Mock debate ponders developer methodologies

IBM officials push agile development as a better alternative to waterfall-style development at the SD West 2009 conference

Proponents of agile programming from IBM staged a mock debate Wednesday, pitting agile methodologies against the traditional waterfall method to stress the benefits of agile and its short, iterative development cycles as opposed to the follow-the-plan style of waterfall.

IBM's Scott Ambler, practice leader for agile development, played the role of the traditional development proponent and PC user in the staged debate during the SD West 2009 conference in Santa Clara, Calif.. He was intentionally outwitted in the debate by Terry Quatrani, UML evangelist at IBM, who served as the agile proponent and purported Mac user.

[ Last year, IBM also promoted agile development at the SD West event. ]

Pretending to talk up initial requirements modeling supported in traditional development, Ambler stressed the need for detailed estimations and project plans. Detailed specifications, he said, were "absolutely critical to your success."

But Quatrani countered that a requirements list is like a grocery shopping list, with people changing their minds once they get to the supermarket. "Your requirements are just an initial estimate," of what the development team wants to do, she said. Then, developers do what the customer wants, said Quatrani.

Ambler also promoted use of an architectural specification. "Otherwise, how will the programmers know what to build?" he said. Quatrani responded that use of modeling was important but for developers to use just enough of it -- a sketch. "I'm going to be actively involved with my programmers," she said.

Ambler, again in his role as the traditional development advocate, stressed the need for detailed, comprehensive specifications. "Detailed documents are a very good thing and critical to your success as software developers," said Ambler.

"I have three words for you: Test-driven development," said Quatrani. Again, she stressed building what the customer wants.

Documentation can be "the anchor around my neck," Quatrani said. Some is needed but not necessarily all the detailed specifications, she said. With active participation of the customer, the agile developer knows what the customer wants, she said.

Ambler also pretended to advocate use of a full tools suite. "You need a Ferrari," he said. Quatrani answered back that there was no need to buy a Ferrari when a Volkswagen will do just fine.

After their mock debate, the speakers both promoted agile and iterative development, emphasizing it has outperformed traditional and ad hoc methods. In an ad hoc style, there is no set development plan.

With the agile model, there is less chance of projects going wrong because software is being produced on a regular basis, Ambler said.

In other developments at SD West, TechExcel announced intentions to preview its DevTrack 8.0 software for software development teams during the event. DevTrack tracks and manages product defects, change requests, project-related documents, HTML links, and other development issues, TechExcel said.

Features in version 8.0 include support for Unicode characters, definable user interface settings for multilingual projects, and a dashboard engine called MyWork, allowing executives, managers, and teams to see all their work in one place and navigate between development teams. MyWork makes it easier to see patterns and identify trends more easily, the company said.

General availability of DevTrack 8.0 is planned for May.

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