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The debates over the best ways to be agile and to realize agile software development success, appear to be never-ending. While it is widely recognized amongst software companies that agile methodologies and approaches do enable teams to deliver on success, there is still debate on how to do so.

In this article, we want to dig into Extreme Programming (XP) and discuss how this approach to agile software development could be the right path for your organization. The caveat with XP is that while it does come with a defined set of rules for best-practices in software development – you can always take what you need from this framework and leave that which does not apply.

Extreme Programming Defined

The overall goal of XP is closely tied to that of agile software – quality. The Agile Alliance defines XP as: Extreme Programming (XP) is an agile software development framework that aims to produce higher quality software, and higher quality of life for the development team. XP Is the most specific of the agile frameworks regarding appropriate engineering practices for software development.

Because the XP framework brings with it some very specific engineering practices, this approach is only entirely applicable in some very specific scenarios. When evaluating your software development environment, organization, and needs – keep in mind how and when XP is most applicable:

  • Dynamically changing software requirements.
  • Risks caused by fixed time projects using new technology.
  • Small, co-located extended development team.
  • The technology being used allows for automated unit and functional tests.

This agile software development framework is ideal for small teams working in an environment with continually changing client demands and requirements. The demands placed on teams in such fast-paced and high-risk environments can result in losing focus on the cornerstones of agile software methodologies. In other words, the team falls back into old programming practices of harried work, software ripe with bugs and defects, and long stressful work hours.

Above all else, XP aims to maintain both the quality of the product and the quality of life of the team. When the team follows or interprets the rules of XP for their unique needs, the threats of risk and constantly changing demands from internal and external clients, are no longer stressors.

Putting Extreme Programming Values into Agile Software Development

The XP framework is built on a foundation of values that are closely linked to the Agile Manifesto. In brief, these means placing value on individuals and interactions, quality working software, customer and client communication, and the ability to respond to change.

XP takes these principles and extends them to better deliver on quality work and a quality work-life balance:

  • Communication. Whether you’re new to agile or a seasoned agile professional, you know how vital open and constant communication is to success in agile. The underlying goal here of this XP value is in ensuring that teams are sharing knowledge and providing support to one another. In XP, this type of communication is best delivered with face-to-face conversations and the use of visual tools such as whiteboards. Instant messaging, email, etc. do not fit into this model of communication.
  • Simplicity. Because XP is best applied in high-risk demanding environments, where quality can be lost – simplicity must be the focus. Programmers must ask themselves how they can deliver with the most simple approach – including defining requirements, scheduling, and coding. By eliminating the extraneous, it’s much easier for the team to stay focused on the exact requirements.
  • Feedback. Closely linked to open communication, the team needs to be giving one another continual feedback on what is and isn’t working. This allows the team to remain flexible and update their code and work habits as the project moves forward. This iterative feedback can help to quickly identify problems, eliminate blockers, and further simplify the requirements.
  • Courage. Perhaps this could also be reframed as boldness. The members on the team need to have the courage, confidence, boldness, and organization support to make changes when required. Rather than rolling along with the plan, the team needs to have the courage to speak up when the plan needs to be adjusted. This helps keep the focus on quality – both in code and work-life balance. As well, the team needs to have the courage to accept feedback – remembering not to take this personally and know this feedback is in the best interest of the team and its goals.
  • Respect. Courage, communication, and actionable feedback cannot happen without team respect. Each member of the team must respect the abilities, experience, and skills of each team member. With this key fundamental of interpersonal skills, the team is better able to become a cohesive and supportive network.

At first glance, the values inherent in XP are ones that any team should be embracing – software team or large-scale enterprise. These values are all about supporting the team to enable them to do their best work possible in the best possible environment. This is really what every organization should be striving for.

Learning More About Extreme Programming in Agile Software

We have only scratched the surface of XP, but we hope we have given you something to think about. Take a look at your team and how it embodies the XP values – even if your team is not ready to fully embrace the XP framework, these values are easily transferrable to any agile environment.

There are some key resources on XP that should be part of your decision-making process:

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