Why software processes are like exercise

Posted on August 24th, 2006 in Agile, Methodology by siddharta || 3 Comments

Software processes are like exercise. Everyone knows that its the right thing to do, but most people don’t do it.

Why don’t more people exercise? Because its too hard and it involves too much change. You see, exercising involves things like ‘determination’ and ‘discipline’ and ‘goals’, and who has time for that? An entire industry has evolved around the fact that people would like to be fit but do not like to exercise. At one extreme is the quick fix solution – wear some gadget and get fit without doing anything. At the other extreme are the hardcore fitness people who spend hours in the gym and scoff at any fitness scheme that tries to water down exercise. In the middle are a whole lot of activities that try to make exercise more fun and meaningful. The idea is not to be the fittest that you can possibly be, but to be as fit as you can be, without feeling like giving up.

Software processes are exactly the same. Processes are the right thing to do, but its far too easy to not see results and give up in frustration. At one end are the silver bullet providers – do X and your project will deliver itself. At the other end are those who live and breathe process, the process gurus, the people who have paparazzi following them all around.. well ok, maybe no paparazzi.

The agile early adopters are high up on the agility scale. The mainstream following behind are low on this scale. The big challenge for the agile community is to transfer the benefits of agility to the mainstream.

One way to do that is to take a bunch of processes that are radically different from what they are used to doing and ask them to follow them all. Some will try it out, get overwhelmed by the change, and give up in frustration. Others will resist the change. Still others will quit and go with what the silver bullet providers have to offer. A few will cross over. Those who didnt make, well, the fault lies with them – they are weak and have no discipline, and no wonder their projects failed.

Another way is to provide a transition path from zero agility to full agility. Pushing companies to go all the way, all at once, just makes them give up completely. This is bad. Companies should adopt agility at the point that they are comfortable. The idea is to maximise benefit, without feeling like giving up. That way, companies know that they can take the next step, and get better results, if they want to, or else they can stay where they are comfortable if they so desire. Just like exercise.

What would this transition path look like? How would you define 50% agility? How would you reconcile this against different agile processes that advocate different things? What should a company be doing if they want to be semi-agile? I don’t have answers to these questions yet. What do you think? Is this possible? I would love any comments and feedback.

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3 Responses to “Why software processes are like exercise”

  1. sami kuzey Says:

    Nowadays, i’m thinking of a path for succesful agile transition. I’ve coached a team for XP, and i know that once i give up coaching, they are starting to quit practicing somethings.

    Not that because they dont believe in. Even the management believes in XP. But somehow, when i stop controlling everything, some developer stops TDD, pair switch goes out of control, one manager goes to a level of; “we have to be faster these 2 months, can’t we just quit pair programming?”. Interesting. They all say they understand the benefits. But once i quit controlling, they are off the road.

    I’m doing somethings wrong, but what?:)

  2. Silver Stripe Blog » Blog Archive » Reverting back to old ways of doing things Says:

    […] In this comment, Sami says  “They all say they understand the benefits. But once i quit controlling, they are off the road.” […]

  3. siddharta Says:

    Hi Sami,

    Good question. I’ve written a follow up post based on your comment.

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