XP Values

Stop, Collaborate and Listen!...Vanilla Ice, circa 1990.

  • Communication
  • Simplicity
  • Feedback
  • Courage
  • Respect

Building software systems requires communicating system requirements to the developers of the system. In formal software development methodologies, this task is accomplished through documentation. Extreme Programming techniques can be viewed as methods for rapidly building and disseminating institutional knowledge among members of a development team. The goal is to give all developers a shared view of the system which matches the view held by the users of the system. To this end, Extreme Programming favors simple designs, common metaphors, collaboration of users and programmers, frequent verbal communication, and feedback.

Extreme Programming encourages starting with the simplest solution. Extra functionality can then be added later. The difference between this approach and more conventional system development methods is the focus on designing and coding for the needs of today instead of those of tomorrow, next week, or next month. Proponents of XP acknowledge the disadvantage that this can sometimes entail more effort tomorrow to change the system; their claim is that this is more than compensated for by the advantage of not investing in possible future requirements that might change before they become relevant. Coding and designing for uncertain future requirements implies the risk of spending resources on something that might not be needed. Related to the “communication” value, simplicity in design and coding should improve the quality of communication. A simple design with very simple code could be easily understood by most programmers in the team.

Within Extreme Programming, feedback relates to different dimensions of the system development:

  • Feedback from the system: by writing unit tests, or running periodic integration tests, the programmers have direct feedback from the state of the system after implementing changes.
  • Feedback from the customer: The functional tests (aka acceptance tests) are written by the customer and the testers. They will get concrete feedback about the current state of their system. This review is planned once in every two or three weeks so the customer can easily steer the development.
  • Feedback from the team: When customers come up with new requirements in the planning game the team directly gives an estimation of the time that it will take to implement.

Feedback is closely related to communication and simplicity. Flaws in the system are easily communicated by writing a unit test that proves a certain piece of code will break. The direct feedback from the system tells programmers to recode this part. A customer is able to test the system periodically according to the functional requirements, known as user stories. To quote Kent Beck, “Optimism is an occupational hazard of programming, feedback is the treatment.”

Several practices embody courage. One is the commandment to always design and code for today and not for tomorrow. This is an effort to avoid getting bogged down in design and requiring a lot of effort to implement anything else. Courage enables developers to feel comfortable with refactoring their code when necessary. This means reviewing the existing system and modifying it so that future changes can be implemented more easily. Another example of courage is knowing when to throw code away: courage to remove source code that is obsolete, no matter how much effort was used to create that source code. Also, courage means persistence: A programmer might be stuck on a complex problem for an entire day, then solve the problem quickly the next day, if only they are persistent.

The respect value manifests in several ways. In Extreme Programming, team members respect each other because programmers should never commit changes that break compilation, that make existing unit-tests fail, or that otherwise delay the work of their peers. Members respect their work by always striving for high quality and seeking for the best design for the solution at hand through refactoring.

Adopting four earlier values led to respect gained from others in team. Nobody on the team should feel unappreciated or ignored. This ensures high level of motivation and encourages loyalty toward the team, and the goal of the project. This value is very dependent upon the other values, and is very much oriented toward people in a team.

The principles that form the basis of XP are based on the values just described and are intended to foster decisions in a system development project. The principles are intended to be more concrete than the values and more easily translated to guidance in a practical situation.

Extreme Programming sees feedback as most useful if it is done rapidly and expresses that the time between an action and its feedback is critical to learning and making changes. Unlike traditional system development methods, contact with the customer occurs in more frequent iterations. The customer has clear insight into the system that is being developed. He or she can give feedback and steer the development as needed.

Unit tests also contribute to the rapid feedback principle. When writing code, the unit test provides direct feedback as to how the system reacts to the changes one has made. If, for instance, the changes affect a part of the system that is not in the scope of the programmer who made them, that programmer will not notice the flaw. There is a large chance that this bug will appear when the system is in production.

Assuming simplicity is about treating every problem as if its solution were “extremely simple”. Traditional system development methods say to plan for the future and to code for reusability. Extreme programming rejects these ideas. The advocates of Extreme Programming say that making big changes all at once does not work. Extreme Programming applies incremental changes: for example, a system might have small releases every three weeks. By making many little steps the customer has more control over the development process and the system that is being developed.

The principle of embracing change is about not working against changes but embracing them. For instance, if at one of the iterative meetings it appears that the customer's requirements have changed dramatically, programmers are to embrace this and plan the new requirements for the next iteration.