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Books in Brief: Agility is for managers, too

A review of "Agile Management for Software Engineering: Applying the Theory of Constraints for Business Results" by David J. Anderson.

The costs of poor software engineering management are staggering. Projects that don't meet objectives, cost more than projected and take longer than scheduled cost companies millions of dollars. This can drive firms out of business and jobs offshore.

According to David Anderson, author of "Agile Management for Software Engineering," it's not that software engineers aren't working hard enough. It's that the software engineering management techniques we are using are so poor. What Anderson prescribes are agile management practices, including the Theory of Constraints.

The idea behind the theory is that in any process there is a step, called the System Constraint, that limits the process. Once the System Constraint is identified, the next step is to decide how to eliminate it. Then find the next System Constraint and repeat ad nauseam.

Actually doing this isn't easy. How do you first identify the System Constraint? And once you've implemented a solution, how do you know that you've eliminated the constraint? The answer is metrics. The author spends a lot of time talking about financial, production and customer-satisfaction metrics for several agile programming methods.

Because the book is about agile techniques, it emphasizes people. Indeed, the Manifest for Agile Software Development contains the line, "interactions and individuals over processes and tools.

In a software development process, the developer can be considered a constraint. The agile manager's task is to do anything possible to make the developer more productive.

Whether or not an organization is using agile programming methods, agile management is necessary. The business climate changes constantly, and the rate of change is accelerating. The only way to remain competitive is for your management to be as agile as possible. Continually refining the process and the personnel is necessary to stay in the game.

About the Author

Dan Romanchik is an engineering manager turned writer and Web developer. His current passion is amateur radio. You can read his amateur radio blog at www.blurty.com/~kb6nu.

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