I read a great article today on the future of software development. It gives a great summary of what is wrong with the waterfall method of development and how agile methodologies try solve this problem.
The problem was that the Waterfall Model was arrogant. The arrogance came from the fact that we believed that we could always engineer the perfect system on the first try. The second problem with it was that in nature, dynamic systems are not engineered, they evolve. It is the evolutionary idea that lead to the development of agile methods. (article)
Management is often slow to learn of new trends in software development. The fact that agile has been around since the nineties and many institutions still have not heard of it proves this point. I believe the best way to bring agile methodologies into an existing organization that uses the waterfall or another approach is to bring them in slowly. This is what we have done in my organization and it has been very successful. Here are some good starting points for change.
- Change how requirements are viewed. If you are handed a set of requirements for an entire product release, plan for them to change no matter how “final” you are told they are.
- Split the development cycle into iterations. At the end of each iteration reprioritize your tasks for the next iteration. 3-4 weeks is a good length for an iteration. Create a full release of your product at this point whether someone will actually use it or not. Hopefully you will have a QA team to test it at this point but it is important to create a fully working version of the product anyway.
- Leave the design of system components to the iteration they will be developed in.
Pretty soon you will find that your Waterfall approach is a lot more agile than it used to be. I encourage you to keep changing your approach as you find what works best for your organization.
There has been a lot of buzz about Ruby in recent days, particularly around Ruby on Rails. I love these Ruby on Rails vs. X commercials that www.railsenvy.com has created. Rails provides a much better framework for the “web backed by a database” problem than anything I have seen in the pure Java world. Java has become a very bloated language and even the so-called “lightweight” frameworks are large and clunky. Rails is a great alternative for most people.
But not for everyone. I work mostly with Java based server applications that do not fit the “web backed by a database” type of project. These applications could benefit from the Ruby language itself, but not much from Rails. I have looked into using JRuby as a way to leverage the strengths of the Ruby language on the Java platform.
JRuby is a Ruby interpreter written 100% in Java and therefore runs on the JVM. It allows you to have the benefits of Ruby but still be able to use existing Java code. My main issue with this implementation is that it does not inter operate well with Java. Code written for JRuby typically use the Ruby libraries which work distinctly different from their Java counterparts. This makes it difficult to create a hybrid application where both Ruby and Java is used.
This is about the time I found the Groovy project. Groovy is “an agile dynamic language for the Java Platform” (http://groovy.codehaus.org). It is a powerful dynamic language that has many of the sought after features of other languages like Ruby and Python. The key difference here is that Java is a first class citizen in Groovy. The Groovy libraries are built on top of Java, extending and modifying the core API. Groovy makes creating a hybrid Groovy/Java application possible and easy.
For those coming from a Java background, Groovy is very easy to learn. The syntax is very similar to Java with a twist. Semicolons are not required, getters and setters are not required for properties, code closures are available and metaprogramming is possible. If you are looking for Rails, there is Grails which is a web framework for Groovy.
So if you long to wet your feet in an agile dynamic language like Ruby but are stuck with supporting legacy Java applications, I would recommend giving Groovy a try.