Call for Participation
USC-CSE Executive Workshop on Agile Methods
USC Campus, Los Angeles, CA
March 12-14, 2002
(CSE Annual Research Review March 11)


In his keynote address at the 1996 International Conference on Software Engineering, Tom De Marco summarized the work of the great military analyst Karl Von Clausewitz on the interplay of armor and mobility in military conflict.  At times, armor will dominate mobility, as with heavily armed medieval knights dominating lightly armed peasantry.  But if over-optimized, one strategy will lose to advances in the other, as the ponderous French knights found in their inability to dominate the lightly armed and mobile English longbowmen in their watershed loss to the English at Crecy in 1346.  

De Marco then drew a parallel between “armor-intensive” software strategies such as the Software Capability Maturity Model and the “mobility-intensive” lightweight processes which were emerging at the time, inferring that the software CMM was too ponderous to cope with the need for rapid development and rapid change characteristic of such sectors as electronic commerce and Web-based systems.  In the ensuing discussion, software CMM advocates have cited the high mortality rates of lightweight process organizations, and their frequent inability to cope with success when they need to scale up their process and architectures to deal with more complex services and heavier workloads.
 
Over the past few years, lightweight methods have matured and evolved into agile methods, and the Software CMM has evolved into the CMMI, which integrates the software, systems engineering, and integrated product and process design CMM’s into a more flexible instrument.  But the uncertainties and controversies still persist, as I found out recently in having two of the agile methods leaders, Jim Highsmith and Alistair Cockburn, write the attached pair of columns in Computer magazine. (Agile-People; Agile-Business)

The two columns provide a good summary of the shared value propositions of several agile methods such as Adaptive Software Development, Crystal methods, Extreme Programming, Feature Driven Development, and Scrum.  These have been formulated into an Agile Manifesto (available on the Web at http://www.agileAlliance.org)
The core of the Agile Manifesto is that each of the agile methods emphasizes:
·    Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,
·    Working software over comprehensive documentation,
·    Customer collaboration over contract negotiation,
·    Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, the agile methods value the items on the left more.

Each of the agile methods (Agile-letter) has been used successfully in practice.  But in his letter to Computer in December 2001, Steven Rakitin indicates that in his experience, the items on the right are essential, and the items on the left are easy excuses for hackers to keep on irresponsibly throwing code together with no regard for engineering discipline.  He provides “hacker interpretations” that can turn agile value proportions into chaos generators, for example:
“Responding to change over following a plan”
Translation: Following a plan implies we would have to spend time thinking about the problem and how we might actually solve it.  Why would we want to do that when we could be coding?
As we can see, there is considerable uncertainty about the effects of agile methods, and about how compatible they are with plan-driven methods.

The final attachment (Agile-Get Ready), which appeared in the January 2002 issue of Computer, is my best attempt so far to sort out the conditions under which agile methods and plan-driven methods work best.  But there is a great deal left to be done, and the Affiliates with whom I’ve discussed this are very enthusiastic about focusing our next USC-CSE Affiliates’ Workshop on the topic of Agile Methods.

The Workshop will take place Tuesday-Thursday, March 12-14, 2002, in the USC Davidson Conference Center and conference rooms.  It will follow our Annual Research Review of faculty and student presentations and demonstrations of our recent research results on Monday, March 11, and will end at 11:30am Thursday, March 14.  Our move this year to the beginning of the week was the best we could do to minimize the conflict with the Aerospace/USAF/SEI/USC-CSE Ground Systems Architecture Workshop, GSAW 2002, March 13-15, 2002.

Our first Workshop day, Tuesday, March 12, will feature presentations and panels including both Affiliate speakers and leading Agile Method speakers (Alistair Cockburn and Laurie Williams are coming).  Wednesday will be devoted to working groups: the current proposed topics for these are:
        1.      Agile Method critical success factors
        2.      Agile Methods and the CMMI
        3.      Hybrid Agile/Plan-Driven methods
        4.      Needed research on agile methods

The working groups will compare participants’ contexts and experiences, and develop findings and recommendations on strategies and practices for best use of agile methods, for integrating agile and plan-driven methods, and for future research in the area.  The working groups will present and discuss their results on Thursday morning.

I believe that this will be a highly timely, significant, and valuable Workshop for all of our Affiliates.  I hope that you’ll be able to participate in it with us.  If you have potential panelists with significant experience to contribute, please let me know.