Speaking at the West Yorkshire BCS meeting on Agile Methods

After my comments on the QDD session at a past BCS meeting I have been asked to return and speak at the West Yorkshire BCS meeting on the 30th of June to give an overview about Agile methods.

This will be very much a management overview for people who are unaware of Agile methods, hence I will touch on XP, Scrum, Crystal Clear and Kanban and try to compare and contrast.

But, If you can’t wait to find out about Agile, why not come to the next Agile Yorkshire meeting on the 8th?

Great book on Kanban

I won’t bother to repeat what Gojko has said on David J, Anderson’s book on Kanban, other than to say I agree wholeheartedly.

I too have been looking for a good introduction book on Kanban as applied to software development (so Kanban as opposed to kanban, not the capital K). This is exactly what with book does. OK I know that this information is out there on the web (http://www.limitedwipsociety.org/); but there times, especially for introducing potentially non technical people to development methodologies, where you want to point people at an easily accessible introduction they can dip into. This is that book, have a look it is worth it

Post AIC 2010 Thoughts

I was at the AIC 2010 conference yesterday, which I enjoyed more than last year. The most interesting session was Ivar Jacobson. He discussed how immature our industry is, with its disjoint between software engineers and academic computer scientists. Something I have commented on before when discussing if our industry should be licensed.

He discussed how we need to build our industry upon commonly agreed kernel of simple best practice activities, not upon some currently fashionable process whether it be Waterfall, CMMI, Agile, Lean etc. We must identify what are the best practices from all process (and all processes have something to offer) and teach them to students at University as this kernel of activities, as well as teaching how to compose them into more complex practices and hence whole development processes. Thus providing new entries to our industry with the base of reusable techniques that the can use for their whole career, irrespective of fashion. The key idea being that any current process model can be build by composing these kernel of basic activity.

So if this sounds interesting, and it does to me, have a look at www.semat.org. The signatories aim to have results within the year, if they achieve this aims this could well be the first step to making Software Engineering on a par with other chartered engineering disciplines such as Structural or Mechanical Engineering, with there is a long term set of industry accepted best practices that people can be judged against.

The uptake of Agile and Alt.Net practices in places a bit away from the major development hotspots

Last week I got into an interesting discussion via email with Nieve a developer from Lille, France.The chat was on the uptake of Agile and Alt.Net practices in places a bit away from the major development hotspots. We both thought it could make an interesting post so, here goes, starting with Nieve’s first post…..

Hello there,I’ve stumbled upon your blog while googling for the terms alt.net yorkshire.I’m a .NET developer working in Paris and living in the north of France (Lille area). Now, the reason I’m writing is that we’re having an alt.net lunch next month, and I would like to talk a bit about the differences between the (alt).net communities in france and england. Now since I did my studies in Leeds, the fact that yorkshire and la région du nord are (surprise surprise) in the north (plus a shared history of mines) brought me to google for alt.net and yorkshire.Over here in Lille/the north of France the situation is rather grim. job offers that entail agile practices and or tools in .NET environment are as rare as an eclipse, managers and developers alike are literally afraid of any framework/tool that isn’t microsoft yet somehow miraculously written in a .net language. I suppose you get the picture. I was wondering if you would mind sharing with me (and/or others, on your blog) your thoughts on the situation in yorkshire.

My reply

I don’t know if you have heard of Ian Cooper, he was one of the organisers of the ALT.NET events in the UK. Well he just posted on his blog on a subject very close to your question http://codebetter.com/blogs/ian_cooper/archive/2010/01/19/whither-alt-net.aspx

In my opinion there has not been a drop of in interest over the tools and practices of ALT.NET but it has lost it’s label a bit. Ian is right the main people pushing it have moved more towards Twitter etc. which has reduced visibility if you don’t follow them.

Local groups are still on the go. I myself attend Agile Yorkshire http://www.agileyorkshire.org/ which is a group driven by development process (being JAVA and .NET) but did help organise the ALT.NET in the North event last year. We hope to run something this year, but we doubt it will be under the ALT.NET banner as it was felt this alienated JAVA members

As to who is using the tools, no as many as I would hope. But you find them in surprising places. I found out that a dev teams in the NHS (usually known to be very bureaucratic and fixed management process) are using Kanban, nHibernate etc. and finding them useful. Getting adoption is all down to someone showing there is an advantage, the problem is so few people in our industry care about improving their skills, it all comes back as Ian said to the software craftsmanship movement

Nieve again

First of all let me begin by saying I only wish I could tell you how much I am thankful. Reading Ian’s post was a something of an epiphany moment 🙂 At some points he brought it so close to home that I had to stop and think ‘hold on, is he just talking about software development or is there a hidden message about the state of France..?’ Over here it’s not only the IT industry that breeds this sort of position holders that are fine where they are and just won’t bother changing anything. I always think of it as ‘with all that revolution going on, you don’t get any evolution’; the idea is that everyone here are jumping to their feet and straight to the street to cry against whatever change that is offered, that nothing ever gets to change hence no evolution…

To get back to the issue in question, I think one of the things Ian, and for that matter many of the ALT.NET people, tend to forget or simply overlook is the fact that while at some parts of the world people may think the battle was won, or that it’s about time to wake up from our comfortable twitter hibernation, in some other parts the battle hasn’t even began, which brings me back to my original question. See, you guys up the in England and esp. in the north can be very proud of your community, and not only the alt.net/agile/software development/IT one, but also the local-geographical community. I had to go and look for a job in Paris, which entails a couple of hours on the train each and every day and which is bound to end by leaving Lille (and no wonder I’m considering moving back to yorkshire); Not only developers and managers are afraid of anything that is not microsoft, the actual idea of software craftsmanship is an abnormality in our region. There is a Nord-agile group that works here and have meetings every couple of months and consists of 5 to 7 people, none of them a .net person. And we’re talking about a huge region and one of france’s 5 biggest cities.

With that in mind, there’s also the fact that roughly each and every year a new generation of developers is arriving to the market which makes it even more difficult to those (esp the beginners to senior-juniors) who wants to learn and work on their coding craftsmanship. (I remember I discovered the alt.net manifest only a couple of years ago or so, and soon after I remember reading a post of Ayende saying he’s going to give Twitter a shot. Thank god, he’s one of those who never stopped blogging.)

As for Paris, things seem to be closer to what Ian said; there are a lot more job offers that ask for a working experience in NH, MVC, NUnit etc’, however this feels like the new orthodoxy.

… and me again

So to me this shows that the problem we both see are not just down to us at our company/technology/region/country. Craftsman Developers everywhere tend to sit in small isolated pockets, even in large conurbations, and there is nothing to go but to organise locally where you can, go on go for a beer you know you want to, and to join in the virtual communities to get a bigger world view.

Wow, that sounds like a call to revolution, better go into hiding in case the thought people come round, I know I will just have to think I am not in!

November Agile Yorkshire Meeting

Time for the usual reminder for the next Agile Yorkshire meeting. This month it is by Mark Stringer on ‘Techniques for dealing with difficult conversations & negotiations in software development’. Usual time, usual place, usual free beer.

….and just a heads up for the December meeting, as this is at a different venue, Old Broadcasting House (http://www.ntileeds.co.uk/old-broadcasting-house/), it is going to be by David Joyce of the BBC on ‘Kanban for Software Engineering’

Welcome to the past of software development

I was at an interesting meeting at my local BCS branch tonight ‘Opening The Black Box: An Introduction to Quality Driven Development’  by Tim Hunter. I had heard of TDD and DDD etal. but QDD was new to me.

What we got was a hour framed by the basic premise that ‘Waterfall is good – Agile is bad’ (or progressive methods as the speaker called anything that was not waterfall). As another attendee pointed out in the Q&A, this tone in the presentation tended to cloud the more balanced points, managing to get the backs up of a good few attendees by the speaker’s seeming lack of understanding of god agile practices. He seemed to see agile as developers messing around, no documentation, testing or general engineering discipline. He argued that without waterfall, and specifically quality gates, we could not write quality systems. This is not the Agile I know.

Agile, if adopted properly is very constraining from an engineering point of view. We have detailed specification by example, open reporting practices, regular re-estimation of remaining work, test driven development, pair programming, automated builds, regular potentially shippable products with quality gates to move products between states of publication so we don’t just release everything we build. The list goes on and on; OK no team is going to use it all, but the tools are there in the tool box. A team can set where on the agility spectrum they choose to sit.

I agree with the sessions premise that quality gates are important, but not that waterfall is the only way to enforce them. You can put the whole methodology choice aside and frame the discussion in how do we get staff who take pride in their work and are empowered produce quality products via their working environment. I would argue there is more hope for this in an agile framework where the whole team buys into the ethos of software craftsmanship, as opposed to any methodology where an onerous procedure is imposed, a system must be habitable as Alistair Cockburn puts it.

I felt the session was too pessimistic over the quality of people in our industry. The speaker wanting to make rules because he perceived people were of low quality and had to be forced to do a half way decent job. OK I am a bit pessimistic, not too bad a trait for a developer or tester, but we have to hope for more, to strive for more. This is something I think the agile community does do, they are trying to write better software and become better craftsman everyday. They care.

For me the key question is how can we bring more people along with us. Especially the people who have given up and just turn up to do their IT related job and avoid as much hassle as possible. They are the ones who don’t turn up to the BSC, community conference or any user groups or even read a book or blog on the subject. What can we do for them?