2010-05-30

Book review: Extreme Programming Explained

Now this is a controversial book that has caused a lot of heated debate among developers. It starts out innocently enough, by stating the goals of XP which most everyone will agree on: correct, flexible software that adapts well to change in requirements and user-feedback, short development times and happy programmers and customers. It then goes on to explain how the techniques of XP try to help archive these goals. The practices include widely accepted ones, like a rigorous testing process, coding standards and continuous integration. But it also breaks quite radically with common programming wisdom by requiring things like an on-site customer, refactoring as a major component instead of a complete up-front design, pair programming (two developers sharing one keyboard and one screen) and collective code ownership (every one on the team is responsible for the whole codebase and allowed to modify every line of it). It is this mix of proven techniques taken to the extreme and new approaches presented in the book that Beck claims creates a special synergy which leads to a more successful and less strenuous software development process. The author puts forward very convincing arguments for why and how these synergetic effects occur and presents his personal experience using XP on one team as supporting anecdotal evidence. The book is written in an easily readable style and contains lots of sometimes funny anecdotes and quotes. And although it obviously is about the author's pet idea I didn't find it preaching, but rather refreshingly enthusiastic and energetic.

Unfortunately I have to admit that I haven't yet personally experienced all XP techniques in practice, main reasons being that it's very hard to convince management of it's merits ("What?! Two programmers on one keyboard?! No way!") and to get all team members willing to try something new. Maybe if they'd all read this book it would be easier...

In the unlikely event that the ideas don't intrigue you, you still have to buy this book to know what all the hype and controversy is about.