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Questioning Extreme Programming

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Questioning Extreme Programming


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  • Copyright 2003
  • Edition: 1st
  • Book
  • ISBN-10: 0-201-84457-5
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-201-84457-3

Extreme Programming (XP) has been the subject of heated debate since its arrival on the programming scene in 1998—understandably so, as it contradicts many traditional software development beliefs. We¿ve heard success stories about sweeping changes made to organizations as a result of XP. We’ve read books about how this approach can work for our teams. However, are there times when XP isn’t appropriate? There are certainly instances when making the leap to XP could potentially jeopardize a whole project. What’s missing from all of this rhetoric? Witness Pete McBreen, software craftsman, examine the issue from both sides.

In Questioning Extreme Programming, the author helps you examine and answer the following questions:

  • Is the cost of change really low?
  • Does XP allow proper testing?
  • Does XP make sense?
  • Is XP a return to the dark ages?
  • Can we adopt XP practices for other approaches?
  • Do you need process improvement or process change?
  • Why are developers so zealous about adopting XP?
  • Is XP suitable for your projects?
  • What is the next step after Extreme Programming?
  • After reading this thought-provoking book, software developers can make informed decisions about Extreme Programming, and whether it is suitable for their organization. Readers will also be able to determine whether Extreme Programming is inappropriate for a particular project. The author challenges you to look past the hype and start asking the hard questions about how software is built. Discover for yourself.


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    Table of Contents

    (NOTE: Each chapter concludes with a Summary.)



    Adopting Extreme Programming.

    Resisting Extreme Programming.

    Looking for Alternatives to Extreme Programming.

    Improving Your Current Software Development Process.

    Why You Should Read This Book.



    1. XP: Hype or HyperProductive?

    Sample Claims, Counter Claims, and Misinformation.

    Is There Any Hard Evidence to Support the Claims for XP?

    All Processes Are Situational.

    Do You Need Process Improvement or Process Change?

    Understanding Software Development Processes.

    Understanding the Controversy Around XP.

    Is XP an Option for You?


    2. What Do Methodologies Optimize?

    Why the Focus on Fear?

    Methodologies Record Bad Experiences on Projects.

    What Do Developers Look for in a Process?

    Experience, Talent, and Tacit Knowledge.

    Heavy, Rigorous, Tailorable, Light, Minimal, and Agile Methodologies.

    3. What Are XP Projects Scared Of?

    XP Was Created to Address Project Risks.

    But Project Risks Are Symptoms, Not the Disease.

    4. What Do Other Methodologies Consider Important?

    What Do Software Engineering Projects Consider Important?

    What Do Open Source Projects Consider Important?

    What Is Important to Agile Projects?

    5. What Is Important for Your Projects?

    Reinterpreting Experience in the Light of New Knowledge.

    Understanding Process, Culture, and Methodologies.

    Maintenance and Evolution of the Software.

    Can a Methodology per Project Really Work?

    So What Is Important to Your Projects?

    Learning From XP to Improve Your Process.


    6. Planning Incremental Development.

    Small Releases.

    User Stories.

    Planning Game.

    Open Questions.

    What Can Other Approaches Learn From XP?

    7. Truly Incremental Development.

    Simple DesignRefactoring.

    System MetaphorCollective Code Ownership.

    Continuous Integration.

    Open Questions.

    What Can Other Approaches Learn From XP?

    8. Are We Done Yet?

    Coding Standards.

    Test First Development.

    Acceptance Tests.

    Open Questions.

    What Can Other Approaches Learn From XP?

    9. Working at This Intensity Is Hard.

    Forty-Hour Work Week.

    Pair Programming.

    On-Site Customer.

    Open Questions.

    What Can Other Approaches Learn From XP?

    10. Is That All There Is to Extreme Programming?

    Keeping an XP Project On Process.

    Continuous Reflection.

    Distributed Development and Extreme Programming.

    Open Questions.

    What Can Other Approaches Learn From XP?


    11. The Source Code Is the Design?

    Software Development Is Mainly a Design Activity.

    Managing Complexity.

    Why Now? What Has Changed?

    What Does This Mean for XP?

    12. Test First Development?

    But Do Programmers Know Enough About Testing?

    How Expensive Are Automated Acceptance Tests?

    Effectively Defect-Free Versus Good Enough Software.

    What About Code That Is Hard to Test?

    Can Acceptance Tests Be Used to Measure Progress?

    Does XP Do Proper Testing?

    Why Now? What Has Changed?

    What Does This Mean for XP?

    13. Large-Scale XP?

    Are Large Teams a Goal?

    Long-Running Projects.

    Coordinating Multiple Teams.

    Is It OK for a Process to Have Limits?

    Why Now? What Has Changed?

    What Does This Mean for XP?

    14. Is the Cost of Change Really Low?

    What Is the Cost of a Requirements Change?

    What Is the Cost of Fixing a Bug?

    What Is the Cost of Fixing a Design Error?

    What Is the Cost of Fixing an Error of Understanding?

    What Is the Cost of a Release?

    Why Now? What Has Changed?

    What Does This Mean for XP?

    15. Setting the Dials on Ten.

    What About the Overdose Effect?

    Pretty Adventuresome Programming.

    Why Now? What Has Changed?

    What Does This Mean for XP?

    16. Requirements: Documentation or a Conversation?

    Can Changes to Requirements be Controlled?

    Requirements Traceability Is One Way to Handle Change.

    Does the On-Site Customer Know Enough?

    Emergent Requirements.

    Why Now? What Has Changed?

    What Does This Mean for XP?

    17. Is Oral Documentation Enough?

    Who Reads the Documentation?

    Is a Handoff to Maintenance Useful?

    Can Maintainers Really Rely on the Documentation?

    Why Now? What Has Changed?

    What Does This Mean for XP?

    18. Playing to Win?

    Does XP Actively Manage All Risks?

    Does XP Require Experienced Teams?

    Can We Win With a Team of Novices?

    Why Now? What Has Changed?

    What Does This Mean for XP?


    19. ReallyStrangeSayings.

    MixedCase and Initial-Slang.

    WikiWords Are Not Always Politically Correct.


    The Source Code Is the Design.


    Do the Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work.

    Getting Beyond the Sayings.

    20. Feel the Hostility; Experience the Joy.

    Just a Bunch of Undisciplined Hacker Cowboys?

    Is XP a Return to the Dark Ages?

    The Best Project We Have Ever Worked On!

    Developers Are Attracted to XP.

    So Is XP a Cult?

    21. Transitioning Away From Extreme Programming.

    Does XP Lock a Project into the Extreme Practices?

    Welcome to the Hotel California?

    Retraining Extreme Programmers.

    Retraining Customers.

    What Is Next After Extreme Programming?

    Where Will the Next Process Come From?


    22. Is XP for You?

    Is Your Current Approach Broken?

    Is Your Organization Ready for XP?

    Do Your Developers Want to Use XP?

    Is Your Customer Ready for XP?

    Are Your Projects Suitable for XP?

    But We Can Overcome These Difficulties.

    Applying the Lessons of Extreme Programming.

    Do You Really Need to Adopt XP?

    Rolling Your Own Process.

    23. Do You Have a Suitable First Project?

    Assessing Projects for Suitability to Extreme Programming.

    Preparing Your XP Team.

    Index. 0201844575T07092002


    Extreme Programming sounds great—can we do it without changing our process?

    When I first heard about Extreme Programming in May 1998 I could see that it was going to be controversial. It was immediately obvious from the wide range of reactions that were expressed to two talks given by Kent Beck and Ron Jeffries at a seminar on “Developing Software with Objects” in Oslo. (Hosted by Den Norske Dataforening on 13 May, 1998) Many developers seemed to be attracted to it, but others in the room challenged the ideas and concepts behind Extreme Programming.

    Personally my reactions were mixed. It sounded like it would be a fun approach to software development and it didn’t sound like it was applicable to the kinds of projects that I was involved in. Admittedly, my initial reservations were about how easy it would be to sell the approach, but as I inquired deeper into Extreme Programming I came to realize that there are fairly stringent preconditions for teams that wish to adopt and use XP. It seems to me that many of the reactions to Extreme Programming can be explained by the fit between these preconditions and the particular project circumstances that a person has experienced.

    This book sets out to question Extreme Programming in an attempt to understand and explain the controversy that surrounds Extreme Programming. My goal for this book is to allow you, the reader, to determine if Extreme Programming is applicable and appropriate for your projects, to investigate what lessons can be learned from Extreme Programming and to enable you to be more reflective about your software development practices.

    Before getting down to that I must first explain my biases. As a developer I am attracted towards the ideas behind XP, mainly because most of the developers I have talked to that have worked on XP projects have really enjoyed the experience. I am also a strong fan of XP style unit testing and have introduced JUnit (www.junit.org) to many project teams. Although I have never worked on a full XP project, I have worked in a team that initially claimed that it was going to be doing XP, but actually turned out to be doing something that was vaguely related to some of the XP practices.

    As much as is possible I have tried to present both sides of the debate surrounding Extreme Programming without getting into the continual flame-fest that discussions on usenet newsgroups and email lists often contain.

    I have written this book as a practical guide for four different audiences:

    • people who are thinking of adopting Extreme Programming
    • people who are resisting the idea of adopting Extreme Programming,
    • people who are looking for alternatives to Extreme Programming
    • people who are interested in improving their current software development process

    As a practical guide this book is focused on identifying issues surrounding software development and discussing how Extreme Programming interacts with these issues. As this is a practical guide, you will not find much in the way of detailed studies and experimental data. This book focuses on clarifying the issues so that you, the reader, can determine the fit between Extreme Programming and your specific circumstances.

    Adopting Extreme Programming

    All processes are situational. Software development is not a mechanical process and as such you will never be able to adopt a process without doing some adapting to fit with your circumstances and team. Before adopting Extreme Programming you need to have a deep understanding of the values that drive it so that the adaptations you make match the overall spirit of XP.

    This book looks back to the roots of XP to enable you to understand the underlying software development issues so that you can better assess how XP will fit your organization. This book will also expose you to alternate approaches that might be a better fit.

    Resisting Extreme Programming

    Extreme Programming is a different kind of software development process, it is one that many programmers actually want to use. All too often however this means that some programmers end up pushing the idea of adopting XP when for one reason or another it does not really fit the organization.

    This book provides the questions you need to ask to determine whether XP really does fit the needs and circumstances of your organization. Hopefully it will also allow you to identify the issues with your current process that caused XP to be raised as a potential alternative in the first place. Then, rather than shooting the messenger or dismissing the message, the book asks the question “What can we learn from XP?”

    Looking For Alternatives To Extreme Programming

    Extreme Programming is a great fit for some projects and organizations, but one size does not fit all. There are many other software development approaches, and with all of the exposure that Extreme Programming is getting, these alternatives are getting somewhat lost. Using an Agile Methodology does not necessarily mean using Extreme Programming.

    Questioning Extreme Programming attempts to uncover the issues that are driving the creation of new approaches to software development. By exposing these issues I hope to spur software developers and their managers to create alternative approaches that build on the strengths of Extreme Programming while incorporating the strengths of the other approaches.

    Improving Your Current Software Development Process

    Adopting a new software development process can be hard. The organization has to learn how to effectively apply the new process and there is the transition period when some projects are using the new process while the rest are still using the old process. Sometimes it just makes sense to retain your existing process and to try to improve it by dropping parts, changing parts and adding new parts.

    By continually asking the question “What can we learn from XP?” this book highlights different ideas that could potentially be applied within the context of a different process. The resulting hybrid will not be XP, but then again, that is not the goal. By adopting the Extreme Programming mindset of continually reflecting on, and tinkering with, the process, you open up the possibility of creating your own optimized process.

    Why You Should Read This Book

    The way that we develop software is changing. Yes, people have always claimed that the IT industry has been a real driver for change, but until recently that change has only really shown up in the hardware and software. The way that we develop software has been remarkably resistant to change.

    Indeed Watts S. Humphrey spoke for many methodologists in his article, “Why Don't They Practice What We Preach? ” when he said

    “One of the most intractable problems in software is getting engineers to use effective methods.” http://www.sei.cmu.edu/publications/articles/practice-preach/practice-preach.html

    Many proponents of Extreme Programming would claim that the problem is no longer intractable - lots of programmers would jump at the chance of using XP. Indeed many developers are very keen to experiment with and try out new ways of developing software. It seems as if developers are beginning to see that things have changed. Jim Highsmith probably summed this up best when he said

    We must challenge our most fundamental assumptions about software development.” Highsmith, 2000, p13

    Questioning Extreme Programming invites you to take up that challenge.


    First I would like to thank Kent Beck, Ward Cunningham and Ron Jeffries for starting the conversation around eXtreme programming. If nothing else they have managed to make software development methodologies interesting again.

    As usual, the team at Addison-Wesley was extremely supportive and enthusiastic about this project–Ross Venables, Mike Hendrickson, et. al. My reviewers seemed particularly gleeful this time, and although one expressed regrets that the book is not the flame-fest material he hoped for, all helped me to clarify my thoughts about Extreme Programming–Alastair Handley, Andy Hunt, Dave Thomas, Greg Klafki, Jens Coldewey, Jim Highsmith, Kent Beck, Miroslav Novak, Ron Jeffries and Rudy Wrench.



    Pete and I go way back. I can’t remember exactly when we met, but I do remember being impressed with his experience and ability to communicate. When I heard that Pete was writing a book that takes a critical look at XP, I was glad—another set of eyes, particularly those of a thoughtful and self-professed outsider, could only help all of us as we try to improve our own development cultures.

    Pete pulled it off. Some of XP’s critics fall into shrill, reactionary jeremiads: “It’ll never work. You have to designmy way,or you’ll die. Listen to me. I know how to yell.” This book is thorough, thoughtful, and conservative. Pete only makes claims he can back up with experience.

    This is not to say I agree with his conclusions. I absolutely do not. XP started out with a fairly limited audience in mind—small teams working on business software. Adventurous pioneers, to use Ken Auer’s picturesque metaphor, have carried XP far from its roots:

  • Atomic teams as large as 50 (customer side and development side together)
  • Teams of teams, often distributed worldwide
  • Embedded systems
  • Product development—in whichthe customer side has to represent a wide range of interests
  • Pete claims that the more he looks at XP, the smaller he sees its scope. I see just the opposite. I won’t refute his argument point by point—this is a foreword and I’m supposed to be polite. I will suggest that as you read this, you keep in mind one mistake of early XP thinking for which I am entirely responsible—“the customer” doesn’t mean one person. It means a team, as big as or bigger than the development team.

    I trust you will make your own conclusions about the contents of the book. If you agree with Pete’s conclusion, you will find here evidence and reasoning aplenty. If you disagree with Pete’s conclusion, you will find tough questions that will force you to reexamine your own experience and conclusions. If you don’t have an opinion about XP, you will find here a program for coming to your own conclusions. That’s why I’m delighted to welcome this book to The XP Series. It’s a “make-you-think” book, and XP is supposed to be a “make-you-think” development culture.

    Kent Beck
    Three Rivers Institute


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