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Extreme Programming Refactored: The Case Against XP by Matt Stephens, Doug Rosenberg

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<pre>Author/s : Matt Stephens, Doug Rosenberg
Publisher : APress
Category : Project management, Process and Best Practices
Review by : Ilja Preuss
Rating : 2 horseshoes
</pre>
Trying to show the shortcomings of XP in a satirical way and proposing changes to make it less fragile is a noble goal, and this book has some points to make. Its vast majority is composed of misunderstandings and logical fallacies, though.
Many XP practices are violently misrepresented. The "thorough analysis" promised on the front cover often comes down to quoting an XP proponent out of context and making fun of it. One of the most ridiculous examples is when they quote Ron Jeffries with "'There must be food' is a core XP principle" and then hold XP responsible for the vermin problem of a company.
Another common pattern is the reference to a project which failed to implement XP followed by the conclusion that XPs demands are unrealistic. Reports of successful implementations are with a handwaving attributed to not doing XP by the book.
The style of the book is questionable, too. At times its tone is quite aggressive - ideas are called "idiotic", XP proponents are accused of intellectual dishonesty. Quotes of XPers are marked with a picture of Marx Groucho, so that you don't accidentally take them seriously. I don't think that satire is good in making someone understand a new concept; satire based on an already distorted view feels painfully pointless.
If you have already made up your mind about XP and enjoy making fun of it, you might like this book. I can't recommend it to anyone interested in a serious criticism, though.


More info at Amazon.com
More info at Amazon.co.uk
Thomas Paul
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This is a book that has been getting very good reviews. I think someone not sold body and soul to XP might give a different type of review.


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Al Newman
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Agreed, Tom. I haven't read the book but haven't seen the worse piece of hackery get below 4 horseshoes on this forum. The website one of the authors maintains is very good.
This can be a religious issue. It reminds me of the Amazon page of the Bjorn Lomborg book The Skeptical Environmentalist, whose Amazon reviews seem divided between 5 stars and 1 star depending upon where the reviewer's preconcieved ideas fell. Committed xP'ers will mostly hate this book & xP iconoclasts will probably love it.
Peoplesoft fans like myself feel torn. I love some of the ideals behind xP but dislike the dogmatic spirit of many of it's advocates.
xP is an attractive philosophy but there are some rough spots to it. It tends to justify management sticking programmers in some of the most awful Siberia-like open-plan workspaces (like the one I'm working in now) under the justification that they're 'xP'. Somehow the 40 hour week seems to have been overlooked.....
[ December 08, 2003: Message edited by: Alfred Neumann ]

SCJP1.4, SCWCD
Ilja Preuss
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
This is a book that has been getting very good reviews.

Yes, as well as some not so good ones.
I think someone not sold body and soul to XP might give a different type of review.

Certainly.
On the other hand, I borrowed the book from a coworker whom I'd characterize as an "interested sceptic". He bought it because of a good review in a magazine, but was very disappointed. He stopped reading it after a view chapters because he couldn't stand it any longer. (He will be selling it on ebay.de this week, by the way, should someone be interested.)
And - as you might have noticed from discussions at the Ranch - I am actually quite interested in good criticisms on XP. I read "Questioning Extreme Programming" with great interest and look forward to reading Boehms "Balancing Agility and Discipline".
I think that good criticism is something XP and the Agile community only can prosper from. If anyone thinks that this book has to offer something in this regard, I'd really be interested in a discussion.
[ December 08, 2003: Message edited by: Ilja Preuss ]

The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny - it is the light that guides your way. - Heraclitus
Ilja Preuss
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Originally posted by Alfred Neumann:
I haven't read the book but haven't seen the worse piece of hackery get below 4 horseshoes on this forum.

I recently gave "Extreme Programming with Ant" 4 horseshoes because I found that it was just below an intermediate book in quality. This book is much worse in both content and style.
I don't know what books you are referring too, but "XP Refactored" *is* the worst IT book *I* have ever read.
The website one of the authors maintains is very good.

I guess you are referring to http://www.softwarereality.com/ExtremeProgramming.jsp - in which case you might actually enjoy the book.
I would really be interested in knowing what you like about it. I could fill books about why I don't like it (don't worry - it won't happen! ).
This can be a religious issue.

But I don't think it has to be. It could be controversial without getting religious, or so I'd hope.
Committed xP'ers will mostly hate this book & xP iconoclasts will probably love it.

"Hate" is to strong a word for me.
I love some of the ideals behind xP but dislike the dogmatic spirit of many of it's advocates.

Yes, there are certainly some XPers who go a little bit overboard in their enthusiasm. Additionally, some of the "dogmatism" actually is born out of the need to communicate to those who think that they are doing XP because they write a unit test now and then and dropped drawing UML diagrams and writing specification documents. Also, the simple desire to "drive things to the extremes" just to see wether something usefull happens may often be perceived as dogmatism. In my experience, many of the XP proponents are actually quite pragmatic on a second look.

xP is an attractive philosophy but there are some rough spots to it. It tends to justify management sticking programmers in some of the most awful Siberia-like open-plan workspaces (like the one I'm working in now) under the justification that they're 'xP'. Somehow the 40 hour week seems to have been overlooked.....

Seriously, would you trust your management to *not* misuse a different methodology? Which one would that be? Can you really blame XP for people who don't really care about doing it?
Pradeep bhatt
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Ilja
So you got a chance to review books.
Keep up the good work!


Groovy
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:
Yes, as well as some not so good ones.
One 1-star review from Ron Jeffries (hardly a surprise). Two 2-star reviews. 10 5-star reviews.
Ilja Preuss
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
One 1-star review from Ron Jeffries (hardly a surprise).

I wasn't surprised, either, though probably because of other reasons. By the way, you can read his detailed review at http://www.xprogramming.com/xpmag/books20030904.htm
Two 2-star reviews. 10 5-star reviews.

Yes, correct. There are certainly several ways to interprete this fact.
One reason might be that not everyone is deterred from the style of this book. For example, I've read of some XPers who actually enjoyed the "Songs of the Extremos" (also featured on the website mentioned above). Others were imitating them on the XP list, making fun of the authors of the book. Personally, I didn't find either of them to be very funny, but rather platitudinous. And what's more important, I don't think they belong into a book which is supposed to teach you something. YMMV.
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:
And what's more important, I don't think they belong into a book which is supposed to teach you something. YMMV.

I suppose one could make the same argument about "Head First Java". But I think that was my point. The person who is least able to give a fair review of this book is one who strongly believes in the sacred cow of XP. This book attacks that sacred cow. I think you might have mentioned in your review that you are a strong proponent of XP.
Michael Ernest
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I don't see any need for a reviewer to qualify a review with their own biases. The review, as I read it, gives concrete examples to each objection and points to elements of the book the reviewer clearly dislikes. Bias is implied by taking time to say, in paraphrase, "I'm just one reviewer, you might certainly see it differently."
Since I'm near a good bookstore for techies this week, I'll probably go check this one out. But I have to say Ilja's got my attention. If the joking is juvenile and the arguments have no stronger premise than derision, I'd be disinclined to pay it much attention.


Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.
- Robert Bresson
Ilja Preuss
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
I suppose one could make the same argument about "Head First Java".

Perhaps - I didn't take a look at it yet.
But I am actually not objecting to the use of songs in general, but to the use of songs to make fun of XP. If they had been used to underline some *constructive* points, it could have been interessting... (Examples of the songs can be found at http://www.softwarereality.com/lifecycle/xp/extremers.jsp )
Ilja Preuss
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
I don't see any need for a reviewer to qualify a review with their own biases. The review, as I read it, gives concrete examples to each objection and points to elements of the book the reviewer clearly dislikes. Bias is implied by taking time to say, in paraphrase, "I'm just one reviewer, you might certainly see it differently."

Thanks - I really tried hard to be as concrete as possible so that the reader could make up his own mind. (Not very easy with only 250 words )

Since I'm near a good bookstore for techies this week, I'll probably go check this one out.

I would be *really* interested in your (and everyone's else) opinion on this...
If the joking is juvenile

Well, at least some of the songs *have* to be, as they were (co-)written by one of the authors sons...
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
I don't see any need for a reviewer to qualify a review with their own biases.
I think due to the subject nature of this book, one should note that they are a strong proponent of XP when giving their review.
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:
But I am actually not objecting to the use of songs in general, but to the use of songs to make fun of XP.
So songs to make fun of other things are OK but not when they attack XP? Sort of the way that a Christian would object to a song mocking the crucifixion?
Mapraputa Is
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I think, it's a fair review. Clearly, this is only one person's opinion, like all our reviews are. Should Ilja have said "I am a strong proponent of XP, so..." - I doubt it. Maybe Ilja is a "strong proponent", I don't know, but he wasn't noticed in bigotry so far, and this "confession" could give a wrong idea.
Readers are free to make their own (different) opinions about a book that employs "idiotic" epithet, for example.
By the way, Ilja, if you have a longer version, we can publish it in this forum while keeping "bunkhouse" version short (there were precedents).
[ December 08, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]

Uncontrolled vocabularies
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Michael Ernest
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
So songs to make fun of other things are OK but not when they attack XP? Sort of the way that a Christian would object to a song mocking the crucifixion?

The Vatican Rag, by Tom Lehrer
------------------------------
First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your heads with great respect and
Genuflect! genuflect! genuflect!
Do whatever steps you want if
You have cleared them with the pontiff
Everybody say his own kyrie leison,
Doin' the Vatican Rag!
Get in line in that processional
Step into that small confessional
There the guy who's got religion'll
Tell you if your sin's original
If it is, try playin' it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer!
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!
So you get down on your knees
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your heads with great respect and
Genflect! genuflect! genuflect!
Make a cross on your ab-do-men
When in Rome do like a Roman
Ave Maria! (Gee it's good to see ya!)
Gettin' ecstatic, and sorta dramatic
And doin' the Vatican Rag!
Translation: If it's funny, it's funny.
Michael Ernest
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Every sperm is sacred,
Ever sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite irate.
The difference is, XP is not religion, no matter how much some snotty young 'uns with their fancy degrees and 4 years of industry experience might jump on it. Whatever the European fascination is with trying to equate dogged consistency with high quality, there's a very reasonable, if sometimes misguided, exercise towards applying standards to software production. I'm about as receptive to XP as I am to ISO, largely for its attempt to portray a lot of common sense as a 'best practice.'
So what I would pay for is a book that shows, in credible, reasonable, and persuasive terms, how XP misses the mark, maybe even badly. A book that says XP is stupid and prints a song lauding such would be a waste of time, and I'd thank the reviewer for pointing that out.
That said, I think Ilja shows good form for at least trying to read a book that he knows is going to dump on something that matters to him. Maybe it's me getting old and creaky, but I know I don't go out looking for a lot of irritating opinionation in my reading anymore. If Ilja can do that for me, more power to him.
[ December 08, 2003: Message edited by: Michael Ernest ]
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:
The difference is, XP is not religion,
It apparently is to its practicioners who get all upset when one mocks their sacred cows.
Ilja Preuss
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
It apparently is to its practicioners who get all upset when one mocks their sacred cows.

With all love and respect, I want to remind you on how upset you were about "UML for Java Programmers" - which didn't even contain any mockery.
I am not very upset about the mockery, I just don't think it mixes well with constructive criticism. As I tried to say in the conclusion of the review, if your main interest is in mockery, by all means go for the book!
Ilja Preuss
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Originally posted by Mapraputa Is:
By the way, Ilja, if you have a longer version, we can publish it in this forum while keeping "bunkhouse" version short (there were precedents).

In fact, I was already thinking about giving some more elaborate examples of what I think is good and bad about the book. I won't find the time before tomorrow evening, though. (It will be more elaborate then my original text, which was around 350 words.)
Ilja Preuss
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Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
So songs to make fun of other things are OK but not when they attack XP?

Songs to make fun of XP are totally OK (wether I like them or not). I just don't think that making fun of something helps in understanding it - it rather tends to distort the view. Therefore I don't think it's well placed in a book which is supposed to be a constructive criticism.
BTW, http://www.xpexaggerated.com/ contains some "making fun of XP" I actually can enjoy...
Thomas Paul
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Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:
Songs to make fun of XP are totally OK (wether I like them or not). I just don't think that making fun of something helps in understanding it - it rather tends to distort the view. Therefore I don't think it's well placed in a book which is supposed to be a constructive criticism.
And why do you think the book is supposed to be constructive criticism?
The book description says, Extreme Programming Refactored: The Case Against XP (featuring Songs of the Extremos) takes a satirical look at the increasingly hyped Extreme Programming methodology. It explores some quite astonishing Extremo quotes that have typified the XP approach� quotes such as, �XPers are not afraid of oral documentation,� �Schedule is the customer�s problem,� �Dependencies between requirements are more a matter of fear than reality� and �Concentration is the Enemy.�"
A satirical look...
The book is obviously not supposed to be taken overly seriously but as an XPer you can't seem to take it any other way.
I would also remind you that you were the one that started defending Bob Martin after my review. I was not upset about the book. I gave it a bad review because it misled the reader about what it was about. Plus the fact that it was poorly written, did not stay on topic, and had more than 50 pages of Java code in a book that was supposed to explain how to use UML.
I am not defending XP Refactored since I have not read it. I am merely stating the obvious fact that your review is biased because of your strong views about XP; views that should have been mentioned in the review. By the way, thanks for the $20. I had a side bet with a friend that if you ever reviewed the book you would give it one star.
[ December 09, 2003: Message edited by: Thomas Paul ]
Al Newman
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Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:

But I am actually not objecting to the use of songs in general, but to the use of songs to make fun of XP. If they had been used to underline some *constructive* points, it could have been interessting... (Examples of the songs can be found at http://www.softwarereality.com/lifecycle/xp/extremers.jsp )

I just went and looked. A little Beatle-centric, but some of the songs are side-splitting! The Long and Winding Thread:
The long and winding thread
Leads me straight
To your code
<....>
Many times I've read your code
And many times I've cried
I wish I had a diagram
Because my brain is fried

That takes me back to a 1996 project where I was plucked from development and sent 4000 miles over an ocean to do pre-alpha support for a couple of systems. The docs weren't remotely finished so I ended up troubleshooting problems largely by reading the source code and working out what it was doing. Not necessarily xP-specific, that song is for anyone who has been forced to repeatedly peer through volumes of source code written by the clueless.
The Imagine send up skewers xP perfectly. Admit it. Great satire isn't kind or fair, just side-splittingly funny. Big Projects Got No Reason to Live??? Too true! I'm on one now....
Al Newman
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Originally posted by Michael Ernest:

The Vatican Rag, by Tom Lehrer
------------------------------

The boy is obviously a Catholic. Only a fellow mackerel-snapper could write a song like that one. Reminds me of George Carlin's comedy album Class Clown.
How about you Michael?
Lasse Koskela
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    5
Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
The book is obviously not supposed to be taken overly seriously but as an XPer you can't seem to take it any other way.
Reading the Amazon.com reviews, the general perception of the book is "take this overly seriously, it tells you the absolute truth about the XP hype". I haven't read the book either so I really cannot comment on it (it was on my wishlist until I read the reviews).
For a more constructive criticism, I can heartily recommend
  • Balancing Agility and Discipline by Barry Boehm, Richard Turner, and
  • Agile and Iterative Development by Craig Larman


  • Author of Test Driven (2007) and Effective Unit Testing (2013) [Blog] [HowToAskQuestionsOnJavaRanch]
    Thomas Paul
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    Originally posted by Lasse Koskela:
    Reading the Amazon.com reviews, the general perception of the book is "take this overly seriously, it tells you the absolute truth about the XP hype".
    Probably from people who have been burned by the XP hype.
    Michael Ernest
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    Originally posted by Alfred Neumann:

    The boy is obviously a Catholic...
    How about you Michael?

    To quote Steven Sweeney: "The great thing about being raised Catholic is it gives you something to work out for the rest of your life."
    Lasse Koskela
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        5
    Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
    Probably from people who have been burned by the XP hype.
    Could be. But my initial feeling was that those reviews came from people who have never tried it for real.
    I know I have been burned while doing XP practices, but not nearly as bad as when I wasn't doing them. I'll consider myself lucky and will constantly remind myself of re-evaluating each project for XP/no-XP type-of decisions...
    HS Thomas
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    Originally posted by Lasse Koskela:
    Could be. But my initial feeling was that those reviews came from people who have never tried it for real.

    The authors run a site called Software Reality

    They seem to try many things - I remember their 101 things wrong with EJBs in it's early days , some of which have been addressed now.
    regards
    [ December 09, 2003: Message edited by: HS Thomas ]
    Thomas Paul
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    Originally posted by HS Thomas:

    The authors run a site called Software Reality

    great site.. thanks HS!
    HS Thomas
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    I must add that XP makes a lot of sense... like sliced bread.
    regards
    Al Newman
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    Originally posted by Michael Ernest:

    To quote Steven Sweeney: "The great thing about being raised Catholic is it gives you something to work out for the rest of your life."

    Give your children mental blocks for Christmas and all that, eh?
    Guilt: The gift that keeps on giving.....
    montague smith
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    Interestingly, their book does include a lot of constructive criticism - so it seems strange to suggest otherwise.
    For example, there's a whole chapter dedicated to their "refactored" process. It takes the existing XP practices and, having analyzed their weaknesses when used together, proposes something which is more suited to more projects.
    Whether or not you agree with their refactored process is a different matter. But it is constructive. Ilja seems to be suggesting that the book is an all-out war against XP. But I finished reading it with an entirely different impression- that the authors even *like* XP to an extent, and are suggesting ways to improve it.
    Some of the language in the book (use of words like "idiotic") comes from its satirical presentation, I think.
    Just my 2c...

    Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:

    Songs to make fun of XP are totally OK (wether I like them or not). I just don't think that making fun of something helps in understanding it - it rather tends to distort the view. Therefore I don't think it's well placed in a book which is supposed to be a constructive criticism.
    Jeff Langr
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    Disclaimer: I'm an XP proponent, but more pragmatic about it than the religious zealots.
    I posted an in-depth review at Amazon that is currently one of the two feature reviews. The book *is* useful in pointing out many of the bad things that can be done with XP, and for showing how to temper some of the extreme facets of XP that might not work in your shop.
    I gave XP Refactored 2 stars, after briefly considering giving it 3. Partly because it wastes a lot of the reader's time with petty vindictiveness, which is odd because the authors admit considerable value in many of the XP practices, and their suggested agile approach could be considered "XP lite." There are also some downright dishonest statements and many uninformed ones. There is also some very bad advice (such as, programmers should sit around and do nothing while requirements are being finalized at the onset of a project). I think the book could be a 4-star book in the right hands.
    However, it is by no means a 5-star book. Most of the five-star reviews are just as clear about their religious hatred of XP as the one-star reviews are clear about their bias. I find it downright sad when a prominent industry figure (I'm not naming names here) ranks a so-so book like this with 5-stars.
    -J-


    Books: Agile Java, Modern C++ Programming with TDD, Essential Java Style, Agile in a Flash. Contributor, Clean Code.
    Ilja Preuss
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    Sorry for the delay - the last days were more laborious than expected. I promise to give your comments the concentration they deserve this weekend!
    Pradeep bhatt
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    Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:
    Sorry for the delay - the last days were more laborious than expected. I promise to give your comments the concentration they deserve this weekend!

    no problem
    Ilja Preuss
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    Originally posted by montague smith:
    Whether or not you agree with their refactored process is a different matter. But it is constructive.

    To some degree, yes, though I think there is more to being constructive than just presenting alternatives. To me being constructive also includes showing respect for the other side.
    Ilja seems to be suggesting that the book is an all-out war against XP. But I finished reading it with an entirely different impression- that the authors even *like* XP to an extent, and are suggesting ways to improve it.

    Yes, the authors seem to like parts of XP. The problem is that many of their suggestings for improvement are simply based on false assumptions. There assumptions about the execution of Pair Programming and Refactoring on a typical XP project, for example, are just off-key.
    Other suggestions are actually quite interesting, but often feel like throwing out the baby with the bath water. For example, there is a quote of a XP project which faced the problem that the User Stories as scheduled by the Customer didn't lead to a coherent system but an unsatisfying mix-up. The book suggests that they should have written a requirements document to map each requirement to a "theme".
    Some observations:
    - mapping requirements to themes is a very good idea when you face the above problem
    - not every project faces that problem, let alone needing a formal tool to fix it
    - you can easily map requirements to themes using User Stories, for example by putting colored dots on the cards or something
    - mapping requirements to themes doesn't guarantee a coherent system, early and frequent feedback is still critical
    So my advice would be: Be aware of the potential problem of an non-coherent system, and if you encounter it try wether mapping requirements to themes helps
    The advice of the book is: Write a formal requirements document, because User Stories don't work.
    Some of the language in the book (use of words like "idiotic") comes from its satirical presentation, I think.

    What is satirical about calling an idea "idiotic"?
    Ilja Preuss
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    Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
    great site.. thanks HS!

    As I wrote above: If you happen to like its content about XP, you might enjoy the book, too.
    Ilja Preuss
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    Originally posted by Thomas Paul:
    Probably from people who have been burned by the XP hype.

    Possibly. Hype certainly is something you should be wary of. If your manager comes to you and says that you must do XP because it will save your project, all I can say is "Run, you fools!"
    In my opinion, hype isn't fixed by anti-hype, though, but by reasonable discussion.
    Ilja Preuss
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    Originally posted by Lasse Koskela:
    Agile and Iterative Development by Craig Larman

    Thanks for the reminder - I will have to put it more to the top of my wish-list..
     
     
    subject: Extreme Programming Refactored: The Case Against XP by Matt Stephens, Doug Rosenberg