QCon London kicks off with call to rediscover Agile, use open source

I’m at the QCon developer conference in London – one of my favourite developer conferences of the year because of its breadth and energy.

The opening keynote was from Craig Larman who spoke on doing lean and agile development – in particular, the Scrum methodology – with large multi-site teams. He means sizeable product groups of 500-1500 persons, though he also remarked that development on this scale is really a bad idea and that a team of 10 smart folk is much better.

Still, I guess large teams are an inevitability, and Larman has written books on the subject. I am not going to summarise the talk exactly, interesting though it was, but I am going to pick out a couple of asides which interested me.

Agile methodology is really about promoting communication; and one of Larman’s themes is that if you do what seems obvious, that is to break down a project into components and give one to each small team, then you end up with numerous teams that do not communicate well with each other. Agile becomes something you do in name only.

Larman spent a bit of time on which collaboration tools to use. One of his points was not to use any commercial tool that describes itself as being for agile project management or similar. I can think of several. He says these tools are just the commercial tool vendors repackaging their old non-agile tools. Whiteboards, spreadsheets on Google docs, wikis and other simple tools are his recommendation. For source code management he suggests Subversion, Git or other open source solutions. Never use Rational Clearcase, he added, it always causes problems.

In fact, he went on to say that any commercial tools cause problems when mutli-site development extends beyond to teams in developing countries. They cannot afford the licences, he says, so avoid them.

It seems to me that the common theme here is how easily agile development intentions become non-agile in practice, especially in these large project groups.

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