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Smooth is Fast

The agile conundrum

Alan Cooper
3 min readDec 13, 2019

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Agile programming is all about going slow. It’s about working in small increments and reassessing your work on a weekly, if not daily basis.

All the signature elements of Agile are intrinsically slow. Most notably, agile programming is done in pairs, where two programmers sit together and design and write code as a small, tightly knit team. This, of course, slows the coding process way down because everything is verbalized and because everything is given consideration. In essence, pair programming transforms what traditionally was an internal monologue into an external dialog.

The promise of agile isn’t speed but rather it’s about not building up technical debt and design debt. Programmers avoid technical debt by taking the time to refactor their code as they write it. They avoid design debt by having users, designers, or product owners review their recent work. When this happens, chances are that the work will have to be re-done. But redoing code is slow, time consuming, and to outsiders it appears to be a waste. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the essence of software development. It simply doesn’t matter how long it takes to make code that users want, nor does it matter how quickly one can produce code that users don’t want.

It simply doesn’t matter how long it takes to make code that users want, nor does it matter how quickly one can produce code that users don’t want.

Backtracking and reworking along the way is a substantive characteristic of being agile. Agile, after all, means being quick to change. Agilistas track velocity for a single reason: to make sure they don’t try to work too fast. Agile is about slicing the salami really thin, and eating one translucent slice at a time, before slicing another, making sure it’s correct. If anyone imagines that agile has anything to do with moving fast, they’re, well, they’re an idiot. That’s just wrong.

One of the remarkable side effects of agile done right, is that lots of unnecessary features are identified early in the process. Agile is a pretty good tool for discovering what exploratory code should not be turned into production code.

The tactical sloth of…

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Alan Cooper

Ancestry Thinker, Software Alchemist, Regenerative Rancher