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Cutter Summit: Update on agility

Agile modeling gained some prominence a few years ago, emerging in the wake of UML, RUP and Extreme Programming. Where is it now? Few are in a better position to answer that question than Jim Highsmith, author of Adaptive Software Development, Agile Software Development Ecosystems, and a founding member of the AgileAlliance.

In fact, Highsmith, fellow, Cutter Consortium, says he sees a move underway to expand the agile modeling concept to the domain of management. Highsmith spoke at this week’s Cutter Summit in Cambridge, Mass. Somewhat narrow agile modeling, he indicated, may come to include broader agile practices.

In agile modeling, quick initial planning of software projects is accompanied by iterative development techniques associated with Extreme Programming (XP) concepts. Agile modeling could be said to add a bit more structure to Extreme Programming methods, without becoming ‘over-structured,’ a trait some individuals ascribe to traditional software project management. “Agility,” said Highsmith, “is the ability to balance flexibility and structure.”

“We see agile practices moving from early adopters to the mainstream,” he said, “so an issue facing the movement is what we do now.” Some even ask, Highsmith chided, if we should move Extreme Programming to moderate programming. Highsmith dismisses this notion. “We have to retain the basic value of the agile system,” he said.

Highsmith said that advocates of agile practices have increasingly taken more of “product” view than a “project” view, in keeping with the notion that software should be seen as part of a larger corporate process, and that elements of products can be reused in subsequent undertakings.

The next steps for some agile adherents will be to achieve successes in organizations’ exploratory projects, Highsmith said. The analogy he uses is that of the oil industry where projects tend to fall into one of two broad groups: Exploration drilling where useful traits are adaptation and risk management, and production drilling where a company drills known oil fields and the project focuses on optimization and operations.

Also speaking at the Cutter Conference was Jean Tabaka, methodologist, Qwest Communications International. She said that she and her colleagues were bringing agile practices to larger teams. Based on experience on a project that needed what might be described as a few mid-course corrections, Tabaka said mentoring and a collaborative view are key to success in larger agile projects. A clear sense of retrospection is still required, she said. “You have to find out what is working and what is not working,” she said.

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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