Monday, April 6, 2015

Agile, how to embrace the change

The agile manifesto gives us a better way for developing software, putting:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

This overview tells a lot from a project perspective, but what about developers perspective ? how is it possible to adapt to continuous changes?
Writing a good piece of code, fully tested, requires a lot of time and effort. Throwing it into the bin is not only a waste, it is also very bad for the morale.

Luckily enough there are a few tricks that can solve most of the problems. Not a big deal, just common sense, but still thing worth to be said:

Automation, automation, automation

Ok, you are writing a piece of software and you already know that you are going to rewrite part of it, probably more than once. Automate all tedious tasks, most of the time is it a pretty good investment, especially at the beginning of the project.
I can safely assume you can automate:

  • building
  • testing
  • releasing
  • deploying 
All this can take a bit to set up, the key part is that you can reuse them across many projects.

Divide and conquer

The common mistake in approaching the design of a software is looking at it as a single entity. The best approach instead is to split it into simple and configurable libraries/modules, they can be assembled at the last minutes to get what you want.
This approach minimizes the waste and enforces the separation of concerns. And it is also a overall win in maintainability.
A good library should solve a common problem, always. A very specific problem does not deserve to be taken into consideration. What happen if your beautifully crafted, business specific library, needs to be thrown away because of requirements change ?
Instead make the business requirement a configurable option of your generic library.
There is also a huge bonus: generic libraries can be easily reused across many projects.


Writing a good documentation improves the thing that matter most: your code should be reused more than once. A good documentation should contain purpose, a design explanation, installation instruction, API and some examples. These are particularly important.
In this case documentation is more important than working software. Bugs can be fixed, a missing/outdated documentation means your library can't be used by anyone, even you after a month.

The open source power

A fully documented and tested generic library is a big investment, and it is often valuable enough for other people as well. Why don't share it with others ?
It can enrich the ecosystem of the platform that you are using. You can also get valuable feedback.

This method, applied: a true story

The first example it comes to my mind is several years old. I was working in a company where one of the most successful product was a solution for building on line catalogs.
When I got hired my first task was the third attempt to build this software. The first two attempts were way too vertical on the previous customers to be reused for the next ones.
The main problem was embedding specific customer requirement in the project, for example the design of the product page was something every customer wanted to be different.

The business input was: "I want a catalog product", way too generic and misleading from the developer point of view. There were though, a certain amount of loosely couple, common functionalities. The real point here was to identify these functionalities and build all of them as separate product.
This is a classic case in which a developer should not do what is being told, he should use his expertise to build a system that fulfil the requirements.
The product page, for example, was never a part of the product but I developed a system to build a page with subcomponent, all of them configurable.

After a few attempt we managed to have a very flexible collection of products for building catalog applications. By the time I left the company this was used several times ...

Bottom line

It is possible to be agile, to foresee and to adapt, after all is our job.