few diary entries ago, Skud asked what
was so "extreme" about XP. This is a
partial answer to that question. I'm putting it here
and making it more general because others might be
This was useful for me because I've been interested in
software development theory for a long time now, despite not
having formally studied software engineering apart from one
ill-fated semester which constituted my lowest mark in my
computer science degree. Putting things into words makes
you see just how much you understand (or don't understand,
as the case may be) something.
Extreme Programming is a bit like design
patterns, refactoring, programming
on purpose, or Unix for that matter. It seems so
much like common sense. However, there are two realities
at work here.
The first is Henry Spencer's principle:
Those who do not understand Unix are
condemned to reinvent it, poorly.
The principle extends to a lot of things beside Unix. In
general, good practice requires good theory. If we don't
have a good reason to do something, we might as well be
doing something else instead. Software engineering is no
different. From the point of view of the developer, IMO the
most important legacy of The
Cathedral and the Bazaar is that it tried to explain
for the first time why bazaar development works.
Once we know that, we can decide what bits are important,
what bits aren't important and what experimentation might be
fruitful. XP is no different. It may look like common
sense, but in reality, it ain't so common. We need to
understand it so that we aren't condemned to reinvent common
The second reality is that medium- and large-scale
software development in the Real World(tm) of deadlines and
budgets requires justification to those who hold the
schedules and the purse strings. Giving common sense a name
and a series of papers and books makes it easier to justify
to the PHBs. This goes doubly for the quality accreditation
world (e.g. ISO 9000 and its relatives), where it's not so
important what big-M Methodology you use, but the fact that
that you use one at all. It puts you that one crucial step
above ad hoc in the eyes of the professional
So why is it Extreme? It's extreme because it carries
principles which are well-known and considered common-sense
in the formal software development world and takes them to
extremes. XP literature often admits that they may appear
almost too simple. Well, they are simple. They are,
however, implemented to extremes.
Let's look at a few examples.
- We all know that design is a good thing. We've
been taught that good design includes doing a big design up
front so that the code falls out naturally. XP teaches that
design is so good that we should do it all the time. Only
when you have working code can you truly tell how it should
be internally structured. The principle is called Refactor
- We all know that code reviews are a good thing.
We've been taught that you should get someone else to look
over your code before it gets checked in. XP teaches that
code reviews are so good that we should do it all the time.
In fact, programmers should work together. This principle
is called Pair
- We know that talking to the customer is a good thing.
XP teaches that it's so good that we should get a customer
to sit with the development team throughout the course of
the project. This principle is called Onsite
- We know that adding people to a late project makes it
later. This is one of Brooks' laws from The Mythical Man
Month. XP teaches that adding time to a programmer's
week makes the project later too. XP defines OverTime as the
time spent working that makes a programmer less productive
in the long term. OverTime is banned in XP.
We in the open source community know a lot of this
already, even if we can't articulate it. XP comprises a lot
of bazaar principles such as Collective
Code Ownership, Continuous
Integration and Frequent
Releases. But there are other principles, such as Pair
Programming and Onsite Customer, which rely on proximity of
developers and customers. While bazaar developers probably
can't make use of these, open source companies should read
As always, this is IMHO and YMMV, but I hope this helps
answer the question.