Archive for January, 2006

Is the agile community its’ own worst enemy?

Monday, January 30th, 2006

I was having a good laugh at the waterfall2006 site, until some stuff
started to integrate. (I had some uneasy feelings initially, but it
needed some time to sink in apparently)

I enjoyed Mary Poppendiecks’ presentation at xp2004 about crossing the chasm a
lot. Mary’s advice was to not position agile against waterfall, but
against chaos. I found that sound advice, but very hard to follow.

I gave Joel Spolsky’s “great software writing” to a friend, and he came
back to me yesterday after having read a group is its’ own worst enemy
by Clay Shirky:

The second basic pattern that Bion detailed: The identification and
vilification of external enemies. This is a very common pattern. Anyone
who was around the Open Source movement in the mid-Nineties could see
this all the time. If you cared about Linux on the desktop, there was a
big list of jobs to do. But you could always instead get a conversation
going about Microsoft and Bill Gates. And people would start bleeding
from their ears, they would get so mad.

It seems waterfall is to agile as microsoft was to open source…

So even if someone isn’t really your enemy, identifying them as an
enemy can cause a pleasant sense of group cohesion.

(second quote also from Clay Shirky )

I recently got an interview at a prospective client because of a
reference from someone on ‘the other side’ that I haven’t even met yet. When
I am getting anti-waterfall feelings, I try to remember the ‘other’
people are also striving to build better software.

Which makes us allies with different points of view, rather than enemies.

I know. I was on the ‘other’ side once. I laughed at the waterfall2006 site, because I recognized some of the mistakes I have made (and I will continue to make interesting mistakes ‘agile’ or otherwise. That’s one of my ways to learn). What about you?

It’s Alive!

Friday, January 27th, 2006

I finally completed the first increment of a  dutch website for my company Living Software. This one has been on my backlog for quite some time. The english company site will remain at

The main value I hope to get from this site, is that I noticed it isn’t clear (even to some people I know) how I work, that I have my own company and services etc – I hope this clears it up. Other value is, that I noticed not everyone that attends our courses is 100% comfortable with doing everything in english, and sinds this "agile" stuff stil is spreading slowly in the netherlands, I thought I’d give another site on coaching, training and agile in dutch a shot. (This is the third time I’m doing it. First as an employee, then at my first (shared) company and now as an independent)


screenshot of the new living software website in firefoxI was having a conversation with Marc yesterday, and he mentioned the false dichotomy between life and work
In case you’re wondering what a false dichotomy is, Pascal van Cauwenberghe recently wrote an analysis of people problem or process problem? that could serve as an example of a false dichotomy.
Making the Living Software site is an instance of how I make the distinction between life and work less and less. I’m following my passions, and make a living out of it at the same time. I enjoy writing, and I enjoy photography, so I used one of my own photographs as a background for the site title and I made the black tree I got from Nynke white so it fits better with the background.

At first I was thinking about doing the site with a (rather elaborate) CMS and link in a weblog. After evaluating textpattern, I decided to try building the whole site with that – so all pages on it have trackback, ping, and comments – a lot of my work is about making feedback loops. If feedback is good, why not have it everywhere on a site? (this weblog still hasn’t, because I’m puzzling about how to keep the links to the 140+ entries working in a new blogging engine).
 In the near future I hope to make the site more self-organizing by adding a tagsonomy to it – the articles all have permanent links, so the structure of the site can vary around that (in any combinations of sections, categories and tags).

There are still a few nits to pick, and many things I want to add, but with a couple of pieces on the background of my company and me being happy enough with the layout, I am good to go, as this site is the simplest thing that could possibly work – at least I’m getting the first value – it’s making it more obvious that I’m independent, and the name of my company is Living Software  :-) .

Waterfall 2006

Friday, January 27th, 2006

I had a good laugh about the waterfall 2006 conference conference yesterday. Stalwart Analysis: Especially The Effluvia of Determined Thought by Don Sengroiux made me remember the good old bad days at comp.object (read the names in the paper closesly :-) ). Have fun.

(Batch) Scanning index cards

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

hp officejet 4215, the ADF loaded with 7 index cards. I bought an hp officejet 4215 last week, because, as a laggard, I finally wanted to have a fax machine so I could improve turnaround time on closing some deals and starting work. I wanted to have another machine, but that was sold out, so I took this one. It has an ADF (Automated Document Feeder). I was expecting it would eat only A4 (or Letter, for those of you living on the other side of the pond). As it happens, it feasts on index cards as well (about ten index cards at a time though). As I was working with Rob on some alternative choreographies for eXperience Agile, we made a bunch of index cards with modules. To archive it and mail the results to Rob, I wanted to scan a batch of index cards. Marc suggested to show, not tell how scanned index cards work (I typed the text of the stories, acceptance criteria in alt tags, in case your aggregator doesn’t show pictures, or you can’t read my handwriting… ;-) ):
story: scan index cards. As a course organizer I want to archive index cards electronically, so that I can quickly share course layouts with colleagues elsewhere. tasks - plug officejet in - install printer & scanner driver - scan 1 page - find out if / how batch scanning works - xsane or scanimage - scanimage: - crop to index card dimensions - convert batch of pnm to jpeg

acceptance criteria - readable (as far as card itself is readable) - quick (a couple of minutes max) - do a stack of index cards at once

Installing the scanner was a no brainer ‘apt-get install sane’ (sane is the universal scanner package in linux) and printer and scanner were both autodetected.

To get value from the first story, I scanned the 17 index cards for Rob in a couple of minutes (I was doing other things meanwhile). The scanner takes about 10 cards at a time. I made two small scripts (about 4 lines in total :-) ) to cut the cards in the correct size (10×15 centimeter) and convert everything to jpeg. I chose to use ‘scanimage’, a command line tool, since that was less work than xsane (a graphical front end, more suitable for incidental scanning). I made a zip file of the cards and sent them away. That was cool.

Now I was missing one feature from a table with story cards – shuffling them around. We wanted to make three choreographies, and had made markers on the cards for that. I didn’t quite know what to use for that, so I left it for a couple of days. Then it dawned on me, that OpenOffice Impress ( a presentation package) has a slide sorter that makes it very easy to move slides around. Importing the scanned cards one by one was very cumbersome though. Time for the next story:

story - (re) Arrange Index cards - as a course organize,r I want to rearrange index cards, so I can make multiple courses from the same modules (with a small drawing of how cards could be moved) acceptance - be quick - must be possible right after scanning -> opening each image in impress takes too much time - I can save several card arrangementstasks - openoffice impress spike -> import images through menu -> too slow; -unzip document, and find out ohow images are stored - import images through irb - collect what worksi n a script - test imported images / moving around / rearranging
Messing with open office xml turned out to be a bit error prone (I didn’t bother to read the spec either. I unzipped the sample presentation I made by hand, looked where the images were and manipulated the xml with rexml ( a ruby library for working with xml as a tree representation). I still officially dislike xml, but used this way it was very simple for me to make my openoffice more valuable to me. To see how it looks and feels, you can download these stories as Impress 2.0 (OpenDocument Presentation format) or stories as PDF.

  Other ideas / backlog - index cards are handy for fleshing out presentations - now I can run the first one without messing with the slides - the script could easily be used for importing a batch of photos into a presentation
Scanned index cards are handy and fun for sharing course layouts, and possibly also for archiving user stories – with other forms of electronic storage (except digital photos, but scanned cards are easier to read) I miss the visual blips and seeing the cards makes it easier for me to relive bits of a planning meeting when necessary .

Maybe there are more applications :-) . If you’re interested in trying out the script, let me know. It might be fun to release this as open source, but I need to do some work on packaging it then – that would go best with some feedback from early users.

Against documentation (not)

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

This section reads like I’m anti-documentation, which is silly because HELLO I WRITE A WEBLOG.

I came across this quote by Michael “Rands” Lopp in Joel Spolsky’s collection The best software writing I .

So, I’m not against documentation either, since I read books ;-) . I recommend “The best software writing I”, since in theory , as Nico Mommaerts suggested, it is a nice bundle of articles, which you could read one at a time. In practice, I read a bunch of articles at a time, because they’re funny, well written and insightful. So pick this up if you want to have a good laugh if you’re interested in e.g. how many microsoft engineers it takes to switch a lightbulb, what to do when you’re screwed or how you can make your company disfunctional by setting individual bonuses.

There’s some great cartoons in it too:
They desire to be in my examples.

Come on, chunky bacon.

Chunky bacon!!

Plenty of chunky bacon to go around.

Woohoo! Chunky bacon accomplished!

And then, the dismal truth.

These cartoons are from why the lucky stiffs poignant guide to ruby. I like to step away from the screen every once in a while, lounge on an easy chair and have a good laugh (and a colleciton of urls does not look nearly as nice on my bookshelf).

Upcoming workshops at XP Day France and SPA

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

The first XP Day France is going to happen on March 23d! I’ll be running another incrementally improved Balancing Act – simple tools for feedback, communication and courage. For our french friends, it has been renamed Des outils simples pour la Communication :-) . My french is a bit rusty, so I’ve started watching TV 5 (a french tv channel) every once in a while.

At SPA2006 (the software practice advancment conference, formerly known as OT) I’ll be co-hosting two sessions with Marc Evers and Emmanuel Gaillot: Balancing Act – simple tools for feedback, communication and courage and a new session we came up with especially for the sunday on SPA, These are just some of my favourite tools

These are just some of my favourite tools is an open space session, where we invite the participants to show and/or tell one of their favourite tools, things that make (work) life a lot better. Marc, Emmanuel and I have a preference for ‘people tools’ (e.g. meeting formats, retrospective exercises, iteration choreography), but if you have a more technical tool that’s made you more productive, we’d welcome that too.

As for Balancing Act, we’ve completed the hand outs for the three parts, and are now thinking about running the session in french, as well as perhaps doing the wrap-up of the session slightly differently.

Working on sites

Saturday, January 7th, 2006

In case I haven’t met you yet this year – happy new year!

I haven’t been blogging for a couple of weeks, as I was busy writing on other sites, together with Marc Evers. Marc also has finally started his own business (currently besides his day job).

The new sites are for showing and selling workshops and courses we already have – instead of inventing new ones, we decided to spend some time consolidating what we already have – more to follow :-) . Both sites feature other facilitators we run these courses with. Agile Workshops is dedicated to a number of beginner and intermediate courses on agile software development. Satir Workshops is a place for workshops based on the work of Virginia Satir, currently featuring Balancing Act.

For Agile Workshops, I got into making some artwork, to give a better feeling for what these workshops (and agile software development) is like:

image of programming pairs in a small team

And, finally, we reorganised the Agile Open wiki, so it is ready for the 2006 conference. We hope you’ll bring many ideas for sessions (and eventually, yourself to the conference :-) ).