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Agile Programmers Turning to New Tools

Begin to accept products that automate work

By Heather Havenstein
September 5, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Corporate IT departments embracing lightweight agile-development methods are increasingly turning to some emerging tools built to work within the process.
Developers using agile programming methodologies such as Scrum and extreme programming have historically eschewed such tools.
Lightweight agile methods typically call for small teams to demonstrate new functionality every few weeks, speeding the development process. The methods also eliminate extensive documentation and call for performing early testing to simplify development.
First American Real Estate Solutions LP, which collects and provides access to real estate information, uses a Web-based planning, tracking and management tool from Alpharetta, Ga.-based VersionOne LLC that's built for agile development.
For the past five months, First American has been moving to agile programming methods. The VersionOne tool allows development teams in California, North Carolina, Florida and India to manage requirements, team tasks and metrics, said Scott Spencer, vice president of engineering at the Anaheim, Calif.-based company.
Just the Facts
Alogent Corp., which develops payment-processing systems for banks, has been using VersionOne software for the past year as a replacement for spreadsheets, along with Microsoft Project to plan and track agile development projects.
The tools make project details available to Alogent's 50 developers and to others in the company, said Ian Culling, vice president of product development at the Alpharetta-based firm. "The marketing group is able to go and take a look at the high-level road map and can drill down and see status of features," he said.
"One of the things that kills agile methods is the fact that index cards on a bulletin board don't work to keep people informed as to where you are, where you're headed," Culling said. "Now we have a single source of information, and there is no duplication -- which was killing us before, because you end up making decisions based on shaky information."
Developers at American Heritage Life Insurance Co. have been using sticky notes, whiteboards and spreadsheets to communicate since they began moving to agile development methods in March, said Andy Leonard, SQL server and database administration manager at the Jacksonville, Fla.-based subsidiary of The Allstate Corp. The company hopes to improve communication in March when it deploys Microsoft Corp.'s upcoming Visual Studio Team System.
Carey Schwaber, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said that as more companies adopt agile methods to get higher-quality products to users more quickly, development teams are adopting tools tailored for agile developers.
And companies are bringing out more tools to meet the need. For example, Borland Software Corp. this week will unveil JBuilder 2006, a version of its integrated development environment that offers new peer-to-peer collaboration to allow distributed developers to view and share source-code editors, debuggers and other tools in real time, said Rob Cheng, Borland's director of product marketing.
The product targets programmers who use agile methodologies, Borland said.
In July, Rally Software Development Corp. in Boulder, Colo., unveiled the new release of its life-cycle management tools for agile teams, and VersionOne announced its next-generation planning and management suite.

Lightweight Tools

Before selecting a tool, development teams should:

Customize processes.
Refrain from adopting tools that require too much support.
Consider tweaking tools already in use, such as those for source-control, testing, development and project management.
Look to open-source for tools: Open-source developers were among the first to build tools for large, distributed teams.

Source: Forrester Research Inc.

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