Scaling Agile Development via Architecture

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with the other subsystems. This motivates you to have a core architecture team which identifies, supports, and evolves a common architecture across the various sub-teams.

At the beginning of a large project you should identify your most experienced developers and abstract thinkers, as well as a few people that you want to see get some architectural experience, and invite them to be members of the core architecture team. You want to do this for two reasons. First, you want good people. Second, each of the development sub-teams will include at least one member of the core architecture team. This increases the chances that each sub-team understands and follows the overall architecture and that the core architecture team will not ignore portions of the system. Furthermore, it ensures that each sub-team has some senior people on it with an understanding of the architectural vision. Frankly, this is something you would do on any large project, agile or not. Agilists are very practical, we're more than happy to adopt good ideas from the traditional community.

The core architecture team is responsible for identifying the initial architecture then bringing it to the rest of the project team for feedback and subsequent evolution. Architects will typically do this during iteration 0 of the project, which for larger projects can prove to be several weeks in length. Their goal is to identify the subsystems–critical information required to identify not only the potential sub-teams but the skills required on those sub-teams. At this point in time you also want to identify and agree to the interfaces to these subsystems. The interfaces will change over time, so be prepared to refactor your code accordingly, but the goal is to enable the sub-teams to focus on their portion of the system without having to worry about what the other teams are doing. This strategy is something that Grady Booch calls quot;managing to the seams.

To avoid an ivory tower architecture, the members of the core architecture team take active roles on the development sub-teams, communicating the architecture to other members of the sub-teams and working with them to prove portions of the architecture via concrete experiments. From the point of view of the development sub-teams, the architect acts as both an architectural consultant and as an active member of the sub-team. In other words, the architect is another member of the team who gets his hands dirty coding.

The core architecture team will find that members need to get together occasionally to evolve the architecture as the project progresses, negotiating changes and updating any architectural model(s) as appropriate. These working sessions will be frequent at the beginning of a project and will be needed less and less as the architecture solidifies. It will be common for members of the development sub-teams, who may not be members of the core architecture team, to be involved because they may have some specialized knowledge or experience to share with the team. The best meetings are short, no more than an hour in length, and are often held in a room with lots of whiteboard space. Everyone should come prepared to the working sessions, willing to present and discuss their issues as well as to work together as a team to quickly come to resolutions.

You may even find that you need to scale to an even more difficult situation: some projects are part of a larger program which may comprise several dozen other projects which are implemented over a ten to fifteen year timeframe. Your core architecture team and the models which they create will help to promote a shared, evolving

About the author

Scott W. Ambler's picture Scott W. Ambler

Scott W. Ambler is Principal at Scott W. Ambler + Associates. He is author of several books, including Disciplined Agile Delivery, Agile Modeling, Refactoring Databases: Evolutionary Database Design, and The Elements of UML 2.0 Style. Scott works with organizations worldwide to adopt agile software development techniques at scale.

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