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Unconsciously Agile? (Rhythms of Agile Development)

Damon Poole wrote recently that many of us maybe practicing Agile development without even realizing it:

The funny thing is that most shops are unconsciously flirting with Agile Development. They do a release on a regular basis which is very similar to what Agile teams do without even realizing it and then feel ashamed that they had to do it. Afterwards, they hope they won’t have to do another one.

When is it that most teams do this, even if they are not Agile? 

I am speaking of maintenance releases, patches, and hotfixes. Forget for the moment that these are created out of necessity due to problems with “the big release” and that they are often done under intense pressure. Forget for the moment that sometimes you have to redo a hotfix with another hotfix. The need for the second hotfix is often found by the intense scrutiny that is in place during the aftermath of the first hotfix and due to the fact that the hotfix probably didn’t get the full spin cycle of the normal QA process.

This should sound familiar to every one of us, even if we don't practice Agile....  Funny - isn't it?  The point that Damon made, that most of us feel guilty afterwards and don't want to do it again should also seem familiar.  Why?

I believe that the reason that most shops drift towards and then away from Agile development is that it is the natural rhythm of software development and it is hard to resist it. The challenge is to sustain it. In order to sustain it, you need two things: understanding of Agile and conscious intent. Without conscious intent and the synchronizing signal of short iterations it is hard to notice the difference between being on the path and off the path unless you stay on the path for a while. The other problem is that while everybody in an organization might from time to time all be synchronized into an Agile rhythm by pure chance, the synchronizing signal of the project plan, habits, and entrenched process interferes with the natural rhythm. Thus, the natural rhythm doesn’t get a chance to take hold.

So the rhythm is one of the keys to successful Agile development - and it is exhausting.  (It is also very effective.)  This fits what others have reported about Agile software development.  In Rhythms as Agile Diagnostics, this idea was inverted, suggesting that a way to know if you are on-track in your Agile development or not is to take a look at the major rhythms:

A healthy agile project has several typical rhythms such as releases, iterations, stand-up meetings, builds kicked off by continuous integration, and the red-green-red test cycle of a developer. These rhythms have healthy ranges (such as a stand up meeting lasting less than 15 minutes) and characteristics (such as that same stand up meeting not containing design discussions). When they fall out of these ranges or do not display the appropriate characteristics, they indicate that something is wrong with the agile process. As a doctor takes a patient's pulse or blood pressure reading to determine if the patient is ill, we take readings of our rhythms to let us know if something is wrong with our agile process. The rhythms, when off, sometimes need to be addressed directly, and in other cases point us towards areas of the process where we need to dig more deeply to find and correct the root cause of the problem.

Does this idea of rhythms and Agile development match your experience?  Have you or your team practiced Agile without intending to do so?  If you are already practicing Agile, or in the process of adopting a few practices, what rhythms are present?

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