How to be Agile when writing your Master Thesis

  • You will find out how being agile helps getting the most out of academic work.
  • You will read about a concrete example from a recent master thesis, that can inspire both students and supervisors to try some agile practices.
  • You will be provided with interesting pointers along the way.

Part I: From software professionals to academia

An iconic article from the history of agile from 1986. Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, states that Scrum was directly modeled after this paper.

Part II: Do you need a manifesto for being agile?

If you are too lazy to read all principles in a new manifesto, I would recommend performing a simple diff to see the differences to the original manifesto.

Part III: What are the benefits of being agile in the research context?

  • Faster time to academic market: as in the industry, if you have a good idea or a good approach, then you need to be fast in delivering that to the community by different means.
  • Increased academic value: If you prioritize your work based on the value, and incrementally deliver results, you would ensure that academia and eventually the society will receive the greatest value out of your efforts.
  • Reduced waste: Iterative research, short iterations, and faster feedback will reduce the risk of waste in your work.
  • Better quality: Although quality can be interpreted in different ways, continuous and relentless improvement in the process and ensuring close collaboration of researchers and applying technical stakeholders will result in better quality regardless of your definition of good quality research.

Part IV: A good example from a very recent Master thesis

The Quality of Life technologies lab, founded and headed by Katarzyna Wac (fourth from the left), conducts research at the University of Copenhagen, University of Geneva, and Stanford University.
  • Small cross-functional team: team of five, combining skills in theory and practice
  • Iterative development: pulling work into iterations of two weeks — not planning everything upfront
  • Virtual Kanban board: visualizing the status of work items in an iteration (they used Trello as a free solution)
A virtual board with states Backlog (not pulled into iteration), ToDo (pulled into the current iteration), Doing (work items in progress), Blocked, and Done.
  • Sized work items: relative estimation for work items (they used story points and agile poker)
The team used the original (not modified) Fibonacci Sequence for relatively sizing the work items. And to do that, you do not need any fancy cards or apps, just use standard cards (ace, 2, 3, 5, 8) and overload King as 13, Joker as 21 (or infinity). From left to right: Mads Schnoor Hansen, Jamshed Gill, Vlad Manea (co-supervisor). Ece Elbeyi and Katarzyna Wac (supervisor) were also part of the team, though they are missing in the picture.
  • Technical excellence: white board discussions around architecture, XP practices such as pair programming, different levels of testing
A state machine annotated with data security details.
System design.

Retrospective

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Ender Yuksel

Ender Yuksel

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Computer scientist passionate about continuous learning, agile leadership, and human side of technology. Works for SimCorp as a development manager.