methodologies

Agile Design Artifacts


I recently got contracted by a company to be the technical lead for a web application development project. My first task was to come up with an architecture document for the application within 2 to 3 weeks. I rapidly realized that it was not realistic. I could eventually design the application, but I was convinced that it would not be efficient for the following reasons:

  • I was promised to get the full requirements a week after I started. I did not get them and still now, after 3 months,  there are still on going,
  • The web application was intended to connect to a back end bought from a third party provider. We did not know much about the API (actually, the API were planned to change – and still changing today after 3 months)

  • I always have been convinced that a too detailed architecture will be obsolete as soon as developers start to implement the functionality.

For these reasons, I told the team manager that I prefer not to spend my time drawing class diagrams or any sort of artifact that will be thrown away or, at best, be expensively kept up to date during the development process. What I suggested though was to:

  • Draw a high level design diagram; this diagram included all the providers and layers of the application.

  • Write few class stubs to give a direction to developers. The classes did not contain any implementation. They rather contained many “TODOs” with comments for developers; we also agreed with developers that the comments were there as a suggestion. They were allowed to go in another direction as long as they respect the overall design idea.

  • We focuse on only one type of artifact: the code itself. Well written code is the best artifact as it expresses the static view but also the dynamic view of the system (which is, from my point of view), the most important view to understand a system especially to support it.

  • We scheduled and took the necessary time to do few meetings with all developers to explain the design guidelines; this is far better than writing thick documents as developers came up with very interesting questions and suggestions from their past experiences. Once we agreed on the design, we started the development of what we called “the infrastructure” or the framework that will support the application.

During this phase, we decided to use SCRUM methodology; this was new to my client (they applied it partly in the past). I insisted on the fact that an iterative development process will help us to get things done and deliver high quality software.

We called this first phase the SPRINT 0; we did a lot of refactoring as the code was written and the application was growing in size. We decided that no interface (user interface) will be developed during this sprint; we wanted to focus only on the framework and the design.

Now, we are in the sprint 3. We delivered some functionality to the business and we had very positive comments so far. Even managers who first were skeptical regarding SCRUM methodology are now much more comfortable and confident that an iterative process can effectively help to deliver in time and with a high quality.

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