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Agile development workshop: Lessons learned

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Tempting though it is to just prototype and deploy in the knowledge that adjustments can be made so easily later, fundamentals such as fully understanding the user/business requirement, conducting good old fashioned data analysis, and building the application on a solid, structured foundation tend to lead to more robust and maintainable systems. This kind of feedback goes hand-in-hand with the findings from another piece of research highlighting that the reliability of software from an operational stability perspective is directly related to how early in the development process requirements such as resilience and availability are considered.

Much of this might appear to be common sense, particularly to those who have been around the block a time or two, but it does underline the need for balance between the freedom to rapidly undo, redo and adjust on the fly (the continuous prototyping and refinement approach), and the discipline required to deliver against the requirement first time – which users and business people care about the most. So be honest, if you or some of your colleagues have been seduced by languages and environments that almost encourage you make it up as you go along and see where it leads you, are you sure succumbing actually produces a better result? While no one is advocating a wholesale return to the strict waterfall approach, going too far in the other direction is a recipe for risk and inefficiency.

Lesson 3: Developers must be given the right tools for the job

Apart from the management issues discussed above, the other factor listed in the top three criteria for the perfect development environment was “Adequate investment in the right tools to do the job”, again with well over 80 per cent of respondents putting an emphasis on this.

When we drilled into this a little further, respondents pretty much universally highlighted the importance of a “Decent editing and debugging environment”, which came top of the list in terms of overall priorities. While it was pretty predictable that something so fundamental should stand out, it was interesting to see “Software configuration management” and “System testing tools” up there in second and third positions, with around 3 out of 4 poll respondents (higher in larger development shops) clearly regarding these as fundamental too. After this, opinions were much more fragmented on capabilities such as tools to help with requirements gathering, modelling and other more specialist management functions.

Important though the various types of tool might be, however, a significant shortfall in capability was evident across the board [View Chart]. While over half said their needs were fully met for editing and debugging, only one in five were fully satisfied with the functionality of their configuration management capability, and the gap was even larger (less than 15 per cent satisfied) when came to testing tools.

Do such shortfalls matter? Well yes, quite a bit, according to Reg readers. A direct correlation was evident between the level of tools capability reported by poll respondents and the overall performance claimed in terms of the development function delivering against business needs. Interestingly, similar correlations existed between capability and the desirability of the working environment from a developer perspective – i.e. developers’ lives are statistically better if they have the right tools.

We’ll be exploring some of these correlations in a bit more detail in subsequent articles, but in the meantime, there is a clear lesson here of need for tools investment to optimise results and maximise the delivery of business value.

Conclusion

There’s no shortage of developers telling us that there’s still plenty to be done – neither packages nor clouds have got in the way of the need for custom application development. While such a need may still be there however, what has come out of this poll is the need to strike a balance between formal and informal development approaches, driven by the fact that there are many different ways to deliver application functionality. To do this requires good use of management skills – particularly in terms of setting expectations and leading the dialogue between IT and the business. Tools can help – particularly those tools to help cut code as efficiently as possible, but also tools that add a level of structure and support the balance of approaches mentioned above, such as configuration management and project management software.

There’s plenty of noise in the blogosphere around new ways of doing things, particularly in terms of Web 2.0 and social networking – but nobody’s looking to throw out the baby with the bathwater just yet. ®

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