Agile Development: Back To The Future!

Agile Development Back to the Future!In an ideal agile development environment, all changes must be reversible.

Why? Because one of the fundamental principles of agile development is the concept of fixed timescales. Developing one feature at a time. Iteratively developing the product in small incremental steps.

So what happens when you’re at the end of a timebox (or Sprint in the Scrum agile methodology)? Inevitably, something doesn’t quite make it in time. Inevitably, something’s incomplete or just too buggy to release. Not on your projects – obviously – but maybe sometimes on other peoples ;-)

And yet, still, in agile development we want to cut the release on time, when the fixed time is up.


Not easy. Well, technically straightforward. But in practice, not easy.

Imagine first a very simple situation. A situation where you have just one developer. One developer working in a Sprint that was planned to deliver 10 things – features, bugs, use cases, user stories (xp), whatever you call them – things. Working through the things in priority order, using Microsoft SourceSafe terminology, ‘label’ the code on completion of each feature. And remember, by completion, I mean ‘DONE!’, i.e. shippable. Then, when time runs out, you can pull out the code at the last complete feature and release the software! That’s what I mean by *Back to the future!*

So what’s so hard about that? Nothing really. But in practice it can be very hard to control.

Now imagine a more realistic situation where there are several developers, not necessarily all in one location, all coding furiously on the same application. Imagine one or some developers don’t quite get something to production quality before moving on to the next thing. Or thinking it’s done but finding issues with it later. Any break from the discipline of ‘DONE!’ and this approach breaks down.

So in practice it’s hard. Also because developers don’t all complete the features they’re working on neatly at the same time. Life’s just not as simple as that, unfortunately! As far as practically possible, get developers working together on the same feature. As well as spreading knowledge, this helps quality, speeds up the completion of each individual feature, and alleviates the complexity I’ve outlined above, allowing you to stick to fixed timescales.

Extreme progamming even recommends you go as far as ‘pair programming’, with two developers literally working on the same piece of code together. This makes a lot of sense, but in my experience, rarely do you find a team (or managers) that feel confident enough about the payback to apparently halve their productivity.

So what happens towards the end of a Sprint when some developers start finishing their features? Ideally they help their colleagues. Whether it’s development, testing, or whatever they are able to do. They help their team to achieve the Sprint. Because the Sprint goal is a *team* goal.

If, for some reason, you reach the point where they really can’t help the team any more, consider any necessary documentation, self-training, R&D, or any other thing that all good development teams need but often don’t get the time for!

And if, for some reason, that’s not possible, practical or necessary – if they really must move ahead of the team and onto the next thing – branch the code from the last shippable feature (‘label’) and make sure you merge the branch back in the next Sprint.

This discipline is very important for agile development teams to master.

It’s not easy, but it is important.

Because without this discipline, one of the 10 key principles of agile development can’t be consistently achieved. That is the key principle of fixing the timescales.


Leave a Reply

What is 4 + 8 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
Please do this simple sum so I know you are human:)

There are 101 ways to approach anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”