Rob Kraft's Software Development Blog

Software Development Insights

Efficient Software Development Surpasses Both Waterfall and Agile Development

Posted by robkraft on May 10, 2021

A product owner asked a developer to add a date picker to the web site in place of a text box. The product owner said it would be nice if the calendar just displayed the five weekdays. The developer knew he could add a date picker but didn’t know if he could exclude Saturday and Sunday from the calendar. He didn’t find any options in the date picker control to exclude the weekend, so he created a new control. It did not render as well across all browsers, and behaved a little quirky sometimes, but it showed only weekdays. This took the developer two weeks to complete, after which he showed it to the product owner. She was not happy with the rendering problems and was very disappointed to learn it cost two weeks to develop. The product owner said she would rather have a control that worked better even though it included weekends, especially if that control only cost a few hours to implement.

The parable tells a tale of software development. It is a sad tale, and a common tale. Many would consider it an example of a project failure. The product owner paid more money than expected for a solution that was not as good as she hoped it would be. This type of problem occurs often in waterfall software development, but it also occurs in Agile software development.

Yet, this problem could have been prevented. The developer and product owner should have communicated more frequently. The product owner should have made it clear that she would like a calendar that excluded the weekdays, but only if it could be completed by adding no more than two additional hours of development. And the developer should have understood that the business is usually willing to settle for less than the asked for if the price of getting exactly what they asked for increases the cost exponentially.

Teams that desire to develop software more efficiently will identify this communication problem and make attempts to reduce the chance it will happen again on future projects. The teams will do this as part of their goal to improve their processes, not because the Agile principles provide this guidance. Software developers should strive to develop software more efficiently, and if following Agile principles helps facilitate that improvement then software developers will follow the Agile principles, but it is important to avoid putting the practice of following Agile principles ahead of efficient software development. Agile principles are a tool we can use to develop software more efficiently, but Agile principles are not the goal of our software development process. Great software developers don’t care if someone considers their processes to be agile or not agile, as long as they are efficient. I feel it is important to stress this last point, because it is the key takeaway from this article: Our goal is not to become an Agile software development team; our goal is to develop software more efficiently.

Developers that already practice Agile development may recognize that the characters in the parable were not following Agile principles, and if they had done so, they would have experienced better outcomes. That is certainly true if the teams were following the principles of Agile, not just some of the common practices. Too often, companies, project managers, scrum masters, and developers adopt practices such as “Daily Standup Meetings”, “Two-week Iterations”, “Retrospectives”, and “Measurement of Velocity” and believe that makes them Agile. But none of these practices would have solved this problem. Following these practices does not make a team is Agile, nor is being Agile the goal. The goal is efficient software development. Agile principles can help you get them, but don’t let your focus on Agile principles cause you to lose site of the goal.

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