Valuing "Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation"

I subscribe to the tenets put forth in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development - http://agilemanifesto.org. As leader of Oracle's Methods team, that might seem a self-deprecating attitude. After all, the agile manifesto tells us that we should value "individuals and interactions" over "processes and tools." My job includes process development.

I also subscribe to ideas put forth in a number of subsequent works including Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed (Boehm/Turner, Addison-Wesley) and Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products (Highsmith, Addison-Wesley). Both of these books talk about finding the right balance between "agility and discipline" or between a "predictive and adaptive" project approach.

So there still seems to be a place for us in creating the Oracle Unified Method (OUM) to become the "single method framework that supports the successful implementation of every Oracle product." After all, the real idea is to apply just enough ceremony and produce just enough documentation to suit the needs of the particular project that supports an enterprise in moving toward its desired future state.

The thing I've been struggling with - and the thing I'd like to hear from you about right now - is the prevalence of an ongoing obsession with "documents."

OUM provides a comprehensive set of guidance for an iterative and incremental approach to engineering and implementing software systems. Our intent is first to support the information technology system implementation and, as necessary, support the creation of documentation. OUM, therefore, includes a supporting set of document templates. Our guidance is to employ those templates, sparingly, as needed; not create piles of documentation that you're not gonna (sic) need. In other words, don't serve the method, make the method serve you.

Yet, there seems to be a "gimme" mentality in some circles that if you give me a sample document - or better yet - a repository of samples - then I will be able to do anything cheaply and quickly. The notion is certainly appealing AND reuse can save time. Plus, documents are a lowest common denominator way of packaging reusable stuff. However, without sustained investment and management I've seen "reuse repositories" turn quickly into garbage heaps. So, I remain a skeptic.

I agree that providing document examples that promote consistency is helpful. However, there may be too much emphasis on the documents themselves and not enough on creating a system that meets the evolving needs of the business.

How can we shift the emphasis toward working software and away from our dependency on documents - especially on large, complex implementation projects - while still supporting the need for documentation? I'd like to hear your thoughts.
Comments:

I think this manifesto could confuse many inexpert people, or young people...because any life experienced people know: NOTHING in this world is black or white.... In my opinion...maybe this manifesto could be guide the Executing & Monitoring Process group (PMBook), but not so much the Initiating, Planing and Closing process group. Each process group has his own strategy and objective...and could be an error translate to form one to another. In short this is my opinion..sorry my grammatical issues

Posted by Hector Salvador Lopez Orellana on April 08, 2011 at 01:59 PM GMT+05:00 #

Dear Tom, I did ´t note until this moment..your blog is quite empty of comments... no offend... this just reminds me my hypothesis that IT consultants each day use less and less PJM methods or any implementation methods... they believe also, likes maybe some manifesto signers, that the theory is not necessary an is even a ballast I convince my clients about the importance compressive methodology, saying them picture their vacation without any buget, maps and risk planning...or that picture they buying their homes knowing that functionality was put over structural blueprints, or preferring receive the physic construction over the final blueprints that describe it. As I interpret you said...this is more a balancing act than an choosing act

Posted by Hector Salvador Lopez Orellana on April 08, 2011 at 03:42 PM GMT+05:00 #

I agree 100%

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Tom, I believe the key here is that word ‘balance’. I agree that nothing is so frustrating as having documents rejected on grounds such as font size, whilst the content is not really evaluated. Having said that I live by documentation – in a hectic and complex implementation I simply cannot maintain all the detail in memory so I have to write things down. (I heard this described by a journalist once as the bath-tub effect – you fill your mind up with information on one topic, use it and then empty the bath and fill it for the next topic with new information!) Documents also form a kind of contract with my clients – I reflect back to them what I’ve understood and if they don’t tell me I’m wrong, it becomes their problem rather than mine. I never want to get into a dispute, but if it comes down to a he said / she said situation, having a brief written confirmation is invaluable. I have also recently been involved in an ‘agile’ project which used prototyping beautifully to confirm business requirements. Unfortunately when we came to do acceptance testing we had however missed summarising the requirement outcomes into something which we could accept against; with hindsight this was not ideal. So ‘balance’ is the key from my perspective – and Shakespeare got it right all those years ago: brevity is the soul of wit. That’s my 2c - FWIW Jeannie

Posted by Jeannie Dobney on April 20, 2011 at 01:07 AM GMT+05:00 #

Jeannie, It's great to hear from you! We missed you at Collaborate 11. I think you're right on the mark. One of the books that we've drawn heavily from is "Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed, Boehm/Turner" Boehm and Turner talked about finding the right balance between agility and discipline based on the characteristics of your particular project in a number of different dimensions - size, criticality, dynamism, personnel, and culture. I think they got it right in most respects. More recently, however, we've begun to think of agility also as the ability to find the appropriate balance between being "predictive" and being "adaptive" on in a particular situation. In fact, in "Agile Project Management", James Highsmith defines agility as the ability to balance flexibility and stability. Clearly, that point of balance is going to be different under differing circumstances. I like what your wrote about the bath-tub effect. Basically, humans have about 165 GB or so of storage to work with. That hasn't changed for many years, yet we are able to process larger and larger amounts of information because we use external storage and retrieval systems. I think all of this points to finding the appropriate level of ceremony and appropriate level of documentation for a given situation. So you're right...it's all about balance and making a conscious effort up front (and throughout the project) to determine (and document?) that point of balance. Tom

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Hi, We are planning to start using OUM very shortly but are having issues with the portal. I've tried the email address listed but I'm not getting much response yet. Is there a newer support address to use for dealing with access to the OUM portal?

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