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Agilistry, practice space for Agile software development

Elisabeth Hendrickson and her colleagues with Quality Tree Software have announced the opening of Agilistry, their 'immersive training space' in Pleasanton California.

I've been following Elisabeth's announcements along the way to making this happen, and from what I can tell, the Agilistry facility is set up as real agile working space... except conceived and designed from the ground up by some of the most intelligent, experienced agile practitioners in the world today.

When I think of "training space" for software, I think of a trainer behind a podium with a whiteboard and a projector and some handouts, with trainees sitting at tables facing the podium.

This isn't that. Agilistry isn't training space at all; Agilistry is *practice* space. It even says so on the web site: "Agilistry Studio; a practice space for Agile software development"

And I'll bet that not many people know how to use a practice space.

For beginners, practice space is expensive but very possibly worth it. Say for instance that management informs your development organization that next month you will be "going agile". They're going to dismantle your cubicles, bring in some tables and whiteboards and index cards and sticky notes, and they expect your productivity to soar.

As a beginner, your first responsibility is do your research, improve your skills, set some reasonable goals, that sort of thing. But if you are going to be thrown into the soup anyway, it might be a good investment to get as good a start as you can. A beginner team at Agilistry won't be able to take advantage of (or even recognize) the more sophisticated aspects of what Agilistry is offering, but getting off on the right foot could very well mean the difference between success and failure. Having the Quality Tree staff available in such a well-designed space would be a huge boost to a beginner team. If nothing else, Agilistry can prevent beginners from having to rearrange the furniture every day until they get a good configuration.

Practice space is critical for intermediate groups. Intermediate groups have enough experience to have gotten some taste of success, but still need to adjust, and practice, and analyze, and adjust, and practice... Because intermediate groups have had some success, they are often under intense scrutiny. A practice space is a place where the group can go by themselves to work slowly, do a lot of analysis, make a lot of mistakes, and correct them, or at least protect themselves from making the same mistakes again and again. This is the biggest stumbling block I see for intermediate groups: so many of them retreat to a practice space only to make the same mistakes in the same way, sometimes without even recognizing that they are making mistakes. I see having the guidance of the people from Quality Tree available to help intermediate groups is the best value Agilistry offers.

Advanced groups have the skill and experience to learn new concepts and implement new practices instantaneously in the course of their work. For advanced groups, the value of practice space comes when one project ends and another begins. As long as the team is stable and the goals are well-known, an advanced group can implement new ideas on the fly, without really needing practice space so much. But when the goals are met and the project ends, and it comes time to start a new project or to gather a new team, having a separate practice space to repair to for planning and practice is invaluable.

Finally, a practice space provides a community. Groups move in and out, groups meet each other, groups exchange information about what they work on while they practice. Over time, a practice space can generate an entire "scene" of groups that know and respect each others' work. Knowing Elisabeth and Quality Tree, I have a feeling that will happen.

We musicians know all about practice space. Beginners have to rearrange the furniture in the garage. Intermediate musicians scrimp to rent a smelly soundproof room in a warehouse somewhere. A touring band can rent or borrow an empty club stage. Sting rents a fully-supplied medieval castle in France for the whole group, but only for a few weeks until the band goes on tour. I've rented every kind of practice space you can imagine, from dingy rooms carved out of warehouses to fully-equipped stages. Having a "practice space for Agile software development" fits right into my notions about how proper software development should be supported: the more the agile development environment resembles the ecosystem that supports the performing arts, the better performers that environment will produce.

Congratulations Elisabeth and Agilistry!

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