Monday, May 30, 2005

Agile Development - Skill

Knowledge, Understanding and Skill. The three stages of learning (according to Japanese TQM). I have found this to be true. In my opinion a little knowledge can be dangerous, understanding comes only with experience and skill is acquired only after repeated practice in varying conditions.

The theme of learning, has been central to my blogs on Agile development. One of the tenants of the agile manifesto is to value people over process. If you accept that software is a complex non-deterministic, creative discipline, then this primary tenant must be true.

As an organisation, if you value people over process, then it is only logical that you get good at developing people. As an individual you owe it to yourself to improve.

I have been using XP for sometime, and up to now I have reserved judgment on its general applicability. Well I feel that I've learnt enough to come off the fence and offer an opinion.

I don't think XP provides enough guidance on how to get the best out of people. How best to build and develop individuals and teams. XP says go get a skilled team, apply these practices and bingo success. But if the team is not skilled, or worst still, if they think they have the skills, but in reality do not, what then?

In a sense this is an opportunity for people like myself to offer our services as "Coach". Come in, exhibit skill and leave with a fat check. But what happens after we go?

I have been reading Crystal Clear (CC) by Alistair Cockburn. CC advertises itself as a human powered methodology. I prefer to think of it as a people centric approach. It was developed over several years by interviewing sucessful agile teams and asking what worked. The outcome of these interviews has been boiled down into a number of guidelines for success.

CC addresses many of the short comings of XP, by truly focusing on people. I have got my own ideas on how the two approaches could be merged, taking the best from each. I'll save that for another blog. I'll leave you with an omission in XP, that if you think about it is a startling oversight.

How do people improve? People learn from other people, often by example. For this to occur a relationship between teacher and pupil(s) must exist. This relationship is very important and requires mutual respect and personal safety. In the relationship the teacher leads, and the pupil follows. The essential skill of the teacher is leadership. Without good leadership improvement and eventual success is unattainable.

XP does not address the concept of leadership. Instead it assumes that a meritocracy will arise within teams and appropriate leaders will be found at appropriate times. My experience is that what is as likely to occur is that the blind will end up leading the blind. Alternatively, in scenarios where several people have the required leadership ability, uncertainty and confusion can arise as no one knows who to follow.

You only need to look to Sport to see that teams need leaders. Good leaders get the best out their teams.


Matt Davey said...

Nice blog, where are U contracting in London?

Paul said...

Hi Matt,

Not at liberty to say where I'm working, not sure how my client would feel about being blogged about publically. Send us an e-mail and some more personal info about yourself and what your doing, and perhaps we could share notes. My e-mail is