"Comments on Agile Methodologies"

Comments on Agile Methodologies.

by Alan Prosser

Several months ago, I heard Martin Fowler speak at our Central Iowa Java User's Group about Agile Methods (see [r3]). Then a couple months later, I heard a talk by Cara Taber of Thoughtworks, Extreme Programming on Large J2EE Projects.

Some aspects sounded like some of the things we did when I worked on Space Shuttle Software, one of the heaviest methodologies, a CMM Level 5 organization. I knew that to create high quality software in a productive manner required tools and planned testing, for example. I decided to investigate this subject further. I thought first about comparing to CMM, but in my research found that Mark C. Paulk[r5] already has done a good job comparing XP specifically. I may have a comment or two on his analysis, later.

One big difference is the focus. The Space Shuttle software has (near) zero defects as the highest priority.[r7] Agile methods have the highest priority "to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software".[r1]

When reading Martin Fowler's paper,[r3] many of the supposed disadvantages of heavy methodologies were things we did not do on supporting Space Shuttle Software, and it seemed that the Agile solutions to these were what we were doing.

It then occurred to me that when he talks of heavy old methodologies, he refers to immature heavy methodologies, that I will call IHM. What I was familiar with was more mature heavy methodologies, or MHM. I use maturity in the way that The Software Engineering Institute does with their Capability Maturity Model. The MHM organization where I worked was one of the first to achieve a SEI CMM Level 5 rating.

Part of becoming a mature organization is finding ways around the disadvantages of IHM. I mentioned earlier that the highest priority of the Shuttle Software team was zero defects. One of the managers defined zero defects as "fulfilling all requirements". I had on my whiteboard something pretty close to "and doing what it should do". Some of the things they did were to


  1. Note some references are out of date
  2. Manifesto for Agile Software Development
  3. The New Methodology by Martin Fowler.
  4. The Agile Alliance
  5. Extreme Programming From a CMM Perspective by Mark C. Paulk (July 2001).
  6. Agile Development Joins the "Would Be" Crowd by Alistair Cockburn (Cutter IT Journal, 2002)
  7. They Write the Right Stuff From Fast Company Magazine (1996)

Change History

I reserve the right to make updates as I have more information and new ideas. I plan to note major changes here.

Initial version April 22, 2002
Some links fixed Ocotber 30, 2020

About the Author

Alan Prosser spent many years in the Flight Software Application Tools organization at IBM Federal Systems, Loral, and Lockheed Martin supporting the Onboard Software Contract to NASA for Space Shuttle Software in Houston, Texas. He served on many control boards, wrote or supported applications for configuration management, automated code generation, automated testing, automated measurements, project management support, code and process standards and all around process improvement. For the past several years, he has been working at EDS CRM Solutions Development in Des Moines, Iowa including 6 months as a Software Configuration Management Subject Matter Expert for the business unit. He is currently self employed.

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