to change it. And clearly that way of working was widespread enough and enough of a pain point to strike a cord. Certainly, when I first read the manifesto it struck a cord and I understood exactly where they were coming from. I think it is spot on.
What raises my hackles is the lack of any qualifiers, given how rarely it's used in the projects I know about.
The objective function is some function of the quality of the product, as measured by the customer, and the work put in. The gradient evaluation is then the process of determining which feature gives the most bang for the buck, implementing it, and repeating.
But gradient descent has problems with local minima. So if that's what Agile is, no surprise it doesn't do surprising projects - even if the customer does know what they want. If the programmers are too inexperienced and it's not just a CRUD, then you'll end up with something like Jeffries' TDD Sudoku solver.
Agile is “It would be nice to do what works for your team in your particular challenges, not some pre-packaged one-size-fits-all processes sold by consultants. Now, here’s a bunch of pre-packaged one-size-fits-all processes, and an army of consultants selling them.”
You push decisions as far out as possible and gather feedback from individuals every step of the way.
This is what allows the greatest amount of flexibility.
The biggest problem with agile is that it assumes all problems can be put off to the last minute.
I'm frequently finding myself in situations where it is 100x better to hammock program it out for a few weeks before pushing any code. Those systems last ten years. Those systems are able to be modified simply and quickly when business needs change. Those systems do build up legacy code, but it's at a slower rate than other systems. Those systems have fewer hacks over time and fewer bugs as a result.
This isn't a dig at agile, it's a dig at using agile as a design process, for which it is utterly inept. Agile is great at pushing products, terrible at pushing thoughtful system design. (On average, sometimes working a problem works too but more often than not you don't get the chance to redo middle sprint 5.)
I don't disagree, though I firmly believe Agile does a much better job of dealing with the problem you state than any other software development methodology that has been attempted before.
Is it perfect? of course not. As a methodology, is it better for building software than methodologies that have been used to build enormous physical structures for generations? Undoubtedly yes.
As far as I'm aware, there currently isn't anything better for building complex software with changing requirements (i.e. the real world).
The only thing that is less likely to have the building team and customer come to the same conclusion is to add many more layers in between.
I’ve seen where that ends. It’s not a good place.
If that were true the customer never drop you for the competition. The customer will drop you in a heartbeat.
The customer cannot express what they want in a language you can articulate which is something amazingly different. As a product manager you need to account for that.
It's a way to meeting actual business software needs, much more suited to custom development for one customer than product development, which necessarily requires some additional insight into what the market wants.
That's pretty much all you can do. How you organize it only matters insofar as it makes your team effective - sprints, waterfall, XP whatever... is kind of a toss up and context dependent.
The Agile Manifesto is a failure at trying to make Agile happen because it can't tell you how to make it happen, because it varies wildly. No manager can read a book on how to "Agile-ify" their org, they have to apply their brains and figure out how their specific version of "Agile" will work. But the skill-set required to do this is not a Managerial skill, it is a lower-level-worker skill. But it's also a very advanced lower-level-worker skill.
And that's why things like "Agile", "DevOps", etc will fail. People at the higher end have no clue how to make it happen, and people at the lower end who have an idea how to make it happen don't have the power to make the organizational changes to do so. You need a way for the lower-end people to tell the higher-end people what to do, and have the higher-end people listen to them, and make the changes happen. This is very hard in a traditional organizational hierarchy, because higher-end people have big egos and bigger concerns over things like politics.
Maybe this isn't the norm?
The best I have seen were mini-silos that managed to de-couple themselves from the org chart.
However I also have seen that it hardly lasts more than a couple of years, because as soon as someone noticed the success of the business unit they were re-integrated so that they could teach the reasons for their success to others.
You can imagine how well did they usually fare afterwards.
Wich makes it all a glorious Catch 22.
These companies, that rely completely on software, are unable to make the required leadership changes.
I completely disagree. Most team leads and technical managers where I've worked get promoted up from within a highly technical position. I wouldn't have any respect for my team lead or my PM if they didn't know what they were talking about.
If my PM is going to try to tell me that I should work on this feature over this other feature or I should implement it in this way over this other way do you really think I'm going to listen to them if it's clear they have no idea what the implementation details are let alone the tools? Of course not.
I'm making DevOps happen and I do that by knowing the tools and practices. I'm being given the power I need to make it happen. I earn the respect every day I come in and write the code or identify the weaknesses we need to shore up to move faster.
In the end if you are difficult you become easy to replace.
One was a CEO who hadn't any technical background, but he knew what ICT could and could not do for his company.
One day we rewired all of our network, a massive weekend job. He was there, even if the only thing he could do was pulling network cables out of bags and straightening them. He saw who and what worked or not, he saw where we struggled even if he didn't understand a word of our technical mumbo jumbo.
I found out he was always there on the ground for every major operation in his company, not only ICT. The result was he knew the company inside out. Nobody ever tried bullshitting him. I still have massive respect for him, years later.
Then there is exhibit B, a manager from the 'you dont have to understand ICT to manage it' school. Everybody under him spends 3/4 of the time in meetings or filing useless forms. Nobody dares touching important things, so hard decisions get pushed in the future. It happens urgent work needs doing and the only person capable of doing it sits twiddling thumbs as the spreadsheet says maximum team capacity has already been reached. He redefined the words 'major incident' as there were to many under the old definition. His teams keep losing important members, everybody hates each other, work that should take 10 minutes takes months. But he always has a spreadsheet demonstrating it is not his fault.
I know who gets the respect.
The first example must be a small company.
2. This sounds like a manager in an enterprise level company
If you choose to work where a multi-level manager structure exists you should give that manager respect because he has to navigate a political landscape that takes certain skills.
Besides managing people and knowing what customers want have nothing to do with knowing your specific skills. Should the CEO know marketing, accounting, legal, etc as well as the experts in their positions?
Considering 2,this demonstrates what is wrong with big enterprise. If the politics are more important than the work, the work won't get done. Just like I don't have respect for Trump just because he managed to rule the most powerfull country in the world, I don't have to respect a manager who's team fails again and again, after which they get thrown under the bus just to save the face of a higher up.
Note how the CEO mentioned had no ICT knowledge, he just knew enough to knew where he stood. Same for marketing, accounting etc..
You seem to have completely missed my point, which is that technical leads and PMs should have domain knowledge and that this is why DevOps is not in danger of failing at competent companies.
That technical pm is a luxury and will move on at some point. You don't need him your team with a strong lead or more senior developers could work with a regular pm and get the job done.
No, that is not the point your parent seems to be making. Your parent talks about "earning respect by learning on the job", but you are stuck at "having respect because of background".
Your parent leaves open the possibility that a PM without technical background can still become a good PM, and even lays out what they think is required for that to happen. You're stuck at "you don't respect them, got it".
I'd like to remind you of this point from the HN guidelines: Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith.
Let me show you where this slippery slope ends: Teams with a strong lead or more senior developers could work without any PMs and still get the job done.
Oh. Wait a second. This happens all the time! Does this mean those teams achieved their success without any management happening? Or does it mean that technical people in those teams who did do the management work did it without the title?
IME, far more often, it's the latter.
We are talking about what is the most efficient. One of the point of Agile was to attempt to lower the division of tasks (and I'm saying that even if I don't like the way it was attempted nor the overall effect 20 years later) because having a broader vision of things is more efficient than trying to communicate (to what I would add: IF the project scale is reasonable enough to do that...); thus: a little bit of PM tasks, a little bit of working with customer, etc -- at least more involvement than if crappy requirements were produced after crappy contracts were signed, and neither of them could be revised.
So if that means more people do "management", in a context where this is beneficial, then... good? What is exactly the problem? You think they are paid too little? Maybe, but then it switches from a work methodology to a salary negotiation problem.
It isn't, and I'm not going to go there. But discussion about work activities does need appropriate and accurate labels, for it to be effective.
> So if that means more people do "management", in a context where this is beneficial, then... good? What is exactly the problem?
Who said it's not good or that there's a problem? I didn't.
> You think they are paid too little? Maybe, but then it switches from a work methodology to a salary negotiation problem.
I don't know what I wrote that leads you to believe this, but I said nothing like this. You seem to be reading too far into things I wrote; or worse, things I never wrote.
To try and clarify what I meant and where I was going: I was talking about accurately identifying the work that actually happens. Specifically, I was trying to show my parent commenter, ipaddr, how their erasure of such work leads to poor results for everyone involved, including the people trying to even talk about it.
I'm not trying to argue for a better salary or title — I've already got too much and too many of those, as you hope. But I've seen this very discussion happen too many times with clients of mine, with the same devolution. People think their problems will be solved if they get a good "PM". If said PM lacks technical background, they think they can just pair them with a good senior engineer and all will be good. I've seen this fail enough to know that's not how it works; and not because the senior engineer wasn't "senior" enough or "good" enough. As I said elsewhere in this thread: There does exist a big difference between "lead or senior developers" who are good at development and those who are also good at using their technical knowledge to manage a team's work. A non-technical PM lacks that essential latter part, and if they have to rely on a "developer" to step up and fill that role, they're still a PM, but they're not the sole person doing PM any more.
Failure to identify when there's more than one person fulfilling management responsibilities can and does lead to poor planning and hindered execution.
In the end if you are difficult you become easy to ignore. Or worse, worked-around.
The "strong lead or senior developers" you're talking about: I call them TMs. Technical Managers. Because that's what their job becomes when the PM isn't technical enough. In the end, it's not the PM who "turns out fine" when paired with TMs; it's the combo of PM and TM who turn out fine.
There does exist a big difference between "lead or senior developers" who are good at development and those who are also good at using their technical knowledge to manage a team's work. A non-technical PM lacks that essential latter part, and if they have to rely on a "developer" to step up and fill that role, they're still a PM, but they're not the sole person doing PM any more.
They turned out fine if somebody else do that technical management work. Except that if not recognized as such, that someone else is not paid appropriately, does not have official authority nor ctual support of boss nor is he present at higher ups meetings to speak for himself. It makes the leading part much harder and is breathing ground for resentment or simply getting tired and giving up. And then it all starts failing.
It is kind of like saying that senior developer does not have to know all that much, if juniors are very good. Sure, but then your juniors are actually on underpaid senior positions. And it ki d of works, until junior senior figures and finds better place to work at.
How much of each dollar you make for the company with your hard work do you take home?
For product development, the price of licenses and support deals per month, correlated to the hourly cost of everyone on the office, and then what actually lands on the bank account at the end of the month.
As for how much money it costs me an FTE to play around something outside the planned roadmap, their monthly salary divided by the amount of hours they are supposed to be working per month, correlated with the time spent on said activity.
Actually I have been in a couple of projects, where instead of sprint points or hours, we actually had euros as ticket efforts.
No, that is just accounting of salaries. That doesn't calculate the value/worth of the work and hence can't be used to determine salaries. That's circular logic.
> For product development, the price of licenses and support deals per month, correlated to the hourly cost of everyone on the office, and then what actually lands on the bank account at the end of the month.
That is not really what I was asking for or my parent talking about. We were talking about specific salaries. Engineer X wants Y salary. justified or not? You are suggesting revenue/hours.
With that logic, everyone gets the same salary and you would also value the identical work differently depending on the revenue (which might or might not be justified)
Too many Java devs to chose from? Salaries going down.
Can't get hold of them? Salaries going up.
Whatever engineer wants is driven by market prices in land, and offshoring prices as well.
And yeah in countries with collective agreements across the industry, regardless of your actual job, everyone on the company building gets their tariff XYZ salary as per yearly industry agreement.
i might be missing something but you are still equating value of work with salaries for some reason. this is the context we are discussing, the original quote:
"How much of each dollar you make for the company with your hard work do you take home?"
i was asking how you calculate how much you make for the company. you specifically. not 'revenue/hours' or whatever. you and you only. salaries do not factor into this. how could they?
> And yeah in countries with collective agreements across the industry, regardless of your actual job, everyone on the company building gets their tariff XYZ salary as per yearly industry agreement.
that isn't true though. this might be the case in some countries (please provide a reference) but in europe with strong unions and collective agreements, it is wrong. it sets the minimum standard and companies pay over that agreement all the time.
That doesn't mean you need points or tshirt sizes or constant status meetings. You just need channels of communication with the right people and a chance to adapt to what they say.
And it’s something that good devs will already be trying to accomplish anyway. There’s also the part about breaking stuff down into small parts so that small cycles of meaningful dev can be accomplished. But that’s mainly to be able to release small and often - another thing you should already be doing to incrementally update your app avoiding big releases. It also stands in the face of waterfall development, though I see lots of teams doing test at the end still, making it waterfally.
I also see too many agile teams that have iterations that never finish, get feedback in prod, create half complete features that are weird or don’t gel - all in the name of agile.
I think the kids that get it were already doing it as it’s common sense. The rest end up sticking an agile badge on their practices when it’s all but.
The patron wants more, the creator doesn't want to create more, so you need to force a detente so the patron will continue to pay the creator, and the creator will continue to produce.
You get t-shirt sizes and points when the patron feels the creators aren't doing what they said they'd do, so in a way it's a communication problem, yes, but the cause of the communication problem is that there is almost never an alignment between the two groups, and so you need some kind of shared language where expectations can translate, and accountability can exist at all, usually in some flawed form.
The problem, in my experience, is many development contracts are still structured in such a way that this becomes too difficult. Management fearing early exposure to the customer will lead to scope creep and cost growth.
Tech companies can look at the agile manifesto and use it as a heuristic guide, because engineers are already kind of on the same page about it. You don't need heavyweight process etc.
Non tech-companies need the window dressing of tech companies to retain their best engineers, but ultimately agile is kinda telling them to turn everything upside down and also threatening to make them superfluous. Nobody is really up for that.
So agile in non-tech companies is Kabuki theater and engenders cynicism, and agile in tech companies is basically superfluous "water is wet" advice no one even bothers to comment about.
You'll notice a lot of these blogs about how agile has failed are coming from consultants, who are basically brought into traditional companies that are struggling with some part of this process, not tech companies.
After the buy-out we were told to undergo a thorough transformation into this brand new unified top-down software development process the company had some consultants design for them. Complete with a baffling array of buzzword driven "agile" development practices and project/squad/team/chapter manager/lead/head roles to be filled. The more you kept inquiring what exactly those roles should entail, the more conflicting and vaguer the answers got until you realized that no one had the faintest idea how any of this was supposed to actually mesh together in practice. The license packages for the expensive project planning software we were to use where long paid however.
Raised in a christian tradition, and somewhat a student of history of christianity, I was fascinated by parallels that unfolded in months` time what took place over centuries in christianity.
5 years after the movement began, I found that it felt as watered down, abstracted, and diverse as christianity spent 2000 years becoming. I could bond with a fellow programmer as an "agilist" and at a very vague level, there was some abstract similarity (e.g as christianity might be to "be kind", agile might be to "be lightweight"). Everyone took the parts they wanted and formulated what fit for them. Which was/is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Perhaps we could call it, "social virtue mythology".
What is a social virtue mythology? It answers the following questions:
* Why is there evil in the world? (ie., why arent things perfect)
* How do you overcome evil? (ie., become perfect)
* Who is good? Who is evil?
* In what or who should I place my trust?
Today we can see many such competing virtue mythologies....
Why is there evil in the world? New Atheists: Religion; Feminism: Patriarchy; Socialists: Capitalism; Idenity-Woke: Essentialism.
Personally I regard this as wholely "mythological" because the questions these social-virtue systems are designed to answer "take place" in a utopian/dystopian reality.
Ie., many people eventually discover that there is no need of this type of mythology: reality is itself flawed. We aren't "owed" a utopia, and thus there is no question to answer.
Here, in agile then we see these patterns even in this thread. Some commenters are still trying to answer the question, "why isnt software design/construction perfect?" as-if there can be a virtue/vice answer, ie., "because we have failed to...".
Rather, no. These problems are irresolvable. The reality of software is intrinsically broken: there is no customer to give you the requirements, there is no habit which elicits them, there is no mechanism to build reliable software, and so on.
Many are extremely loath to confront this reality, especially as adolescents; ie., that they are powerless to build their utopia. The really-existing world has irresolvable contradictions that admit no virtuous resolution.
The "scrum master" was a dedicated role, filled by a technically able person, who sometimes helped a little bit with the coding. This individual had read several books and taken a course on Agile. They were sincerely passionate about Agile and wanted to implement it effectively.
The "project manager", a DIFFERENT PERSON was part of the "business", and interfaced primarily with the scrum master, but they were with us for several hours of both planning and retro.
Our sprints were 2-3 weeks. At the end of the sprint, we spent AN ENTIRE DAY on retro. Before the next sprint started, we spent AN ENTIRE DAY on planning. We used a physical board which was matched by the tracker. They were kept in sync by individuals and validated by the DEDICATED DOCUMENTATION PERSON.
We broke down the tasks relentlessly, until there were almost no 3-point tasks, maybe one or two 5-point tasks, and everything else was 1-pointers. I think this one is the most bang for your buck, lowest hanging fruit, easiest to implement winner. Someone has to enforce it vigilantly until everyone is used to it.
Those three things are, IMNSHO, the keys to getting halfway decent Agile going.
Edit: Was one of the least soul-crushing and nicest experiences in professional software development. The planning meetings were a serious effort, but also a pleasure because I liked everyone on the team, and the large time windows made it not seem rushed, so we had time to joke around and shoot the shit.
Example: You want to improve performance. Somebody will have to fire up a profiler and measure things, and then figure out which hotspots are worth optimizing.
I totally get breaking it down to "set up profiling tool", "do profiling runs for workflow X/Y/Z", and "identify low-hanging fruit". Presumably these tasks are not going to take the entire sprint.
How do you plan the next step in task format? Do you not do any further work on the topic until the next sprint, where you then plan out concrete "optimize function X" tasks?
If not, i.e. whoever does profiling also gets to optimize code during the same sprint, how do you account for that in planning? Three dummy tasks "optimize a hotspot" without any actual idea what it will involve? Maybe it requires rewriting a component to use different data structures? Maybe it's just a single JVM config tweak? "Could be a 1 or it could take my whole life?"
Maybe it's just less common in certain domains, but this kind of "we need to investigate this issue and then decide what changes to make based on the investigation (and good engineering judgement)" - which is bread and butter in my part of the org - does not seem to fit into the "tasks with points" concept at all. Well, unless you want to always spread the process of "investigate issue", "identify problem and solution(s)" and "implement solution" over a whole month. That seems soul-crushing to me.
To be clear, I'm very interested in seeing how to make this mesh with Agile. But it feels like trying to write a binary search in a language that has no indirection or conditionals.
Given the "about one hour of work, give or take" target point value we used, there weren't many tasks which had more points than that.
Soul-crushing is doing "Agile" where the "scrum master" tells you how long each ticket will take, where the client is invisible and never involved, and where retro is 1 hour at the end of the sprint and focused on blame.
But I would feel disengaged if everything was broken down to 1 point stories at the beginning of the sprint.
For me I'd feel more engaged by seeing that I've contributed to completing distinct points on the board at the end of the sprint.
I'm a team of one and only recently started coding a large project. Sometimes I can work entire days only having achieved intangible progress. I'd love to be able to quantify this work as progress toward distinct tasks. Maybe I need to implement an Agile-like system for myself.
I see that you have a task to implement validation in the phone number field, can we break that down into three tasks? Determining the format which needs to be applied and edge cases, adding validation to the field on the client side, and also on the server side?
Right away, thinking about it this way may reveal certain unknowns which you had not previously thought about. And all of it took an extra minute or two. While your team-mates are also engaged and "THERE" to help.
Later you can see which of the tasks took longer or less than expected, and use this to improve your future estimates (during the retro.)
This is only skimming the top of the types of benefits you can gain from a good Agile process.
It was a special place to work.
The time spent in those retrospectives and planning sessions are about the technical aspects - how talks should be broken down, how overall design of interacting components should look like. It's 100% actual work.
I'd take these over another bs "status sync" any day.
I'm getting ill just thinking about this. Two whole days wasted every sprint!
If those two days out of every two weeks are critical to a team hitting their deadlines, then the team is already fucked. If you can't stop, think, talk, and relax for a moment, then you're already behind or will be behind and you'll probably never catch up without risking burnout of the team and mass quitting.
And it was not "16+ hours of meetings", but two days of taking a break from coding to do more social work, also having a 2-hour lunch together in the middle :)
Depends on the size of the team. For a 2-3 week sprint, and and team of 10-12 devs, a six hour relaxed retro is just barely time enough.
- what went well? we completed most/all of our tasks, cracked a tricky problem, received good feedback from somewhere - let's say 5-10 minutes of celebration
- what didn't go well? maybe a task was more difficult than expected, some new requirement added unexpected difficulties, some third party something didn't perform as expected - 10-15 minutes of commiseration and discussion, maybe more if there's something complicated, perhaps that requires further action
- what would you do differently? unless there are some procedural problems, I would expect almost nothing here; maybe someone has some new ideas about how to improve something, perhaps some aspect of the project isn't running as smoothly as it could - 5-10 minutes maybe
So about thirty minutes max across the whole team, usually less. What secret magic are we missing out on? Six hours??
I will fight, in any team I'm a part from now on, to avoid the interminable scrum rituals. They are soul crushing for most good engineers I know. I never ever want to do them again.
Also the pattern I’ve seen is over time businesses want more and more fine grained control over the engineering process, as if treating the team like replaceable workers doing well defined tasks (like Ray Croc I guess) leads to more efficiency.
This doesn’t work when the burger and chips has zero cost of replication and your staff are not frying and serving chips, they are inventing new cuisines every day.
Agile is a risk management method.
You won't build things faster with agile in general. It's aim is to decrease the chances of spending 80 manyears on a project and then realising at the end that you've built the wrong thing.
It was refreshing to hear their take on project managers, as it matches how I’ve been feeling recently. They schedule 7 checkpoint meetings per week and I’ve given up on attending, I just can’t do it anymore.
I hope that we can move past agile into a new world that is free of the baggage and process of yesteryear. Even if the core principles are the same, let’s call it something different so we can start fresh and impress upper management.
In fact, all agile needs is good retrospectives, and all the rest you can decide there.
In that case get the two others with you and decide a new rule: nobody leaves the retrospective before they've spoken.
Warning: might backfire, one team I worked with scheduled meetings right before lunch so they wouldn't stretch out.
It backfired: these meetings continued into our lunch every single time until I think I or someone else started just walking out as lunch started.
More likely you have people who are paid to do some workload which they are generally happy with. They aren't going to be motivated into doing more by accident, especially through their own action. This is the vast majority of people in the world, so good luck countering that momentum over the long term.
Effective software project management is an interesting and hard problem, granted, so many people are interested in how to tackle it. I get it.
What I see is that "agile" criticisms are really criticisms of it's inefficacy in giving employers more for their dollar from the employee perspective. I don't see why I should get too invested in minimizing my relative value.
If you have a bunch of people who are just doing the minimum they’re paid to do, with no passion and excitement for the work itself or their team, you either need a different method or different people.
It’s like shaping a system of people. I think of it as 50% of the development endeavor at larger shops.
Retros are used to identify ”technical organization debt” starting to build up, in a way.
A couple of said theory tweets, from memory
Side note: I have never actually read anything written by Mao before. That stuff is a very unsettling combination of stone-cold and unhinged. Maybe it's just because we know the "full" history now, maybe it's just the phrasing of the translation. Yikes.
And here lies the difference: agile includes retrospectives. I
It's the only thing you need for agile. And if you don't have that, you don't have agile.
I would put things differently: micromanagers leveraged the agile and scrum buzzwords to justify and convey an aura of legitimacy to micromanaging.
I mean, how many orgs forced daily meetings where workers are forced to enumerate what they did and delivered in a short time frame, but mysteriously left out the part where a feedback cycle exists to revise plans other than performance evaluation plans?
It seems to me, that all these buzzwords and meetings are just a way to always keep you "busy" (or at least looking busy), to always have some kind of fire below your feet so you don't "slack off" (or have a bit of free time to actually gain or sharpen the skills you need for the same company...). I'm just tired of this. In a way, good teams will be good, and bad teams will be bad, doesn't really depend on whatever process they have.
Agile is very open to attack when it veers from a list of useful practices to try out in a given context and instead turns into dogma.
This is one example how processes supercede people even though that is against the original agile manifesto.
Often it seems that people talk about the 'micromanagement' and 'wasted time' as if they would not enjoy the daily. To me this is a warning, that something within the setup is not right. In general, micromanagement requires hierarchy, but I don't recall from the Scrum Guide  that a manager should be present or that directions should be given. So who is managing who?
If done right, there should be absolutely no reason why there should be negative emotions involved: The devs get together and talk about their work and the challenges they want to share. It is about fostering communication.
Because the daily standup can only be X minutes, someone always gets cut off, causing negative emotions.
On the one hand, it is the reason why Scrum is so successful in corporate environments, on the other hand it is also somewhat non-agile. That is why I tend to call Scrum the least agile Agile Methodology and a good starting point for Agile transformations.
Just don't forget to keep moving on as your Retros lead you the way.
For example, teams running Agile are very reluctant to give both a delivery date and a fixed set of features. They're willing to promise one or the other, but not both. And that's a problem, because the whole rest of the organization really wants to know when they can announce the release to customers. Planning for releases tends to be a really big deal, the pressure to make promises of both functionality and delivery dates is very strong.
Also, Agile methodologies tend to assume you are in close contact with the customer, who can tell you what they actually want and decide how things should work. But this is rarely the case; typically you have a PM or something like that who is in touch with the customers, and is supposed to understand what they want. But this person is rarely senior enough to actually make decisions; important decisions are made by a dev manager or a project lead or someone like that, with the PM just providing input and perspective.
Finally, Agile has this notion that everything is supposed to be handled informally, verbally, person to person. And that's fine for small tweaks to the product. But as soon as you start building something big enough that it takes months and crosses team boundaries, it gets really useful to have an actual document explaining how something is supposed to work. Such a document is an invaluable record on what has actually been decided, and anyone joining the project or wanting to contribute to it absolutely should read it. But Agile tends to discourage creating such documents in the first place.
Given that Agile clashes so hard with how actual organizations get things done, it rarely gets adopted in anything approaching a pure form. The practices that tend to get picked up might be called Agile-light: sprints, daily meetings, and task estimation in points.
Businesses don't "get things done" by operating as if they can have both. That's why projects fail, businesses cut corners, and then inevitably ship broken products or don't ship at all.
Most of the "agile methodologies" are nonsense dreamt up by borderline con artists attempting to sell their services. The fact that it's an either / or choice - and that nothing can get around that choice - is inherent in the nature of the work.
The best I can come up with is the notion of a double contingency plan. Engineering agrees to a set of functionality to be delivered and a delivery date. This is inevitably going to be a bit optimistic, because people consistently overestimate themselves.
To deal with that, the first contingency plan addresses the question of what should be done if things are not converging to the ship date. The plan here is to keep the ship date, but ask hard questions about what bits of functionality actually need to be kept. What are the actual P0 - MUST HAVE features?
The second contingency plan addresses what is to be done if the first one fails. At this point engineering has already done all they can. They have pushed as hard as they can, and they have deferred every feature that is deferrable. They are down to the actual MUST HAVEs. Now the rest of the organization has to figure out what to do with a product that is inevitably going to be late. What is the alternate ship date? What customers are going to be really unhappy. And so on.
It seems to me any large engineering project should think out these contingency plans in advance. What will they do if making the deadline starts to look daunting? And what will they do if making the deadline turns out to be impossible?
Yes. Kinda :) But the issue isn't want. The friction is actual make-an-impact business needs.
It's easy to sit around a conference table and spitball wants. But trying to bin that person or group down to specifics as well as resolve disconnect and inconsistencies between the ideas and faces go blank.
Customers want the luxury to spit out wants without having to take the time to knuckle down and do the hard work of defining needs. They have a "you figure it out" attitude. That leads to assumptions. And assumptions lead to dysfunctional product / features, for which the engineers get blamed. Again.
Agile is a worthy solution to this problem, but when IT is treated as a service provider and not an equal partner the tool (i.e., agile) gets mutated to a point it's not truly agile anymore.
Extreme Programming suggests having a customer on site. In Scrum the Product Owner is merely a substitute for the Customer.
The agile manifesto values working software more than comprehensive documentation, but does not forbid documentation.
So why do companies and their devs misunderstand this?
Pretty much wish this was a defined part of agile, most of the time all my boss/pm is good for is maybe reminding me of meetings. They never understand what I’m working on to help, but they have power to make giant decisions and elevate problems I have been waiting for the client on for some time. Idk if this is a common theme.
I read a comment here a while back I agree with: your project manager, a good one, should remove obstacles that could slow you down, and anticipate them. They will only really interact when they notice bad patterns; like you being too slow. And most of the time let you be unless you introduce to new team members or elevate issues. Focus on your major tasks, allow them to manager the small mundane.
I hate being micro managed as much as the next guy, but I've also had way too many coworkers over the past decade who can't seem to just sit down and get the job done. They fiddle and tinker and explore way too much. It's helpful to do that at times but many lack the discipline to produce software without a PM to answer to. I wish it were different, but it isn't.
My current PM is great and if I found out the management wanted to get rid of him, I'd vouch him and go to war if I had to. Good PMs are indispensable, in my opinion.
Plus minus subtle intra team politics that allows you to circumvent the above.
It is team that are working intelligently with trust between members. Each member does it job, feels responsible and autonomous. Enough to do by itself everything needed for the project to succeed and with other members trusting him to be able to do what he needs to do without micro management.
The tough part for me has been experiencing a team like that, then moving and having no idea how to help create a similar environment with my new team. Any tips?
Also, in my experience, most of cases like this happened in places were the management was kind of "absent" or "defective" in some way. For example when you have the next level of management hierarchy in another place/country.
In such a case, often, the dev/engineers are considered autonomous and they are just trusted and expected to "take care" of all the technical things, with little supervision.
If you are already inside a team, I think that there is little to do to create a similar environment, except trying to get the maximum "power"/"position"/"space" from the company, and using that to organize yourself with the persons you are interacting with in your team.
Trust is the key element. But other members have to earn your trust, and on the other side, you should also ensure to worth the trust of your company by being reliable and deliver. Most of the time, even management will let you a lot of "space" if you are use to reliabily take over "loads" off of their shoulders.
The worst case scenario is when there are persons in management that have "bullshit" jobs like "scrum masters" where they have to do "something" to justify their work.
Otherwise, if you are in the lucky position of creating a team, the best thing is to try to have a multi disciplinary team with most of the people with a specific responsibility on some components of your system.
This is the exact opposite of saying that you have a an agile pizza team with all members that should be equal on all subjects and easily be interchangeable at will on whatever subject...
There is also then the wildly misunderstood aspect of estimation. In my experience the only value beyond saying a feature is easy or hard is that it does spark discussion among engineers, the irony being if said discussion goes on for too long it usually gets shut down. Adding estimates to work you are going to do within the next 2 weeks seems of limited value, it changes no behaviour you will still do the work.
I feel we would be better served by reinforcing the principle that all of our purposes within the organisation is to deliver a quality product for the customer.
Product development is responsible for taking ideas and generating specifications for product features while software engineering are responsible for taking specifications and implementing them within a software product. This simple process should be monitored and systematically improved to deliver better on the core principle.
I feel like they had a great idea, gave birth to something, but then failed to nurture it and we are still evolving a solution. Ok we got scrum but we all know that’s a complete shit show.
What agile is really missing is that it doesn’t touch on leadership. We like to blame management and say they should let us do what we know, but we don’t lead. Decentralised control only works when everyone leads.
Let’s add a line to the manifesto and fix it:
“Lead from the bottom over centralised control”
1. Big Ball of Mud: work without a plan
2. Waterfall and alike: make a very elaborate plan and stick to it
3. Agile: work without a plan, but promptly refactor issues caused by lack of foresight
Waterfall worked well but is too slow to respond to change, so Agile replaces one-off planning with iterative refining. So far, great idea.
However, if the backlog is never short of business requests, and business requests are always higher priority than refactoring, then when will refactoring ever be done?
If we don't have architects anymore, but also don't designate time to refactor, we are de-facto doing Big Ball of Mud with stand-ups.
I could just as easily do this in a notebook, but it wouldn't be indexable or searchable, is all.