Big Design Up Front

Un-named waterfallI’m a moderate in the agility vs. discipline debate.

Scrum/XP has worked for my team. Four years in, we deliver better adapted solutions with higher code quality.

What I love about Agile is that it acknowledges what’s hard and treasures what’s valuable. There is inherent complexity in modeling partially understood and fluid problems. There is deep potential in talented people rallying to achieve a goal.

However, Agile is not the only path to valuable software. As Stephen McConnell and Barry Boehm say, it’s all a matter of the appropriate tools for the appropriate context. Different levels of planning, description and formality have their place.

The only way to know whether a practice works for your team is to learn it (seek mentors), apply it with discipline, and track your performance over an extended period of time.

The infuriating thing is many shops don’t think deeply about what they do: “The Demise of the Waterfall Model Is Imminent” and Other Urban Myths

The value of any practice is really doing it.

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About Ken Judy

I am an executive manager, software developer, father and husband trying to do more good than harm. I am an agile practitioner. I say this fully aware I say nothing. Sold as a tool to solve problems, agile is more a set of principles that encourage us to confront problems. Broad adoption of the jargon has not resulted in wide embrace of these principles. I strive to create material and human good by respecting co-workers, telling truth to employers, improving my skills, and caring for the people affected by the software I help build.

4 thoughts on “Big Design Up Front

  1. Ken,

    > agility vs. discipline

    I’m curious as to why there’s a “vs.” here. I would have never thought of these as independent or potentially in opposition.

  2. Hi Scott,

    I’m riffing off the title of Barry Boehm’s book. He uses discipline to group methodologies that require more formality.


    I’m granting advocates the right to name their own “side”.

    Of course, that’s why democrats often sound like idiots. They grant republicans the right to frame the debate.

  3. Wow. I haven’t read the book, but from the title, it looks like one of those studies of agility done by someone who hasn’t been willing to do their homework.

    I’ve yet to work on a team that has the level of formality as the agile teams – at least that’s true for the areas of concern of those teams where formality counts: design and user-centricity.

    It sounds like the authors have mistakenly coupled a notion of bureaucracy with a notion of discipline.

    I’m neither a republican nor democrat – it still seems like a choice between Pharisees and the Sadducees in the end.

    I believe in truths that set us free and I believe in free and open debate and challenge. I also believe that a book with a title that suggests that the authors are unwilling to pay down the effort to gain insight into deeper meaning should be burned – not as heresy, but as drivel 🙂

    Ok, I don’t believe in book-burning, but I can’t imagine that a book that pits agility against discipline has much concrete experience in agility to offer.

    We do some big design at Dovetail, and we do some small design. All of it is disciplined and all of our practices are very formal. They’re also mutable through reasoned challenge.

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