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Why did we lose the XP Practices?

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Why did we lose the XP Practices?

· Agile Zone ·
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Nowadays everyone is agile. Or at least they say. Most organisations use Scrum. Or they claim to do it, while still doing waterfall. But why is the industry so focused on Scrum? What happened to eXtreme Programming? Why did we loose the XP practices? Are they too extreme?

The first agile methodology I heard of was eXtreme Programming back in 2001 when I was a CS student and read the eXtreme Programming Explained book by Kent Beck (published 1999). I remember reading about the ideas of pair programming, refactoring, test driven development and simple/evolutionary design and thinking that this is the future. The planning game and user story for requirements parts was nothing I payed that much attention to – I was completely focused on the code writing at that time.

Scrum is a few years older than XP, being launched in 1995 by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. If you’re a regular reader of my blog you know that I have thought and written quite a lot about Scrum but very little about XP. The reason is that I’ve been quite focused on the management view of agile projects in order to get the customer interaction working. While XP is a bit vague (and too extreme with a customer full time on the team), Scrum offers a set of rules that is easy to get started with and easy to explain to the customer.

I think that I’m not the only one being dragged to Scrum because of the relative ease of getting started combined with the focus on the relation with the customer. Add to that the fact that most managers that are involved in methodology selection understand the core Scrum process, but without a strong foundation in development most XP practices make no sense. From a “marketing to management” perspective Scrum is easier to argue for and has become the de facto standard agile methodology.

But I think that we lost something along the way. We lost the technical XP practices that are an important foundation for the ability to be agile. Without those technical practices, can a Scrum team really become truly agile?

Technical XP Practices

eXtreme Programming is based on a number of values, principles and practices. Most of these practices are technical (source):

  • Pair Programming
  • Test-Driven Development (TDD)
  • Continous Integration
  • Refactoring
  • Small releases
  • Coding standard
  • Collective code ownership
  • Simple (Precisely enough) design
  • Metaphor(standardized naming schemes)

Then there are some non-technical practices: User stories and the planning game, 40-hour workweek, and on-site customer.

Compare that with the Scrum rules. Those rules talk about the team, the events and the artifacts. There’s nothing in scrum about how the actual programming should be performed.

Mike Cohn thinks that it is good to leave those practices out of the rules:

I love the XP engineering practices, particularly things like test-driven development, the focus on automated testing, pair programming, simple design, refactoring, and so on. However, I think it’s a mistake to say to the team “you’re self-organizing, we trust you, but you must do these specific engineering practices….” This sends a mixed message to the team that causes confusion. I love the XP practices but don’t like mandating them. I want teams to discover the value on their own.

Mike Cohn in Differences Between Scrum and Extreme Programming

I can see the point of letting the teams discover the value on their own. But most teams never do!. Or rather, most teams do see the value, but not for themselves. Most teams think that they are different, that their legacy code base makes it impossible to get started or that their user interface technology makes automated testing impossible to introduce.

Losing the Foundation

Giving up on the technical practices (often even before having tried them) is in my opinion a big loss. The refactoring, covering tests, continuous integration (and nowadays continuous delivery too) are not optional practices for a truly agile team. They are the foundation that enables agile. Without them a team will never be able to be truly agile.

People are giving up because taking that step is hard. It is harder for developers to change the technical practices than to change the interaction with management. Because the interaction with management is not the core work of the developers. But the interaction is the core work of management, which means they understand it and can drive the change. That’s why Scrum succeeds: It is understood and can be worked on by management while it doesn’t require changes to the core work of the developers.

We lost the XP practices because we as developers let management once more take the lead.

But that is now changing.

XP is Coming

With Scrum in place, the business and the developers are getting closer. A cross functional scrum team taking full responsibility can do that in cooperation with the business. The managers’ supervising and coordinating efforts are no longer needed. Ironically, by working hard to introduce Scrum the managers make themselves obsolete. The teams now work directly with the business.

The teams are now ready to take the next step, where they discover that they need technical practices to continue their agile journey. They need the XP practices.

We are no ready to take the next step and embrace the change to our way of working as developers. Just look at the all the buzz about Continuous Delivery, Devops, BDD.

The XP practices were never lost, but we and our organisations were not ready for them. We had to start with Scrum to get the agile mindset going.

Now the time has come for eXtreme Programming.


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