Yesterday, after Lean Coffee, I had a conversation about agile software methodologies with Joe Justice, somebody I greatly respect. I expressed my feeling that the term “agile” has become a loaded one, with many conflicting meanings, and use of it can incite unintended reactions from the community. At the time I didn’t realize that I shouldn’t have said “the community” , as I now believe that it was too narrow in scope and might’ve derailed our conversation a bit. By “community” I meant the software industry as a whole (See: Agile ruined my life and halfarsedagilemanifesto).
We discussed how certain methodologies emphasize the technical team as the boundary for the new way of thinking…emphasizing divisive principles, like protecting the engineers from “the business” so that they can do their best work without interruption. These methodologies overlooks that “the business” consists of people who are also trying to do their best work toward the same goal. I strongly believe that organizational alignment is vital to work satisfaction, and being happy is vital to doing our best work.
I am certain I made some tired arguments about local optimizations that de-optimize the whole, when Joe put us back on track by explaining what “agile” means to him. His guiding agile principle (see:Principles behind the agile manifesto) is the 7th: “Working software is the primary measure of progress.”
I got to thinking about this and it started to dawn on me that this is a very easily misinterpreted principle. The definition of “Working software” can be very broad indeed. If software compiles without build errors does that mean it “works” or if it runs successfully through the happy path?
Let’s say for the sake of argument that the software is bug free; meaning it works exactly as specified and no defects exist. What if the customer doesn’t want it? Or there is no market for this mythical flawless feature? What if that feature was very expensive to produce? We’ve made working software, but was it an effective primary measure of progress? What if the engineering team worked so tirelessly on producing this software that they all hate their jobs? Eric Ries calls the aforementioned “Achieving Failure”: Delivering on time, and on budget a low defect, high-quality product that nobody wants.
I think working software as a goal is a good one, but when we silo the engineering team and “protect” them from “the business” we create an adversarial environment between groups that have the same goal. To enrich the lives of their users by producing an experience so great as to compel the customer to clamor for it and tell their friends.
Maybe a better wording for that principle could be “Delivering amazing experiences to customers at a sustainable pace is the primary measure of success.”
I could go on about the many ways one could misinterpret those words too, but I’ll leave that to the commenters.