Two Guys Arguing

Agile Underwear Gnomes

Posted in questions, software development by benjaminplee on 11.05.09

Agile is all about the profit

While considering my teammate Amos’ recent blog post where he debates what Agile really is my mind was drawn to a statement our current client made during one of our early project kickoff meeting.  While discussion why his clients have been successful following his plans he made the statement:

You will never go broke, making a profit

At the time this seemed like a good joke and litte more.  However, the more I thought about it, the more it rang true.  What does this have to do with Agile software development?  While questioning what is or is-not Agile and what his definition of Agile might be missing, he says:

… The one thing that I didn’t mention above. … Delivering a useable project at any point in development. That is it. That is what I’m missing. This has got to be the hardest part of agile. …

I think the key here is the value of a shipped product is ALWAYS greater than that of one sitting on the shelf.  Value is the key.  To me, the agile mindshift is one of always producing value for the customer, for the team, or for yourself.

Produce value for the client:

  • by adapting to their ever changing business needs with understanding, speed, and energy
  • by aligning all user stories with tangible user value and goals
  • by planning and documenting in inverse proportion to the item’s priority and deadline
    • worry about what is in front of you first and put off decisions to the last responsible moment (stolen and probably butchered from a WWBBD: What Would Brian Button Do)
  • by working on the highest bang-for-the-buck stories first, top down, and delivering working code as often as possible

Produce value for the team:

  • by conducting frequent retrospectives where the team can think about how they are doing and how they can be better
  • by realizing that many/most of a team’s problems are really “people” issues masquerading as technical ones
  • by actively paying down technical debt
  • by reducing knowledge silos and keeping the team only full of valuable members and all members valuable

Produce value for your self:

  • by staying motivated and positive
  • by keeping the thirst for knowledge alive and always learning from any experience
  • by taking greater pride in the success of the team over the success of an individual ego
  • by working to be a great communicator: to team members, to the client, to your code (Tests)

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a list of things to do … but often our practices are the best way we can take abstract principles and make them tangible.  So long as the practices don’t become to focal point, they are a useful way to monitor, enforce and discuss the important concepts.

Profit really is the key.  Our client helped his clients by making sure they were profitable.  Sure, maybe they could have been more profitable, if they had taken bigger risks and bet the farm for instance, but year after year a steady profit is inspiring.

Which brings me to the Underwear Gnomes of South Park.  Their business plan was a simple one.

  1. Collect Underpants
  2. Profit

By focussing on providing value (profit) at each point along the way, maybe step 2 wouldn’t be such a mystery.  Granted, gnomes are pretty agile to begin with.  Fast too.

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