Getting Started with Extreme Programming

Extreme Programming combines several practices into a well-defined software process. The goal of XP is to deliver features to the end user as fast as possible. Some of the practices are focused on quality, some on maintaining releasability, some on development speed and some on planning.

XP may seem daunting to you at first because it’s probably very different from how you work now. It’s also common for development teams to doubt the benefits of some of the practices and resist adopting them. Therefore, when getting started with XP, you will find it easier to migrate there in small changes, each one building upon the last and gaining confidence and trust in the process the whole way. If some of the practices aren’t right for your organization, you can still benefit from the others.

There are three XP practices which are easy to adopt and will provide immediate benefit. In addition, they don’t rely on other practices.

The first, Coding Standard, simply states that you should have a consistent naming and formatting convention for your code. Many organizations already do this and some languages (Java, Eiffel, C#) already have recommended coding standards. Your coding standard should not only be internally consistent, but also consistent with industry norms. This practice enables the Metaphor and Common Code Ownership practices.

The next, Unit Testing, is far less commonly used in non-XP shops, but no other XP practice is as easy to adopt and has as much immediate benefit as it does. Even if you are skeptical of XP, I highly recommend that you try Unit Testing and I will be spending a lot of time in this blog discussing why. Unit Testing enables Refactoring, Simple Design, Common Code Ownership, Continuous Integration, and other good practices.

Lastly, instituting Daily Builds will make your functional testing and deployment more consistent. This is also easy to adopt and has many obvious benefits. This practice enables Continuous Integration, Small Releases, and Customer Tests practices.

XP practices work best when combined, but it’s better to be successful at using some of them than fail when trying to use them all at once.

Once you’ve mastered these, pick among the enabled practices to take your process further. Practices focused on getting code to users will be most beneficial (Continuous Integration, Simple Design and Small Releases).