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Rebecca Wirfs-Brock’s Blog and Informal Essays

The World’s Smallest Software Development Quiz

A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me a link to the World’s Smallest Political Quiz. If you answer 10 questions on personal and economic issues (with possible answers being yes, no, and maybe), you’ll get rated on whether you are a Liberal, Centrist, Conservative, Libertarian, or Statist. I passed the link out to a few friends and family members and said I’d report my test score if they’d tell me theirs. Needless to say it was interesting. I’m married to a libertarian, have a centrist brother, and have raised two liberals. When I take the test (depending on my mood I answer questions differently) I’m either a liberal or a centrist. I lean towards supporting significant personal liberties but believe in the value of some “governmental controls” especially where environmental issues are concerned.

This political test got me thinking about concocting a similar test for software development processes to ascertain whether developers are agile, centrist, traditional, anarchic, or formal. I’ve been reading too much agile and traditionalist bashing on newsgroups lately. It’s time that software folks call a truce to name calling and make a concerted effort to understand what’s driving their differences and what values they may have in common (even though they are in different camps).

I see software situations where more formality is needed. I also see situations where agile approaches would definitely inspire teams. At some places, the development processes seem to work, but development still proceeds slowly. I’m not sure whether agile practices would speed things up. They live in a complex world with lots of rules and regulations. On the other hand, I’ve definitely seen places where testing for quality at the end of a long development cycle definitely hurts their delivery. And I’ve visited other places where any process or project documentation would be better than what they have now. Still other groups seem to thrive on rolling their own software without much thought to process at all. Maybe instead of centrist, I should be labeled “chameleon”. What works depends on circumstances and your group and organization’s leanings.

However, there seem to be two fundamental axes that divide software process beliefs: predictive versus reactive planning, and evolutionary design/development versus targetted (or planned) design/development. (I plan on exploring the differences I see between evolutionary design and incremental design in the future. But from my vantage point there is a big difference.)

What agile folks believe and more traditional folks believe isn’t that different in some areas. Both tend to value teamwork and process. Anarchists don’t. Neither do formalists; they tend to value the formalisms over any process that gets them to those formalisms. It is just agilists don’t place high value on document or pre-work (be it design, extensive requirements gathering, prototyping), etc. The lines between code and design are very blurry. I’m still working on questions that will draw out more of these distinctions.