GCN’s Reality Check columnist Michael Daconta created a bit of a stir this week with his column, “6 IT trends government IT managers should be wary of.” The majority of comments posted to GCN concerned No. 3 on Daconta’s list:
“3. Agile development is a programmer’s fantasy and a manager’s nightmare. In my more than 20 years of software development experience, I have never met a government program manager who is available on a daily or even weekly basis to help design an application on the fly. Extreme iteration and pair programming are almost exclusively programmer perks and not in the best interests of government IT. Please don’t build the next space shuttle that way.”
Agile development is a term coined in 2001 by a group of 17 developers in the Agile Manifesto. The group defined the approach in the 12 “Principles of the Agile Manifesto,” among them: “Simplicity -- the art of maximizing the amount of work not done -- is essential.”
A hard-and-fast definition isn’t so simple, however. According to a definition on the Agile Modeling Web site, “Many people will correctly say that agile software development conforms to the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto, and those sites are clearly great resources. But, if you're looking for a 'sound bite' definition of agile software development, that's a little harder to come by.”
TechTarget’s definition includes: “Agile software development focuses on keeping code simple, testing often and delivering functional bits of the application as soon as they're ready.”
And the site Loosely Coupled explains: “In contrast to traditional software development methods, agile developers liaise continuously with business clients, aiming to deliver working software as frequently as every two weeks during a project, and welcome changes to the requirement in response to evolving business needs.
Definitions aside, readers had their own ideas about the value of agile development.
One veteran programmer wrote: “This is a new buzzword for an old concept. We called it ‘Rapid Prototyping,’ and that was a buzzword, too. The idea is that, unlike building a bridge, software engineering acknowledges its use in a changing environment. The idea is to incorporate cyclic development with a pace comparable to the aggregate of change in the particular application area. Engineers constantly bemoan ‘requirements slip’ and the idea that the world won't freeze while they take their time building a ‘perfect’ application. By the time that happens, the world has moved on. Requirements have to reflect that fact just as they need to reflect the constraints of the technology and the needs of the user. AND, BTW -- none of that is static, so your meta-process needs to allow for constant drift and adjustment as you build your system. The alternative is stasis, and trust me, you wouldn't like it. ...”
Another wrote: “Agile Development is just a name for the test-driven development model and that type of approach is the current standard, not a programmers dream. Maybe your team is not as advanced and into development. You may have consultants cook your sausage for you, but those developers that are being contracted to do your dirty work are using Agile Development, and if you brought it into your shop, you might save some money.”
One reader brought up a potential flaw with agile development: “If I may continue the Agile thread, there is one significant problem with this kind of development: it leaves little documentation. The Agile Manifesto puts software delivery first. Documentation and management are considered hindrances. I have worked with some of the earlier buzzwords, too. There are good points to all, but they have mostly fallen by the way-side. Agile will go too in the government sector when many agencies fail the new FISCAM audits. This new standard for security audits almost forbids some Agile practices and requires standard SDLC and governance. Its a big document but worth a read.”
Wrote another: “Developers don't bemoan when the project management is able to run a nice fence around the requirements and only simple and quick and easy inclusions can be made, that maybe where most projects have problems. You must wrap up the project and move to production when requirements have been met and maybe one or two short follow up releases to plug up the holes. Thats it, no cyclical or enhancements unless there is a justified ROI (Get value from the App). There must be a good working relationship between developers and management and the less chiefs, the better.”
This reader defended the approach: “Obviously Mike is not from Silicon Valley these days. Cisco now has a six-week development cycle for many products. BTW, if you recall, the traditional way also lead to a very expensive spacecraft hurling into a planet at high speed instead of landing on it due to a metric conversion error. May be the wisdom of the crowds approach would have prevented this.”
And finally, one reader addressed the entire column’s look at current trends: “Superb! Finally a GCN contributor that sees past the fanatic hype and gets to the objective facts of the mission of the gov and what is required to support it. I sincerely appreciated the comparison between the government and a Web start up. The startup can afford to fail; the government cannot.”
Posted on Aug 14, 2009 at 7:05 PM0 comments
Ben Shneiderman, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland, has joined forces with his colleagues and authored a white paper about the potentially world-changing role technology-mediated social participation can play in education, health, the environment, government and daily life.
The 51-page paper, titled National Initiative for Social Participation
, is available as a free download. In it, Shneiderman and his team propose a national initiative for social participation to promote online social-media research, just “as NASA leads space research and [National Institutes of Health] promotes medical research.”
Social media such as wikis, blogs, forums, networking sites and virtual worlds are just the beginning, the paper notes. If these tools could be harnessed in a more scientific way, they could “create the conditions for citizens to participate, connect and undertake constructive action.” Social media could make for better government and a better, safer, healthier world.
This more analytical study of social participation could help answer the questions nearly everybody is asking: How does good social networking work, when does it go awry and why? How do you balance privacy and freedom? Shneiderman and his team want to go beyond the usual social-networking cheerleading and take a more scientific approach to get at the real reasons behind the human behavior that fuels technology-mediated social participation.
For example, the paper notes that the success of Wikipedia is the exception, not the rule. “Of the more than 9,000 wikis using the MediaWiki platform, more than half have seven or fewer contributors. An important reason for these failures is a lack of evidence-based scientific guidance in building and managing online communities.”
The paper looks closely at six areas that are ripe for social-participation research: crime prevention through neighborhood watch programs; deliberation sites where people can submit their opinions on given topics; the Encyclopedia of Life, a Web site about 1.8 million species; an online community focused on climate change issues; an online community focused on renewable and sustainable energy sources; and sites centered around health topics.Download the white paper here
Posted on Aug 10, 2009 at 7:05 PM3 comments
Could the government's reticence to use social networking lead to a rise of another Nazi-era Germany? Probably not, so why the urgency? This is what some readers are asking the authors of a recent op-ed for GCN, written by a number of IT researchers and academicians, An open letter to Obama, in support of social participation
In this letter, the collective authors call on President Barack Obama to increase the amount of "technology-mediated social participation" done by government. Much like atoms smashing together in chain-reactions lead to the immense power of the atomic bomb, the authors argue, so too could government-led social-networking services lead to "human chain reactions" that would lead to innovation and greater democracy.
The authors fashioned their letter after one Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd sent to then-President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939. In that dispatch, Einstein urged Roosevelt that Germany could use the immense power of the recently-discovered self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction to do harm, when encapsulated in the form of a bomb. Historians argue that letter spurred Roosevelt on to commission the Manhattan Project, which sought to create such an atomic bomb before Germany could, in effect putting an end to World War II.
While most can agree that social-networking tools are probably a good thing for government (though the Defense Department is finding, they are anything but an unalloyed good), one GCN comment-contributor wondered if the authors' open-letter approach wasn't fully thought out.
"What would happen to the U.S. position in cyberspace if [social-networking tools] weren't used? Would we suffer a decline in knowledge that would give educational and competitive edges to the rest of the world that did use them?" asked an anonymous contributor. "Reread Einstein's letter, then try again. ..."
At least one other reader agreed with this assessment:
"To compare this drivel to Albert Einstein's appeal to President Roosevelt regarding atomic technology is ludicrous," Edmund Perry weighed in, before allowing the sorry possibility that social-networking technology may be the only technology the U.S. still possesses with any leading-edge superiority.
Of course, the Manhattan project gave the world's top physicists the vast resources and time to carry out their vital — and staggeringly difficult — research. So a cynic could point out that elevating social-networking research with a similar urgency would, no doubt, benefit those studying in that field:
"Of course ... the real goal here … is to get Uncle Sugar to extend the sweet deal that scientists and engineers get to software types. [Specifically to] aimlessly fool around in the lab/computer, satisfying your intellectual curiosity (and little else), on the taxpayer's dime," wrote another anonymous contributor. It should be noted that four of the six authors of this open letter work in universities and, presumably, might benefit from the increased research spending the letter advocates.
Ahh, the twisty path of progress.
Posted on Aug 05, 2009 at 7:05 PM0 comments