An agile development project for summer interns is a great time to review the way you discuss the agile approach with those new to the model. It has been my experience that many software engineering programs still teach the model of detailed requirements gathering preceding any code writing. Putting aside this approach can be nerve wracking for someone just starting on the path of the software developer (or even for those who have been living under the waterfall for years).
I still cringe when I think of the months of endless meetings and document reviews that had to happen before any development could start under old waterfall model. Agile developers often take the concepts that allow us to rapidly deliver better products for granted. While there are many concerns voiced by those unfamiliar with these agile concepts, two of the areas I commonly come across are related to documentation and deliverables.
Lack of a Requirements Document Doesn’t Equal Lack of Direction
The lack of the safety blanket of a monolithic requirements document is one of the scariest aspects of agile to newcomers. In their eyes, this document shows that significant time and energy has been put into thinking through the project, guaranteeing success. How can agile projects succeed without these documents?
Of course those of us who have labored under the waterfall model know a requirements document never guarantees success. Requirements change, problems arise and life happens. This often results in either another cycle of meetings and document reviews or the document being left behind.
The point that needs to be stressed to those new to agile is documentation should be an aid, not a mandate. Documentation can (and often should) still be part of agile projects. This documentation should be more of an augmentation to the deliverables than a constraint on development.
Always Be Evolving
A second concern voiced by those new to agile development relates to the final deliverable. In a waterfall model, the end goal is clearly spelled out. For interns coming from software engineering programs, these are clearly defined deliverables at the end of the semester. In the real world, however, a rigid final software product is seldom a desirable thing. Consumer desires change, new technologies appear, competitors get to market first and other untold factors come into play. Strict requirements make it harder to react to these factors.
Clearly pointing out how agile projects adapt and evolve is the point in the discussion where people start to get excited. This is the point where developers begin to see how the concerns with not having everything clearly spelled out will allow them to solve potential problems. They can use their creativity and problem solving skills in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in a more constrained system. Most developers I have met love to creatively solve problems and the evolutionary nature of agile development is perfect for this.
Making It Stick
Will making these points completely sell someone on agile development? On their own, no. These concepts do not exist in a vacuum. Their full impact will only become apparent while working on agile projects. The first time an unforeseen issue crops up and the new agile developer realizes they have more freedom in resolving the issue, they will (hopefully) remember these points.