I guest-starred on the Ruby Rogues podcast in August 2016. We had a wide-ranging talk discussing how Agile has changed over time, evolutionary design, large-scale Agile, and more. It's one of my favorite podcast appearances to date. Well worth the listen.
I've been doing a lot of work with multi-team development projects recently, and this has resulted in two good talks on large-scale Agile.
Scaling Beyond the Enterprise
My first talk was a keynote for Agile India in March 2016. It provides a good overview of the issues that come up, some of the solutions, and discusses my approach is different from existing approaches to scaling.
Scaling Beyond the Enterprise
The brilliance of early Agile methods was their non-conformity. They rejected conventional wisdom about how software should be created and substituted a new reality: one where collaboration, adaptation, and continuous improvement were more important than rigid processes and plans. At first, many people rejected these innovations, but Agile stood the test of time. Now it's won the day.
When people talk about scaling Agile, they forget those insurrectionary roots. They focus on what's palatable to the "enterprise:" how to make Agile safe, non-threatening, and acceptable--how to make it more conventional and conformist. In doing so, they risk losing the innovations that make Agile work so well.
What if we stopped worrying about what's safe and acceptable? What if we went back to those innovative roots? What would Agile look like if we scaled beyond the enterprise?
Come find out.
At the I T.A.K.E. conference in Romania, in May 2016, I keynoted on this topic again. This was an audience of developers, so I took a deeper look at the architectural and team structure considerations. There's a bit of overlap, but it goes into more detail with more examples. I'm particularly pleased with how this talk came out: it's covers a very solid list of things to think about as your company grows.
That feeling of a successful startup. A handful of people in a room, getting shi...ny things done. Everybody working together, all cylinders firing. It's intoxicating.
That feeling of a great XP team. A cross-functional team, all in a room, getting shi...pping done. Everybody working together, sharing responsibility, creating great code. It's impossible to forget.
But what do you do when the startup IPOs, and the 12-person company is now a 1000-person behemoth? What do you do when the XP team grows, and you have 100 people working on a product, not ten? How do you keep those great small-team dynamics in a big organization?
When people talk about scaling Agile, they focus on what's palatable to the "enterprise:" how to make Agile safe, non-threatening, and acceptable. But what if we aren't in that kind of company? What if we know what it's like to be great, but we're too big to do it the way we used to?
Let's set aside the brand names, consulting companies, and enterprise certifications. Let's look at the possibilities of large-scale Agile at its best.
The Agile community has been arguing about whether estimates are a good idea or not for a while now. In this talk at Øredev in November 2015, I think I did a pretty good job of threading the needle. I talk about how and when to estimate, and why you might not want to.
Estimates or No Estimates?
There's a debate raging in the Agile world: should we estimate, or not? Lost in the noise are more important questions: When should we estimate, and why? When should we not estimate, and why not?
As with so many Agile questions, the answer to "should we estimate?" isn't a clear-cut "yes" or "no." Instead, the answer depends on what your team is capable of, what your organization needs, and how to best balance the two.
We'll take a deep look at how estimates work, why they work, and when and why to discard them. Along the way, we'll encounter surprising insights about the nature of Agile development and the teams that use it.
Agile Engineering for the Web
I keynoted at Agile Australia in June 2015 and InfoQ recorded it. If you know somebody who's doing "Agile in name only," they should watch this video. Here's the blurb:
For an approach that emphasizes simplicity, success with Agile is surprisingly difficult. Some teams see amazing results. They're able to respond to changing needs, deliver new releases every day, and do so with nearly zero defects. Other teams complain that Agile makes things worse, not better. They get less done and spend more time in pointless meetings.
What is about Agile that creates such different experiences? Let's take a step back and look at what makes Agile work. What's the point of these Sprints, stories, Scrums, and other practices? What leads to success and what leads to struggle? It's time for a frank discussion about what it takes to succeed with Agile.
I spoke at several conferences in 2013 and I've finally taken the time to track down all the conference videos. Here you go:
Agile Fluency™ Model at NDC 2013
The promise of Agile is simple and compelling: a team that effortlessly surfs the wave of business possibility, changing direction to meet the needs of a changing market. So why do so few teams achieve that ideal? Lack of fluency. Agile may be simple, but it's far from easy, and it takes years of practice to do well. We'll look at four phases of Agile fluency, what you can expect from each phase, and how to increase your team's fluency so you can achieve what Agile promises.
The Agile Fluency Model is a tool Diana Larsen and I created to help teams understand what's possible with Agile and how to increase their fluent proficiency. A lot of people have praised it for its accurate representation of how teams grow, and for its usefulness in discussing Agile with managers and executives.
I also gave a keynote on this topic at XP 2013. As a keynote, it spends more time on understanding the "why" than the "how," and I work harder to be entertaining. I'll let you decide how successful I was.
You're leading a team as it becomes agile. You've got the planning process under control. You're realizing the benefits of improved transparency and your teams are communicating better with the customer. But you know that many of the key advantages--faster release cadence, improved quality, reduced cost of change--come from changing the core development activity.
Some of these changes, such as basic TDD, are obvious. But even they can be difficult to measure. Beyond the basics, the technical practices become difficult even to describe. Your teams give you transparency into what they do. How can you get similar transparency into how they do it? What should you realistically expect a team to do, and how can you tell whether it is doing that?
This talk targets managers and executives for agile teams. We discuss helping people see what is possible, creating feedback systems so that everyone knows where they are at, and ways to choose practices that align with your business needs.
Arlo Belshee and I make a great team, and we've done some crazy stuff together. This talk is on the serious side, but it's still really good stuff. We talk about how to create a great engineering team and introduce Arlo's "subway map" of Agile engineering practices (influenced in part by the Agile Fluency Model).
This is really Arlo's stuff, much of it inspired by his work at Microsoft, and good stuff it is. I'm honored to have been part of it.
The video is here. (Note: requires a free login.) The sound's a bit low, but headphones help.
At this year's Norwegian Development Conference, I gave a new presentation on evolutionary design, and NDC was good enough to record it and put the video online. It's a highly visual look at how evolutionary design has worked in practice on three projects I've been involved in. It's good to watch if you've ever wondered how evolutionary design plays out in practice. Here's the blurb:
In an agile environment, programmers must deliver working software in the first iteration. Requirements may change at any time, so there's no way to design the software in advance. Instead, you must design your software based on its current needs, and evolve the software design as the requirements change. This process is called evolutionary design. (It's also called continuous design, or iterative and incremental design.)
But how does it work? How can evolutionary design result in high-quality code? In this visual and example-filled session, James Shore will demonstrate how evolutionary design works in practice, using real-world examples culled from his decade of Agile development experience. You'll see how designs evolved in response to external forces, and how responding to those forces yielded in designs that were clean, flexible, and maintainable.
On Tuesday, Alistair Cockburn and I debated the merits and limitations of certification in a webcast hosted by the PMI. We had an interesting and cordial discussion and the PMI has graciously put up their recording for anyone to hear.
My recent Øredev presentation, "Agile Release Planning from Top to Bottom," was recorded and the video is now available online. This presentation was very well received and I think it's one of the best I've given recently.
The Agile Alliance has put up their recording of my presentation with Arlo Belshee, Bloody Stupid Johnson Teaches Agile. This presentation was the highest rated session of the Agile 2010 conference. You'll need to be a member of the Agile Alliance to view it.
If you'd like to see this presentation live, Arlo and I will be reprising it on December 15th (2010) for Agile PDX. This is a free event hosted by the Portland Agile community. Watch the event page or my Twitter feed for the location.
Bob Martin first reacted on Twitter by pointing out that, at any rate, “FitNesse is thriving”, along with Slim, a new system that can be used by Fitnesse as an engine to run the test tables.
Michael Feathersrepliedthat, in his view, Fit was more appropriate as a seed for other works: “Take it, grow it locally, and never commit back.” This seemsconfirmed by James Shore, a former leader of the Fit project (and a successor to Ward in that role): “Fit core was intentionally resistant to change [...] from an organizational perspective”
Interestingly, James believes that both Fit and Fitnesse have “similar flaws, which could be solved by another approach”:
“Fit flaw #1: maintenance. HTML is hard to maintain and refactor.”
“Fit flaw #2: Customers. Customers don’t generate the documents, and that was the whole idea.”
“Fit flaw #3: Programmers. Fit loves domain models and Whole Value. Most programmers don’t. Impedance mismatch.”
If you're interested in Fit, FitNesse, or similar tools, it's well worth the read.
"Maximizing Value with Agile Release Planning" is one of my favorite presentations to give. It's a thorough look at five ways to improve value on your agile projects:
Work on One Project at a Time
Release Early and Often
Adapt Your Plans
Keep Your Options Open
Plan at the Last Responsible Moment
I delivered this presentation at the Portland IIBA meeting (International Institute of Business Analysts) last week, which reminded me that there's a recording of this presentation online at the Product Management View blog. I thought you might like to see it.
That said, this is an excellent book on XP. All of XP's practices are covered in just the right amount of detail - giving you enough information that you can adopt the practice, but requiring that you do additional research about the ones that interest or challenge you the most. This allows the book to be a pretty quick read in general, which is beneficial for a team wishing to adopt XP practices soon. This level of detail does have one disadvantage, though: by staying largely in the realm of hypotheticals and ideals, I often found myself thinking that the authors were being naive and idealistic about how easy some practices were to adopt. This made me somewhat more skeptical of the book than I would have been if more detail had been offered, but ultimately I felt the level of detail was right; I did my own research online about some of the things that challenged me.
I have a short essay in the September issue of MundoJava, which was described to me as "Brazil's best software development magazine."
The editors at MundoJava translated my essay to Portuguese, but kindly gave me permission to post my original here:
What is Fit and why does it matter? It's part of your agile bug-prevention arsenal. Unlike the traditional approaches to quality, which focuses on finding and removing defects, agile approaches focus on preventing bugs from being created in the first place. This leads to some pretty amazing results. Experienced agile teams only produce a handful of new bugs per month.
The "agile engineering practices" introduced by Extreme Programming (XP) are part of the reason. These techniques--such as test-driven development, pair programming, collective code ownership, simple design, and energized work--prevent most programming errors. They ensure that the code does exactly what the programmers intended it to do.
Eliminating programming errors is a big step, but it doesn't prevent all bugs. Sometimes programmers misunderstand what is needed. Agile's idea of an involved product owner who sits with the team--an "on-site customer," in XP terms--goes a long way to preventing programmer misunderstandings. They can easily ask questions of the product owner, and she can see the team's progress and make corrections as they go.
These are great techniques, but some bugs still sneak by. Complex problem domains, such as finance or law, have a lot of nit-picky scenarios that have to programmed exactly right. In many cases, even the experts don't agree about the correct answers. In order for the programmers to create the software without bugs, they have to understand all of the possible cases and what the correct answers are. Surprisingly, even the experts haven't thought through all of the possibilities, and they often won't agree which answers are correct!
It's a recipe for bugs, and that's where Fit comes in. More than anything else, Fit is a tool for improving communication and collaboration around business requirements. Using Fit, teams discuss real-world examples of business rules in practice, and Fit automatically checks that the software does what the examples say. This conversation flushes out misunderstanding, errors, and disagreements. The automatic checks force the conversation to be rigorous, and provide documentation and ongoing confirmation.
This ability to enhance communication is Fit's most important attribute. Teams often think of Fit as a tool for testers. Nothing could be further from the truth! Fit's strength is its ability to get programmers and business experts talking to each other, disagreeing with each other, and reaching consensus together. Testers play a role in this process--often bringing up edge cases nobody had considered--but Fit is not a testing tool. It's a tool for collaboration... that happens to automatically check your results.
What is Fit and why does it matter? It's a tool for eliminating defects that arise from the confusion and miscommunication that often surround complex business requirements. It's an important part of your agile bug-prevention arsenal.
InfoQ just posted a video interview with me. Deborah Hartmann interviewed me at Agile 2007 last year just before the book came out. It came out great, and InfoQ also included a transcript for those of you who prefer reading to watching.
This interview joins a few other good recent interviews: Bob Payne's Agile Toolkit interview, also conducted at Agile 2007, and Clarke Ching's Agile Thinkers interview.
Clarke Ching has a new website called Agile Thinkers. It's devoted to interviews with people in the agile community and it looks like it will have some great stuff. (Clarke's already proven the model with TOC Thinkers, about the Theory of Constraints.)
Shane and I are the first ones up. Clarke is putting the interviews up one question at a time--you can either visit the front page and see everything as it comes, or you can jump straight my interview or Shane's interview.
To give you a taste, here's my response to Clarke's first question. There's more on the site.
Q1. Hi Jim, I'm really enjoying your book. I honestly think it is the best agile book I've read - and I've read a good few of them. Good job! Can you tell me a bit about yourself - both personally and professionally? What got you to the point where you could produce such a wonderful book?
Thank you! I should start by recognizing my coauthor, Shane Warden. Shane and I collaborated closely on the book, so that's part of the reason it turned out so well. Another reason would be the sheer amount of time and effort we put into it--I put nearly a year of full-time work into it myself, and that's not counting Shane's effort or the effort of all the people at O'Reilly. I think our open review process helped a lot, too. We put nearly every section of the book online and we got tons of feedback--over 1200 messages were posted to the reviewer list. Our best work started as drafts that got brutal beatings.
So: blood, sweat, and tears. You know, the usual.
As for how I personally got here... you know, it's hard to say. I've always liked reading and writing, even though I was born a hardcore geek. (I placed in my first programming contest at age ten or eleven. I think I would have come in first if my program had actually loaded off the tape drive.) I actually did better on the English portion of the SATs than the Math portion. I also wasted a huge amount of time on Fidonet and Usenet, talking about programming and (in retrospect) being a general pain in the ass. I could spend hours composing careful explanations of why OS/2's Worksplace Shell was better than the Windows desktop. I expended far more effort than the topics were worth, except for two things: I had fun, and I had a lot of practice writing and seeing how my writing was received.
So that's how I learned to write. On the software side, the really core experience was when I had an AppleSoft BASIC program dissolve on me. Applesoft BASIC was old-school: line numbers, two-letter variables, GOTO's, the works. When I was in high school, the complexity of one of the programs I was writing overwhelmed my capacity to keep track of it all. The program just fell apart in my brain. Ever since, I've been fascinated with the human side of programming: if programming is partly an exercise in making the unbelievably complex comprehensible, how do we do that? That led me to structured programming, then OOP, then software engineering texts, then Ward's Wiki, then XP and agile development, and now to questioning what makes software successful. Along the way, I did the same thing I did with writing: I spent hours every day just playing with the ideas, writing programs, writing about programming, and so on. (As well as my professional experience.)
So really, the answer is that, for most of my life, I've had a pretty single-minded dedication to writing, programming, and software development. (The word you're looking for: Nerd.) It's amazing I ever married, let alone reproduced.
Bob Payne has a great interview with me up on his "Agile Toolkit" podcast. It's a nice, wide-ranging interview. We start out talking about the book, migrate to a discussion of learning styles, then Bob's Mano a Mano project at Agile 2007, before wrapping up with a discussion of agile tools and CardMeeting.
I work with people who want to be great. People who are willing to take risks, rock the boat, and change their environment to maximize their productivity, throughput, and value. If that's you—particularly if you're in a product-focused, entrepreneurial environment—I want to hear from you. We can do great things together.
James Shore is a thought leader in the Agile software development community. He helps development teams worldwide achieve high throughput, market focus, shrinking costs, and joyful work. James is the co-author of The Art of Agile Development (O'Reilly, 2007). You can find more of his writing on his Art of Agile blog at http://jamesshore.com.