Easing into XP - for the Harried and Stressed

by Deborah Hartmann Preuss on Oct 12, 2006 |
One doesn't always have the luxury of working on a freshly-started Agile project - and perhaps less now, as mainstream shops are switching over to Agile in an effort to salvage troubled projects.  Change takes time and requires dedicated effort - as Emanuel Gaillot puts it "What's tough about XP is, the more you'd need it to get your project in a better shape, the harder it is to start doing it."  Can a team really afford to switch in the middle of a troubled project?  Gaillot is an active XP coach based in Paris, and he recently blogged about his own experience with gradually implementing XP on troubled projects.

Gaillot describes a familiar vicious circle:
The more pressure you're under to deliver, the less you care about the quality of the software you're releasing. Unfortunately, the less the quality is, the more rework you'll have to do. And of course, more rework means more schedule slippage, ergo more pressure to deliver the next bit.

What are your choices, really? Be cool, and take the time to experiment, learn, train, and share with your team? Or be in a hurry, accept your miserable fate and polish your resume for your next project? There must be a better alternative. Here's what I propose -- no matter how bad your current project seems to be, there's something you can do to improve its process, gradually up to the point where you may officially say you're fully agile
Gaillot's approach involves "borrowing" a small amount of time to make initial improvements, and "paying it back" later when the team is performing better.  Here is a summary, you can read the full story on Gaillot's blog.
  • Realize that your accepting pressure is a choice.
  • Don't try to resolve all the pressure at once ... [but do] give yourself the permission to improve the situation. And -- most importantly -- keep track of the time you're borrowing.
  • Watch for improvement.  The point isn't to win big, it is to repay your debt before the project is cancelled.
  • Use that extra time you've gained and reinvest it. This is the crucial point. Now you have time to improve.
  • If you keep spiraling up, there's going to be a point where your managers will start noticing ... and will want to know what you've done differently.  Don't tell them yet.  Instead, negociate.
  • When your process is stable enough or the client happy enough, celebrate again.  This is the time you may start disclosing what it is you're doing.

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