Extreme Programming: After 10 Years

At the first keynote for SD West 2009 conference held in Santa Clara, CA, USA, Robert Martin (aka Uncle Bob) reflected on the history of the Agile movement, both what Extreme Programming and Scrum have done for the industry, and the need for Software Craftsmanship

Ten years ago, Extreme Programming had just arrived on the scene. People’s reactions were either excitement or revulsion. Programmers who suffered under heavy weight processes rejoiced that they could get work done. The method has a high geek factor as it gave specific guidelines on programming and testing. This made it appealing to programmers but made it difficult for project managers or businessmen to get excited about it. Those who revulsed complained that without architecture and a thorough design, the software would become a mess. Because of these two reactions, Extreme Programming received a lot of attention.

After the birth of the agile manifesto at the Snowbird, Utah meeting, there were some unintended consequences. One was finding a better term to describe the new “lightweight” methods, and the term “agile” stuck. The success of adoption was beyond what they were expecting. Another interesting consequences was the new attention given to scrum.

Scrum is a near perfect subset of the Extreme Programming practices. It has the many of the same project management practices (Small Releases, Release Planning, Acceptance Tests, Whole Team, Product Owner) without the technical practices (Refactoring, Simple Design, Test Driven Development, Continuous Build, Paired Programming). In short, it doesn’t “smell” of geeks. Scrum made agile palatable to business people. The scrum certification process allowed agile to cross the chasm as scrum became mainstream.

What got left behind were the engineering disciplines or “software craftsmanship.” With scrum, you can turn the iteration crank very quickly, yet over time, the crank can get harder to turn as a mess begins to emerge. The nay-sayers of XP were correct in this regard, without replacing architecture and design with technical practices, you do get a mess. Now there is emerging talk of craftsmanship. People are using Katas to study how to write software. They write the same piece of software over and over again to learn technical mastery of software. Last Friday, the Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship was released. Robert ended his keynote with a plug for his Clean Code book and a green Clean Code bracelet that helps remind you to leave the world of code a better place by improving each module you come across.

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