Be Careful Not to Break Something While Being Agile

Central Virginia Chapter

Richard is Senior Lead Engineer at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Agile is all about managing change, but every organization has a different rate of change. We generally think about agile as removing impediments to accelerate development and keep up with change. It also has an important role to play in placing constraints on change so that it doesn’t spin out of control. This article is a case study of how too much change can lower quality and lead to products that completely miss the mark.

From 2001 to 2005, I worked as a senior developer on whitehouse.gov. In that environment, change was ubiquitous. In those days, the site was mostly a news site that posted press releases, photos, video and some content provided by the office of the White House Communications Director, all managed by a custom-built content management system known simply as “the tool” (we didn’t even have time to come up with a good name). The tool and our small team of developers responded to changes to whitehouse.gov brought on by 9/11, the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein, among many others events.

Agile development could easily have been designed for the White House environment. The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001, but agile practices did not become mainstream enough to reach the federal government until after my time at the White House. If they had, our practices could best be described as a Kanban …

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