Agile2012 Q&A – Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson on Simplicity


I had the good fortune of being in a Q&A Session at Agile2012 with Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson, early pioneers of Extreme Programming(XP), and both now Certified Scrum Trainers. Ron and Chet were sitting on the “expert couch” taking questions from the audience. I decided to break the ice by going on stage (questioners had to sit in the “therapy” chair next to the couch, and were time-boxed to 10 minutes) and asking them the first question of the Q&A session.

Keep in mind that this is just my recollection of the event. I’ll encourage anyone present to correct or add to what was said from their recollection. I lobbed them a softball of sorts. It wasn’t a hard question, but I wanted to hear their answer as Agile Manifesto authors. A friend in the biz had recently asked this question of me:

How do you interpret this Agile Manifesto principle?

  • “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.”

I asked Ron and Chet to give some background on what that principle was meant to convey. Ron spoke from a programming perspective mostly. He said that simplicity refers to Kent Beck’s 4 rules of simple design. Kent’s definition stresses:

“…In priority order, the code must:

  1. Run all the tests
  2. Contain no duplicate code
  3. Express all the ideas the author wants to express
  4. Minimize classes and methods…”

The above is copied from Ron’s article on Emergent Design. Ron added that simpler is often simpler than you think, and simpler is often smaller than you think. He mentioned the phrase “the simplest thing that could possibly work” as a reminder to keep design and code simple.

Chet then chimed in on the topic of slicing stories smaller. By slicing them smaller, we can de-prioritize smaller stories in a more surgical way, thus avoiding work that is not needed right now, and may be never needed. There are also other huge benefits to smaller stories in that they are easily digestible, and thus less work to understand and implement. Chet stressed that smaller is probably smaller than you think. I then chimed in and mentioned a concept I had read in one of the XP books. If all of the details of your user story won’t fit on a card, then you should use a *smaller* card so that your stories are sized smaller because you’re clearly making stories too large and probably need practice at making them smaller. Chet finished by mentioning that, while simple is simpler and smaller than you think, you should be constantly inspecting and adapting your “simplicity” optimum.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve found that folks tend to gravitate towards complex, not just with code, but with everything about the project. The related business processes about the project, development processes, code, requirements, etc…

    Simplicity is probably one thing in Agile that isn’t stressed enough. So thanks for posting that.

    • Tariq,

      I agree with you, and you’re welcome!

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