THE XP LUMINARY, SIGNER OF THE AGILE MANIFESTO AND INVENTOR OF THE WIKI
ANSWERS FOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT THE AGILE WORLD
When Francesco Cirillo was travelling in the US he stopped to pay a visit to Ward Cunningham. In the interview that resulted Ward talks about his relationship with teams and his personal vision of the future of the Agile movement. Enjoy the read!
FRANCESCO: Reflecting on your career choices is there anything you would have done differently?
WARD: I'm pretty happy with my career, though I never did enough calculus homework if I think how much calculus has influenced how I think in terms of small units of change.
Professionally, I was lucky, I started out at a research job. I did serious software development. I did almost four years working on one computer program, and I worked to make that program as good as I could for that period of time. I lived with the decisions that I made... that was Wycash.
Then working as a consultant, carrying that information to people, that's been very good to me. I was working with my colleagues from the old research days and we did the Hillside group, and the patterns work, and, heavens! I wrote the wiki to support that. Wiki came together very quickly, then it was grooming the communities and I spent years just participating in that at a very active level.
But I remember very distinctly the whole time I was doing it was thinking: "I should be doing real work!" and feeling guilty for spending time on something that seemed extracurricular. I wasn't focused on making money, which is what I thought I should be doing. Of course, wiki's been the most important thing in my life as it turns out, so I lucked out on that one. I could have improved my marketing skills and sold more consulting hours! But I just did the wiki.
FRANCESCO: How do you recognize an agile team?
WARD: I listen to people, and if they're talking about helping each other solve a problem for the customer, whatever other practices they're doing, they're getting 95% of the benefit.
I've had people tell me the biggest difference is that they thought their work was pretty good, but now that they've gotten agile mastered they wake up in the morning and they can't wait to get to work. They feel supported in their work, they look forward to coming to work, their work is, once again, fun.
My experience is that it takes about four iterations before this really starts sinking in. Whenever you're doing a new methodology you're always a little suspicious, thinking "What am I really supposed to do to make this work?", or "What is the real need here?", and about four iterations in you realize: "Oh, I really am just here to help my colleagues succeed."
FRANCESCO: Are there any suggestions that you would give to an new team that wants to become an agile team?
WARD: There's so much advice... agile and especially the most productive agile, Extreme Programming. There's a lot of practices there, and each one serves a purpose. Not that you have to do every one but if you're not doing one you'd better be doing something else that meets that need.
When you're doing it well it feels a little plodding, you're not racing ahead like you might do on your own.But what happens is that it never slows down. You have to have faith that you're doing well till you see the impact at the end of the project. It's the end that really matters. That's why four years on that one project means so much for me. I got to see the consequences of the decisions that we made and adjust accordingly.
FRANCESCO: Almost 10 years have passed since the Agile Manifesto. How do you see the future of the movement?
WARD: Agile was designed to specifically address a way that we had gotten stuck as an industry. We had to break free because we were not making progress. Now agile is accepted, though some would say it's watered down now because it's broadly applied by people who aren't zealots about programming, but I think that that's OK because we've tackled those issues.
Of course, another set of issues comes up... the thing about human performance is that you can always get better.
It's time to look a little further ahead. Agile is about a team working together to apply all their skill to the project. But we don't talk much about how people get those skills in the first place. What responsibility do individuals have to acquire and master those skills they bring to the table? The doors will always be open for lots of new ideas.