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Boston SPIN: A small group's big ideas about agile development

I was invited to attend a SPIN (Software Process Improvement) meeting near Boston. SPIN has been in running for 17+ years and has over 1,100 registered members.

At the meeting, I joined a group gathered around a circular table to finish off my pizza slice and drink my apple juice. The group was already deep in conversation over the topic of our assembly: What exactly is agile software development, and where and how can it be practiced?

For Tru Hong, a QA engineer and analyst, “agile describes the process of telling small stories, small stories that would help in the telling of larger stories.” “Stories” are used commonly in requirements-based in agile, and storytelling is defining long-term goals and then setting shorter goals in which to accomplish the final vision.

Everyone seated at the table had a reasonable working knowledge of agile and its derivatives. While all agreed that agile is their preferred methodology, they also admitted that it’s difficult to define and sometimes to implement.

Two testers from Pembroke, Mass., discussed their experience with agile, which seemed to be similar to that or others at the table. Their company, which will remain anonymous in this post, was recently bought by a rival vendor that uses agile. As a result, the company had begun a restructuring process which included a move to agile. Outside a general knowledge of the term “agile,” his company’s management had only a vague estimation of what the buzzword referenced. So, management didn’t really understand the scope of the move, and it was left to the development team to implement.

Keith Willett, software product director for American Science and Engineering, Inc. (AS&E) located in neighboring Billerica, Mass., spoke highly of his company’s success with Scrum. His team was an early adopter of the methodology, and he’s Scrum-certified. well. Willett’s background, much like the others at the table, was in traditional waterfall approaches. He called waterfall the “the most medieval of software development methodologies,” and others agreed.

Complete adoption of agile is AS&E’s goal, Willett said. His team is making everything agile, everything from approaching a software project to tool usage to the way in which revenue is gathered and distributed amongst the project.

Matt Heusser — a test pro, agile advocate and frequent SearchSoftwareQuality.com contributor — joined the discussion and shared his work experiences with agile. Company-enforced agile had led to his development teams turning out iterations bi-weekly. Sometimes achieving that goal meant “a modest amount of overtime,” Heusser said. Though the deadlines are challenging, he said, he’s found the work completed in agile is more rewarding, because it leaves you with a sense of ownership over a project.

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