Is Agile right for fixing performance issues?

storm coming

I was sifting through the CTO school email list recently, and the discussion of performance tuning came up. One manager had posted asking how to organize sprints, and break down stories for the process.

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Another CTO chimed in with a response…

“Agile is not right for fixing performance issues.”

I agree with him & here’s why.

1. Agile roadblocks

At a very high level, agile seeks to organize work around sprints of a few weeks, and sets of stories within those sprints. The assumption here is that you have a set of identified issues. With software development, you have features you’re building. With performance tuning, it’s all about investigation.

How long will it take to solve the crime? Very good question!

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2. Reproduce problem

Are you seeing general site slowness? Is there a particular feature that loads extremely slowly? Or is there a report that runs forever? Whatever it is, you must first be able to reproduce it. If it’s general site slowness, identify when it is happening.

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3. Search for bottlenecks

Once you’ve reproduced your problem, next you want to start digging. Looking at logfiles can help you find errors, such as timeouts. The database has a slow query log, which you’ll definitely want to review. Slow queries can be surfaced by new code deploys, or middleware in front of your database, such as an ORM.

If you find your logfiles aren’t enabled, it’s a good first step to turn them on. Also look at how you’re caching. The browser should be directed to cache, assets should be on CDN, a page cache should protect your application server, and an object cache in front of your database.

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4. Find the root cause

As you dig deeper into your problem, you’ll likely uncover the root of your scalability problem. Likely causes include synchronous, serial or locking processes & requests, object relational modelers, lack of caching or new code that has not been tuned well.

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5. Optimize

This is what I think of as the fun part. You’ve measured the issues, found the problem. Now it’s time to fix it. This is an exciting moment, to bring real benefit to the business. Eliminating a performance problem can feel like springtime at the end of a long cold winter!

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