Tech Insights
Prabha Kularathna
December 12, 2017

Extreme Programming - Is It for You?

Extreme Programming - Is It for You?

Extreme Programming (XP) has been one of the mostpolarizing and most hyped programming paradigms in the software industry.

In a nutshell, two developers share a single computer;One (called the driver) does the actual coding, keeping the focus on thepiece of business functionality that’s being written, while the other (called thenavigator) observes, keeping the focus on the business problem they aresolving and making sure all ends are covered. In other words, the driver has amicroscopic and the navigator has a macroscopic grasp over the development.

XP is a full-fledged development methodology withincremental releases, collective ownership and daily stand-ups. Find more info here.

We got the chance to try it out for a few weeks. XP iscertainly not for everyone, but based on our experience, we figured that XPwould work well for you:


When requirements are notwritten in stone

XP works well (perfectly in fact) when the functionalareas need more exploration and involve a lot of thinking and creativity.

If the exact requirements are not clearly definedbeforehand and you have to search for the optimal solution to your client’sbusiness problem, XP is for you. It will take you and the client on a journeyof learning together.


When there’s good chemistry withinthe team

XP provides a natural environment to bridge differences:Think of a seasoned developer working with a junior colleague. Since XPmandates that there should never be a coach-student relationship, the worktakes place in the everyone-is-in-the-same-lost-boat way with no one looking upor down.

As such, XP helps the junior learn fast and acquire newskills by closely observing how the experienced developer approaches theproblem, designs and writes (quality!) code. Simultaneously, the experienceddeveloper gains insight into the junior’s approach, allowing him/her tounderstand a younger generation’s perspective and draw from their knowledge.

So for XP to work, you need good chemistry in your teamwhere hierarchy is replaced with open-mindedness and desire to learn.


When it’s OK to get noisy

We figured that pair programming works best when thereare open or “unfiltered” communication channels within the pairs. There shouldbe mutual trust and respect among the whole team, however at the same time, allteam members should be comfortable with differing opinions.

Some of the more reserved developers might find theprocess somewhat uncomfortable at first, but, in our experience, this willimprove if you can create the environment grounded in trust and consistency.


When you can keep the bigpicture intact

XP demands you to write minimal code. The navigator andthe driver pair focuses on two levels of abstraction, still scoped on the pieceof functionality defined by the task they are working on. This can make ittrickier to keep an eye on the overall system architecture which can then causeserious architectural / design issues at the later stages of the project.

You must have enough capacity to keep an eye on the bigpicture throughout - including the code, the functionality and the architecture- while the product is slowly shaping up.


When you can afford to say ‘no’

Committing to XP without trying it first is too risky.Implementing XP can be smooth if your team culture is ‘open’ (or openable).However, if your team follows more of a traditional setup with strict workflowsand if they have developed strong opinions on how things must be, then XP willbe quite a challenge.

Other than the team, your management should also adoptto XP and have a realistic view on the risks involved.

Try ‘pair programming’ as a pilot project first. If itshows the right signs, you can go XP all in. It’s a love/hate thing: either itwill do wonders for you, or, will fail miserably.


The primary justification of XP, as proponents insist,is the cost curve - i.e. high-quality logic / code that comes out from pairprogramming, saving a lot in the long-run which is otherwise spent onmaintenance and support.

Is it truly the case?

Though the time we tried XP is not long enough for athorough analysis, we can confidently say that in terms of the improvement ofquality and the time spent, it was well worth it.


What are you experiences, questions or comments on XP?