Tesugen

Agile culture (Irrational Software)

One thing that interests me a lot is something I have referred to as software architecture in my posts. But it isn’t only architecture that I have been thinking about; architecture sure is part of it, but the thing is much bigger than that. Rather, it’s about that whole set of shared principles, culture, vision, ideals, practices, etc, that emerges in the interaction between members of a team. Architecture sure is in there, but it isn’t everything. I don’t know what to call it, though.

Alistair Cockburn wrote about this in his paper On the Interaction of Social Issues and Software Architecture. He showed how architectural choices derived from principles that in turn derived from social characteristics of the team. Take for instance a large team, or a project where the problem domain is very complex; then the principle that Cockburn calls “Subsystem By Skill” might be worth honoring. This principle in turn affects architectural choices, in the form of generating a system that is partitioned into subsystems.

The word culture is the best I can think of. In order for an agile team to be able to function as a “swarm”, as a network of peers rather than as a hierarchy, the shared culture is essential: you need a common goal, a vision. The word culture suggests the importance of having a “consistent” culture – otherwise you will get culture clashes – different ideals regarding architecture and design, the structuring of code, etc, will cause friction in the team. The word culture also conveys, I think, the importance of being open to other people, of showing respect for other people’s ideas.

Architecture is important, but it emerges from the principles and values of the team culture. This is yet another hint that the architecture is too precious to be planned, up-front, by one or two individuals. If your project is hierarchical, then fine: you need to make plans and communicate them down the chain; but for an agile project it’s the culture that matters – and culture by its very nature can’t be planned; you can merely guide it.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on October 2, 2002. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.

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