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Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0321186126
ISBN-10: 0321186125
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

"Being a certified bibliophile and a professional geek, I have more shelf space devoted to books on software methods than any reasonable human should possess. Balancing Agility and Discipline has a prominent place in that section of my library, because it has helped me sort through the noise and smoke of the current method wars."
--From the Foreword by Grady Booch
"This is an outstanding book on an emotionally complicated topic. I applaud the authors for the care with which they have handled the subject."
--From the Foreword by Alistair Cockburn
"The authors have done a commendable job of identifying five critical factors--personnel, criticality, size, culture, and dynamism--for creating the right balance of flexibility and structure. Their thoughtful analysis will help developers who must sort through the agile-disciplined debate, giving them guidance to create the right mix for their projects."
--From the Foreword by Arthur Pyster

Agility and discipline: These apparently opposite attributes are, in fact, complementary values in software development. Plan-driven developers must also be agile; nimble developers must also be disciplined. The key to success is finding the right balance between the two, which will vary from project to project according to the circumstances and risks involved. Developers, pulled toward opposite ends by impassioned arguments, ultimately must learn how to give each value its due in their particular situations.

Balancing Agility and Discipline sweeps aside the rhetoric, drills down to the operational core concepts, and presents a constructive approach to defining a balanced software development strategy. The authors expose the bureaucracy and stagnation that mark discipline without agility, and liken agility without discipline to unbridled and fruitless enthusiasm. Using a day in the life of two development teams and ground-breaking case studies, they illustrate the differences and similarities between agile and plan-driven methods, and show that the best development strategies have ways to combine both attributes. Their analysis is both objective and grounded, leading finally to clear and practical guidance for all software professionals--showing how to locate the sweet spot on the agility-discipline continuum for any given project.


About the Author

Barry Boehm has been trying to balance agility and discipline in software development since 1955. The TRW professor of software engineering and director of the USC Center for Software Engineering, he earlier served as director of the DARPA Information Science and Technology Office and as a chief scientist at TRW. Dr. Boehm's contributions to the field include the Constructive Cost Model (COCOMO), the Spiral Model of the software process, the Theory W (win-win) approach to software management and requirements determination, and his classic book, Software Engineering Economics (Prentice Hall, 1981).

Richard Turner, a research professor in engineering management and systems engineering at the George Washington University, approaches balanced software development and acquisition with broad industry and government experience and a skeptical attitude toward best practices. In support of the U.S. Department of Defense, he is responsible for identifying and transitioning new software technology into the development and acquisition of complex, software-intensive defense systems. Dr. Turner was on the original author team for Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and is coauthor off CMMI Distilled, Second Edition (Addison-Wesley, 2004).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley/Pearson Education; 1st edition (August 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321186125
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321186126
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Lasse Koskela on October 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
Balancing Agility and Discipline focuses on saying out loud what people in the trenches have been thinking all along. There's still no silver bullet -- we need a well balanced tool bag instead of a multipurpose hi-tech hammer.
The authors start the journey by describing the fundamental differences between traditional, plan-driven approaches and the latest agile methods. This is a great introduction and paves the way for the discussion to follow. However, occasionally the text uses the term "agile process" too loosely when really talking about the extreme characteristics of XP.
Next, Boehm and Turner set out to describe a typical day in the life of two teams; one agile and the other not so. However, these stories didn't quite reach the level of detail I was expecting.
The authors continue by presenting two case studies of projects where a plan-driven method was streamlined using agile techniques and an agile method was scaled up with some plan-driven elements. The subject is of great interest and the authors' approach is definitely valid.
A decision tool for customizing an appropriate mix of agile and plan-driven ingredients is explained. The tool itself is largely based on Boehm's earlier work and focuses on risk management. The authors illustrate the mechanics of the tool by presenting a family of applications of varying levels of stability and complexity. The rationale behind the thought process for composing the optimal method is valid and built on well-known truths.
The last third of the book is populated by numerous appendices. The first appendix introduces some popular agile and plan-driven processes and maturity models in the form of two-page summaries and comparison tables. The summaries serve as useful reminders but nothing more.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Jane Huang on March 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book addresses a critical and current discussion on how to balance agility and planned methods. Not only does it discuss project characteristics that identify the homeground of an individual project, but it also identifies agile practices that can be introduced into a traditional planned project, and discusses the use of planned techniques that may be needed to scale up large or critical agile projects. This is very useful material - and most certainly addresses current industry needs.
As an Asst. Professor of Software Engineering I have recently noticed a trend amongst the organizations in which my graduate students work. Several of these organizations that have historically employed traditional "waterfall" style lifecycle models are now experimenting with pilot projects that employ agile methods. They are not however deploying cookie cutter agile methods, but are selecting those agile practices that meet their own needs. My students explained that early prototype projects had indicated that applying agile processes resulted in better defect removal early in the projects.
Boehm and Turner's book addresses exactly these issues, and shows that agile and planned methods can be applied synergistically. Equally importantly the book reports on the small yet growing body of empirical results that support certain agile claims and challenge others. This provides the reader with critical information for determining which agile practices they may wish to deploy.
This book clearly reflects the years of experience both authors have had in industry and academia. As the creator of the spiral lifecycle model and the well known cost estimation model COCOMO, Boehm has a track record of correctly measuring the pulse of the industry and providing insights that have had a lasting impact.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Corey Thompson on August 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book succeeds brilliantly in two areas, but comes up a bit short in the third.

First, as far as distilling how plan-driven and agile-driven development methodologies are different (and the same), it is wonderful. They use five "critical factors" to determine a project's relative suitability for choosing one type over the other. I believe about 40% of the book is spent here.

Second, using the above information, the authors discuss how to ascertain and mitigate project risks, given the size and type of the application being developed, as well as the cultural (agile v. plan-driven) leanings of the development staff who will be working on it. This is mostly done at a "process framework" level. The premise of the book is that each project is somewhat different, so rightly they do not prescribe a process. I believe another 40% of the book is spent here.

Third, the book presents a number of charts showing how much impact plan-driven and agile-driven processes have had. Here I just feel like Boehm lent the book a bunch of his data. Although it is very useful data, it isn't detailed enough. It could have used an additional Appendix describing another project (there are three case studies already) more concretely. Especially in terms of the schedule, defect reduction rate, etc. metrics that are in one of the appendixes.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Lars Bergstrom VINE VOICE on December 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
Agility and discipline are not absolutes, but should be dosed out appropriately based on your project. The risk-management approach explained in this book is familiar to most business management folks, and provides a framework for making the right decision. This is a great way to cater a methodology to your project.
There were some "day in the life of" sections in this book that felt like fake stories -- it was almost like reading a DeMarco novel. Entertaining, but not entirely convincing. Also, contrary to Lean approaches, this risk management framework doesn't seem to lend itself to self-tuning as the project moves along (unless I missed something). There's a lot to be said for measuring how effective you're being and reacting to changes in your environment and product. The idea of doing all of your risk assessment up-front and choosing your methodology for the life of the project sounds exactly like the kind of thing that any "Agilist" would claim is not going to work!
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