Introducing XP Studio

At my organization, we use a lot of the tricks from the Agile toolbox, like unit tests (although most of us are not doing TDD), refactoring, continuous integration, collective code ownership. We also write black box tests using Selenium and HtmlUnit, but since the developers think them up and implement them, not the customers, we can’t really call them acceptance tests.

If you look at this list, you probably notice that these are all technical practices. What has been lacking so far are the more management oriented ones. But my team has now embarked on a journey to incorporate some of those.

We’re using user stories to define functionality, and deliver them in iterations. Since we’re building a product, not doing a project, our product manager plays the customer role.

The planning game wasn’t easy, since it was all so new for us. But the first iteration delivered all planned stories, the first ever deadline that the team made! Although it is far too early to declare victory, the start is promising indeed.

We do face some challenges, however. Our customer is in Kentucky, USA, while the development team is in The Netherlands. Also, I work from home about half of the time. So we’re definitely not a co-located team. This means we have to invest more in communication. We use e-mail, instant messaging and conference calls to stay in touch.

The distributed nature of our team makes capturing user stories on index cards difficult. Since we’re pretty XML focused (our department is the R&D department for XML in our company), we decided to capture the stories in XML instead and store them in our source source repository.

I know that many in the Agile community don’t like this formalization (Individuals and interactions over processes and tools), but it does have advantages. The biggest one in my book, after making distributed development possible, is that it opens up a whole lot of possibilities for automation. Remember Ubiquitous Automation?

This was the stimulus I needed to breathe some new life in one of those open source projects I participated in, but neglected lately: XP Studio. Check it out and let me know what you think.


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