Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed
Barry Boehm, Richard Turner
Reviewed by Lasse Koskela, October 2003
(8 of 10)
Reality check. 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. The rest of the appendices, however, provide a short but valuable collection of tools for balancing the software development process and some empirical data on the costs and benefits of agility.
In summary, I would classify Balancing Agility and Discipline as a suggested reading for both agilists and sceptics. It's not necessarily a classic but it certainly serves as a useful reminder of things the industry has learnt the hard way and shouldn't be taken too lightly. Agile methods promote retrospectives. Boehm and Turner suggest extending that retrospective a bit farther.