Making the Next Wave in the Agile World – Finding the Kernel of Software Engineering

The 6th annual Agile China was held in Beijing from September 1 – 3, 2011. Agile China is a summit of agile world enthusiasts gathering in China. For the past five years, it’s attracted world-class agile experts, such as Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, Dave Thomas, James Grenning, and Mary Poppendieck et al, and tens of  thousands of attendees across China and overseas. It represents the highest level of development and adoption of agile development in China.

This year’s conference proved to be another successful event. The three-day event was packed by some 700 attendees. The conference was opened by Mr. Wang Jun, General Secretary of China System and Software Process Improvement Association, the host of the conference, and keynote by Linda Rising, the authour of “Fearless Change”, followed by parallel sessions on agile training camp, agile new trend, and agile testing and quality control. People gathered to share their experience and to explore new ideas and  trends. The conference atmosphere was full of energy and excitement. Particularly, I truly enjoyed the free style of discussions and presentations – in a real agile spirit.

Making the Next Wave in the Agile World – Finding the Kernel of Software EngineeringAgile software development has made a huge impact and has been quite successful in the industry for the past decade. Building on the principles of agile, the presentation of “The future of agile development: a light weight software engineering kernel” given by Dr. Panwei Ng, the Principal Consultant and the Asia-Pacific CTO of Ivar Jacobson International, made the next wave in the agile world. Dr. Ng’s talk was part of an invited speech on New Agile Trends.

Dr. Ng introduced a new way of making agile systematic and scaleable, through the use of alpha state cards. He also demonstrated case studies representing small to large projects. Dr. Ng's speech was humorous and engaging. He started his talk by saying that he has lost 20 kilograms in 3 months, and has maintained the weight ever since. So he felt he is qualified to talk about lean and reducing waste. The room was packed by a curious audience who were eager to know the concept of “software engineering kernel”.
The concept of kernel is at the heart of Semat – Software Engineering Method and Theory, an initiative launched in December 2009 by Ivar Jacobson, Bertrand Meyer, and Richard Soley. ( 

Dr. Ng is a member of Semat China Executive Committee. He explained the concept of Kernel which is  “A common kernel of underlying concepts and principles applicable across all methods that may be used to define various practices.” To further elaborate the concept, the kernel includes the essence, pervasive concepts and qualities of software engineering – the common ground – Irrespective of code, software system, solution, methods, and organization. They are always prevalent in any software endeavors, for example, Work, Team, Requirements, Software System, Way of working, Stakeholders, and Opportunity.

Dr. Ng discussed how the kernel is presented in a lightweight manner in the form of cards and guidelines. It is simple to learn and yet very powerful and embodies the spirit of lean and agile development. Very vividly, he was like a magician when he showed how these tiny, yet succinct but extremely powerful cards help software development become systematic and scalable to large projects.

The concept is that state cards are building blocks to help teams become systematic, help teams scale, help teams collaborate better, and help teams mature in their practices. Alpha state cards compact the essence of software development into a small deck of cards that fit into your pocket. You use it to drive iterations, plan projects, assign work, design teams, and so on. It is a simple but extremely powerful tool for your development team and organization.

Examples of State Cards

Making the Next Wave in the Agile World – Finding the Kernel of Software Engineering

Examples of the state cards with each card includes alpha name, alpha state name, and alpha state indicator, which are shown above.  Dr. Ng showed how to take concrete steps towards using them. He explained that this is achieved by overlaying further checkpoints, guidance and examples on top of state cards. The state cards being visible to the team on a daily basis bring the new practices to effect quickly.

Making the Next Wave in the Agile World – Finding the Kernel of Software Engineering

Dr. Ng's presentation on the use of cards to demonstrate and apply the concepts of kernel, alpha, and state in real projects was an eye-opening experience for the audience and generated an overwhelming response after the talk. People rushed to the IIJ booth and asked for sample cards and how to get further information. Finding and apply the software engineering kernel has made the next wave in the agile world.