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Agile Conversations

Everyone, especially project managers, is in love with Agile Development. And why wouldn’t they be? Under the old school system, you’d end up with developers either sitting around uselessly, or drafting up prototypes that will only be thrown away. Agile allows for parallel design and development, wasting less time and money. But there’s always a tradeoff. In this case, I’m thinking of commonality of design. Let me explain by example:

I’m currently working an Agile project with three developers including myself. We’ve divied up the tasks so that one is doing the JSF database plumbing, and the other two are creating the web services that sit on the back end. We started development without having a certain idea of certain database keys, so we naturally wrapped the keys in an object that we could easily change when the decision was made. It let us move forward with development and had a very low cost for change when business came back with a decision. But we each implemented it in a difference way, using a different nomenclature and at different times. So now we have three objects that perform identical tasks, and require a translation process when our respective parts interact with each other. It’s not broken, but it’s definitely messy.

And it’s a natural fallout of the tendency to think that Agile means you start developing right away, and things like requirements and interfaces can be laid on top of the code later. How do we prevent it? Sadly, communication is the only answer. Code reviews early on could have prevented this situation before it would have been a pain in the tuckus to refactor. A project wiki exists, and even has a section that lays out common objects and interfaces. But the wiki was infrequently referenced for matters of actual code implementation; it was for the documents and the Agile storyboards.

In the end, it’s important to recognize that Agile development has taken the large chunk of communication out of the beginning phase of a project. But that communication isn’t gone, it’s been spread out over the duration of the project, and in most cases that means there going to be a lot more of it. As developers we eagerly embrace Agile projects since it means we don’t spend two months in design meetings and can’t indulge our love of code early on, but we have to realize that it comes with a cost. We actually have to talk to each other.

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