Bicycles, bicycles…

I recently returned from working in Germany. One thing that struck me was that people routinely rode bicycles. Old people, young people, middle-aged folks, people with little dogs in front baskets. I live near Portland, Oregon, which is considered one of the most bike friendly cities in the U.S. But we don’t come close to being a bicycle city. For the most part, daily bike riders are typified in Portland by young hip 20-somethings who bike across the Willamette River to work in downtown Portland. While there are bike paths and bridge sidewalks that encourage cycling, once you get downtown, riding is a scarier proposition weaving in and among street traffic. And bike lanes, if present, are skinny and dangerous, unlike the sidewalk bike lanes in Germany that are integral to the landscape.

Perhaps one strong motivator for biking in Germany is that gasoline costs over 1.39 euros per litre (that’s roughly 7.50 US dollars/gallon). However it appeared that people weren’t just biking for economic reasons. People seemed to enjoy fresh air and exercise. Biking was as easy as walking (and walking was easy, too)— a pleasant, natural thing to do. It may save euros, but it is an accepted way to get around town. Many people just popped on their bikes to get around town. And German bikes weren’t fancy schmancy either. Just practical and utilitarian.

Biking in the U.S. is somewhat higher ceremony. Strap on that safety helmet, squeeze into those padded shorts, and don a neon shirt so you can be seen by distracted drivers. In fact, in the U.S. you’re considered a bad parent if you don’t make your kid strap on a safety helmet, even if she is riding in the cul-de-sac.

Bob Martin was telling me of his recent stay in Munich where he daily would ride a “yellow bike” to and from work. When you needed a bike, you just phoned the company and they’d tell you where the nearest bike was located and give you an access code. When you were done, you phoned up the company and left your locked bicycle wherever you stopped. Only after I left the country did I find out that where I worked the company had a fleet of bicycles available—all you had to do was ask—for out of town employees and consultants.

Today I got a flyer in the mail about the Portland Bridge Pedal. Annually they close down the bridges for a day and cyclists get the run of the city. Kids, old folks, and many people in spandex go for a 6-,8-, or 10-bridge ride on a Sunday in August. Lots of fun and a chance to ride bikes where only cars normally go. I may do this bike ride again this year simply for the rush of riding with thousands of others. But it isn’t practical. It’s an event.

Which leads me to ponder, what will it take for people to adopt agile development practices on a wide scale? Agile development practices are definitely gaining traction. Witness the nearly one hundred experience report proposals we received for the upcoming Agile 2006 conference.

One thing that I suspect confounds agility’s acceptance is its definition. Is it XP, Scrum? If it isn’t, is it TDD? What about DSDM or FDD, Crystal, or the latest Agile UP or MSF? I am throwing alphabet soup at you to make a point. There are many different agile brands out there. The most recognized is XP–Kent Beckâ’s set of programming practices. Others fit alongside or complement his disciplined set of programming practices. Scrum is a management/teamwork practice. You can do XP and Scrum. You can also test first then develop so you can TDD+XP+Scrum. You can also do Scrum and not follow all XP practices. Are you still agile? You are if your focus is on delivering incremental value.

But there are other flavors of development processes and practices out there that address other concerns while weaving in agile practices and values. Hence I’m in the camp that doesn’t think AUP is an oxymoron. If you are familiar with the unified process (UP) and like it, you may want a lighter process with a more agile twist. Try AUP. But I want to make this point: Agility isn’t just a brand. Branded, well-recognized agile practices stand among a plethora of other ideas and practices for developing and delivering software value (my own favorite practices to weave into the mix are Responsibility-Driven Design principles, and recently I coached a team writing agile use cases).

Most people doing agile development typically adopt a set of brand name practices targeted towards a specific need-and decide they should be doing XP or XP and Scrum. But they shouldn’t get complacent. Agility is all about ongoing learning, adaptation and improvement and delivering incremental value. Agility in the raw, unadapted and exactly as published-doesn’t always neatly fit into a company’s culture. At Agile 2006, Kelly Weyrauch from Medtronic, will be presenting the report, What Are We Arguing About? A Framework for Defining Agile in our Organization.

He’s on to something. At Medtronic they explained agility in terms of its principles, practices, and benefit and recognized that different people need to hear different things. At their company, the Agile Manifesto was viewed as inflammatory. So Kelly and a small band of co-workers explained agile practices in ways that reinforced and complemented their company,s vision and mission. They defused the anxiety some had about the “radical” agile practices that wouldn’t work at Medtronic by explaining agile practices and values in ways that didn’t collide with their existing corporate values. And they still don’t mention that manifesto. Hm. Being a change agent can be difficult if the climate isn’t amenable to change. But if it is, bring the agile message along in a way that strengthens your company’s core values. Sounds a lot easier than changing Portland into a bike city.