There is no such thing as a “best practice”, except perhaps from a marketing point of view. All practices (and strategies) are contextual in nature. In some situations a practice works incredibly well and it other situations a practice can be the kiss-of-death. Two of the philosophies behind the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit are that choice is good and that you should understand the trade-offs of the options available to you. In short, practices are contextual in nature and you should strive to adopt the ones that work best for the situation that you find yourself in.
Let’s work through an example. A hot button for many software developers are strategies around cost estimation, typically used for budgeting and forecasting purposes. In DAD initial estimation is addressed by the Develop Initial Release Plan process goal, the goal diagram for which is shown below. As you can see with the Estimating Strategy factor there are several options available to you. We’re not saying that these are all of the potential estimating options available, but we are saying that this is a fairly good representative range. The arrow on the left-hand side of the strategies list indicates that the strategies towards the top of the list are generally more effective for initial planning than the strategies towards the bottom of the list. Your mileage may vary of course.
The following table summarizes the trade-offs involved with two of the estimating strategies, in the case formal point counting (such as function points) and an educated guess by an experienced individual. One of the reasons why the DAD book is so thick is that much of it is tables like this communicating the trade-offs of the hundreds of practices and strategies encapsulated by the toolkit. As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages to both strategies. You can also see that there are situations where each strategy potentially makes sense. Although you may not like a given strategy, I personally abhor formal point counting, you should still respect the fact that the strategy is viable in certain situations (perhaps not yours).
|Formal point counting||
|Educated guess by experienced individual||
There are several reasons why DAD’s goal-driven approach is important:
- It makes your choices explicit. If your team wants to truly own your process then it first needs to know what choices are available to it.
- It makes it clear that practices are contextual in nature. No practice is perfect for all situations, every single one has advantages and disadvantages. Are you choosing the ones that are most appropriate for your situation?
- You can have more coherent discussions of the trade-offs that you’re making. We have endless religious battles in the IT industry around process-related topics. This often happens because people choose to focus on the benefits of their favorite practices and to downplay the disadvantages (or worse yet are oblivious to them). To help your team move to more effective practices it’s important to recognize the trade-offs involved with each, to then discuss them rationally, and then decide to adopt the strategy that is most viable given your situation. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to adopt the best practice from the start, but that instead you’ll adopt the best one that you can right now. Later on, perhaps as the result of a retrospective, you’ll decide to make improvements to your approach (in the case of process factors where the strategies are ranked by effectiveness, your team may choose to adopt a strategy higher in the list).
- Improves the effectiveness of retrospectives. During a retrospective it is fairly straightforward to identify potential problems that you’re facing, what isn’t as easy is identifying potential solutions. You can improve retrospectives by having these process goal diagrams available to you to suggest potential strategies that you should considering adopting.
- You can avoid reinventing existing practices. Many very smart and very experienced people have found ways to deal with the same challenges that you’re facing today. Furthermore, many of them have shared these strategies publicly. If you don’t know that these strategies exist you are at risk of wasting time reinventing them, time that could be better spent adding real value to your organization.
- It enables scaling. Teams in different situation will make different process decisions. Although teams at scale, perhaps they are large teams or geographically distributed, will follow many of the same practices as small co-located teams they will also adopt a few strategies that make sense for them given their situation. DAD’s process goals provide the insight that teams need to understand how they can address the challenges associated with the scaling factors that they face.
For a more detailed discussion about the challenges around “best practices”, you may find the article Questioning Best Practices to be an interesting read. The New Deal for Software Development provides some interesting insights as well.