by Meridith Levinson

The Agile Development Debate

Jan 01, 20032 mins
Agile Development

LAST MARCH, Jerzy Dutkiewicz, manager of architecture and integration at a Fortune 500 energy company, attended a conference on an ascendant software development methodology known as agile programming, hyped as the solution to all software development ills.

The agile method encourages programmers to work on a single piece of code together?at one computer?to foster face-to-face feedback. It also insists that IT and business users jointly spec out an application’s features and functionality. (For more on agile development, see “The Secret to Software Success,”

Dutkiewicz listened and left unconvinced. Despite all the consultants’ enthusiasm and talk of limiting project scope and function creep, he wondered if the methodology was just an excuse for consultants to deliver unfinished or inadequate products to clients.

Dutkiewicz isn’t the only skeptic. For agile programming to gain ground and credibility in 2003, the cheers have to come from IT executives who’ve had success with it in their organization.

The cheers are starting to come.

Tom DePauw, CIO at Caterpillar Financial Services in Nashville, Tenn., and Stephen Levy, Standard & Poor’s vice president of global applications development, have been using agile methodologies for a few years, and they say their applications are working just fine, thank you.

To develop Cat FinancExpress, a Web-based system that automates many of Caterpillar’s equipment finance processes, DePauw’s team used several components of agile development. It deployed the application incrementally. And it developed the most valuable features of the application first, in short development cycles, which it then delivered to business users in order to get feedback on what it had produced.

“[Agile] allows you to change the [development] process as the business needs change,” says DePauw. “If you get an application into the hands of users, you’ll quickly learn what needs to be added or modified to make it more usable.”

Levy uses agile methodologies to create sets of software and Web services that can be assembled and reassembled into different products such as Ratings Direct, an online source of Standard & Poor’s global credit ratings. His development staff does weekly and biweekly builds of software, which they then have users test for bugs and functionality. They use the storyboard technique on client-facing systems.

“We’ve been able to deliver higher quality products in a shorter amount of time,” says Levy.