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On Migration, Form, and Agility

by on March 17, 2010

In the process of migrating some of my content to the WordPress format specifically and the blogging paradigm more generally, I have the occasion to meditate on how I use or think of migration, of form, and of agility.

I am testing and proving to myself both my interest in the blogging paradigm and the mutual fit of my interests and my skills as a writer with the blogging format. As a professional writer and open source software developer of some fifteen years, I have a tremendous backlog of extant writing and software as well as many thoughts and idiomatic expressions that are well formed and at hand. After putting so much time into a craft, the tools are wielded handily; one can play rigorously and one can engage in working through or thinking through “higher order” questions or interests. One can adapt to and collaborate with both the task at hand and with others who one is working with.

Migration always involves some kind of transformation, and rather than treat this opportunity as an occassion to merely port or repurpose content, I’d rather use it as a way to rethink and articulate anew some of my understanding. Every occasion is a chance to distill and hone accrued understanding and wisdom. By migration I mean the moving of an existing artifact to a new format or paradigm. By using the word “form”, I am simply emphasizing that principles of form and shape are of concern at every level.

Agility or “agile” is a term of art in software development that has some larger usefulness. Agility as a concept encompasses adroitness and flexibility as well as a concern for form and a kind of ease or lightness with which artifacts are wielded. For those not initiated into the use of the word “agile” in the context of software development, it might simply be likened to a pragmatic approach.  I have much more to say about pragmatism but I will defer that exposition until after I follow through a little more on the promise implied in the title of this post.

Now that I have made some small attempt to clarify and to establish something of a context for migration, form and agility, it is perhaps time to discuss why I’ve combined them and what my purpose is for doing so. I am attempting define what I think the essence of agility is and I’m using the occasion of a migration of content and the adoption of a new format for content as an opportunity to do that. But why form? Why the emphasis on form?

Form is the shape or structure that an artifact or idea takes. Is the form, structure and language of an artifact a mere bridge to an underlying content? Is the form merely a means of presentation? Or is form inseperable from content? Pragmatically, I would articulate an answer to this question from the other direction. A thought or an idea is inseperable from the form and context in which it is expressed. And the form-content is always collaborative, whether one is aware of the collaborative basis of all artifacts or not.

The essence of agile methodology in my opinion is explicitly collaborative and rapid evolution or development. How collaboration is fostered and maintained is another matter. Specific forms for collaboration are necessary, and those forms themselves are subject to agile adaptation. For example, one form of agile development that Phosphene uses, which is a kind of distributed agile development, leans heavily on distributed forms of and tools for communcation and collaboration. An emphasis can in this case is placed upon the ability to communicate through the written word and through the use of video conferencing and conversation and even email.

Phosphene, for example, has successfully used a distributed agile methodology on some major projects in which some extremely talented individuals were tapped who not only had the necessary techinical skills but who were also skilled at rapid and iterative written communication. A distributed agile methodology, in our experience in fact, scales well and performs as well as a team in which every member sits in the same room. Distributed agile of course has its own necessary adaptations and forms, and like any agile methodology it has to be tested, proved and iterated over quickly.

An explicit meditation on, or awareness of, form is another essence of agile methodology. Forms must be adaptable if they are foster rapid and reliable collaborative development. And a necessary if seemingly obvious part of adaptability is the awareness of form as form, of form as a choice. It sounds and seems obvious that an awareness of form is essential to the development of any art or science, but the realization that form can be an explicit choice is something that still needs to be emphasized. If form is not explicitly recognized as something that can and needs to adapt or prove itself, then form is fixed and is simply not adaptable. If any business person wants to know only one thing about why an agile methodology is a welcome change and not just another fad or scrap of jargon, it is exactly the awareness of the conventions of software development and process as a form that makes a difference. If we are not aware of conventions as form and if certain conventions seem to be “the way things are” then there is no awareness of nor possibility of adaptation or development.

It is fitting, therefore, to bring up the subject of form in the context of migration because any developed or working artifact can seem dauntingly difficult to change, migrate, or adapt. It would help of course if an original or working artifact was designed with adaptation and explicit awareness of form and convention in mind. However, in the wild, as any working developer or business person knows, the majority of existent artifacts have not been designed with enough of an awareness of form or of rapid adaptation in mind. In those cases, a specific agile methodology for migration needs to be developed, tested, and proved. In fact, those specific methodologies have been developed at Phosphene and I will write about it in a following post.

If I have demonstrated or managed to think through the interdependence of migration, form, and agility in this post, then I have established some basis on which to further develop more thoughts and iterations.

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From → Agile Process

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