Archive for the 'people & systems' Category

Spa 2010: hand-on and sit-back-and-relax

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I intended to write about other things than just conferences, but SPA 2010 is going to be too much fun to let you miss it, so I’ll break my own rules…

At the GOOS Gaggle I heard David Harvey praise the upcoming SPA conference because of its’ great keynotes (and yes, they are going to be fantastic). But to me SPA is not a sit-back and relax conference. The main reason why I’m going are the hands-on sessions and simulations. This year we’ve got even more hands-on sessions than last year, so much so that we’ve got more than a complete software craftsmanship track. Whether you are just a programmer and like to program with your peers, or you fancy yourself a software martial artist sweating it out in the coding dojo with fellow code-okas, this should be a lot of fun and very effective learning and experimentation. The language track (to introduce and explore various programming languages) also has lots of hands on sessions. This year for instance on Scala and Clojure, and  if you are lazy Haskell is present like at SPA2009, but now from a more day-to-day development angle.

Of course, if you want to rest (or don’t program at all) there’s good discussions to be had in the design track (and even there several hands-on sessions) and simulation games in the People and Process track.

Take a look at the programme , I hope to meet you there.

Agile Open Holland 2009 – what can I say?

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009
I still don’t know what to say exactly about Agile Open Holland 2009, even though it was a couple of weeks ago already. I’ll let the photos taken by Sander, Lucia, see also the video she made) and by Laurens at the event speak for themselves. Starting with some photos by Sander:
IMG_1677 by Sander Verbruggen.
Group photo

Fall Conference Appearances

Friday, October 9th, 2009

I planned to write individual posts about new and upcoming workshops, but the rate at which we get invited and accepted to conferences this fall outstrips my ability to post new entries ;) I have to post now, before the conferences themselves are over… I hope you’ll join us for at least one of these. We’ll be doing some hard-core programming workshops as well as more enterprise and facilitation oriented sessions this fall.


Retrospective Hero

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Retrospective Hero is a new simulation / role playing workshop I’m developing with Nicole Belilos of Task24. The goal is to let facilitators experience several situations that can happen in real life, and let them experiment with facilitation techniques to make the most of a situation. This is a report of the trial run we held at Agile Open Holland 2009, with an explanation on how the workshop works.

Sandra, one of the product owners, explains her point of view, Serge listens intently as facilitator

Sandra, one of the product owners, explains her point of view, Serge listens intently as facilitator


Mastering Unit Testing Course in Antwerp, Belgium September 24 and 25

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

We are partnering with local companies to provide our training curriculum in other countries. We started the Mastering Unit Testing course after we found many teams have started writing unit tests, but very few have experienced the benefits of hard-core test-driven development.

“You have some experience writing unit tests, but wonder how you could get more out of unit testing. Register for the Mastering Unit Testing training to experience how test driven development can make development faster and more enjoyable. You’ll learn how working test-first lets you create better designed code, and understand why unit testing techniques that are ‘simple’ in theory can be difficult to practice. Past participants have experienced less defects in production code, as well as higher velocity, which leads to happier clients and more fun in your job!”

See the Mastering Unit Testing page on the iLean site for registration and details. The first course is scheduled for September 24 and 25. After that we’ve also got our Mastering legacy code, November 16 and 17, also in Antwerp.


Televox by d.billy

photo found through Photo Suggest

An Interview with Barry Evans, author of “The Trousers Of Reality, volume 1″

Friday, September 4th, 2009
The Trousers of Reality volume 1

The Trousers of Reality Book Cover

Barry Evans works as an independent consultant and writer, and is based in France and the UK. I met Barry a few years ago at Agile Open in Belgium, when he was working as a senior coach in BT’s large-scale Agile introduction. Now we’ve done an interview to find out more about his new book “The Trousers of Reality”.

Willem: So Barry, When did you start thinking about writing a book?
Barry: I have always been a writer. I come from a literary family and it was always something I wanted to do..
Willem: what triggered you to write this one?
Barry: I started writing this book when I realised I had something to say and I had enough life experience behind me.

Agile Politics – (re)discover the politician in you at XP Days Benelux

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

If you believe corporate politics is something for ‘those dirty managers’ think again. Everybody behaves in a political way when a limited amount of resources has to be divided over groups of people. Come play our game and experience firsthand how dirty a politician you are!

It has behooved the XP Days Benelux conference to allow playing of devious political games in its program. Join Emmanuel Gaillot and me on November 23 or 24 so that you can (re)find the (dirty?) politician in you.

"Cheney Satan '08"

“Cheney Satan ’08″ by

Photo found through Photo Suggest


Your need for speed, sponsored by TDD and pairing

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

The causal loop diagrams in this post have been heavily inspired by GeePawHill (also known as American Mike Hill) ‘s  How TDD and Pairing increase production. These diagrams were meant to follow mikes’ story. After they were done, another order presented itself. I recommend you read Mike’s post for some background and an interesting comment thread after you’ve seen the diagrams. I’ll use Mike’s definition of internal quality for this post, and refer to it mostly as ‘quality’.

Zed and Carry are programming an online catalogue for Amazing Widgets.  If they deliver new features for the catalogue faster, their company will make more money, because they can outsmart the competition and draw more paying users to their site. Sure, they have a customer, but he’s on holiday at the moment; he might return for another post ;) . Right now Zed and Carry are chugging through a long list of feature requests the customer left them, so they would not be bored while he was away…

So far they have not made much progress. Carry and Zed are wondering why they are going so slow. Carry read this post by GeePawHill saying “the biggest single determinant in today’s production is the quality of yesterday’s production.”


yesterdays quality is the single biggest determinant of todays' quality

That sounds mysterious. Carry wonders how to write good code today, if everything has already been determined yesterday… It seems kind of hopeless! She was taught in school that the number of lines of code a programmer wrote in a day was a measure of productivity. Now she was wading through file after file, looking for the one line she needed to change. If only the code were smaller, the variable names were not all spelled like I, J and cmd and that whenever she was debugging she would not need to remember over 15 classes at once… All of the decisions they took in a hurry to get the new features in production before the customer went on holiday were now haunting them like the ghost of christmas past…

What determines yesterdays' quality: bad variable names, many dependencies, flawed design decisions and the number of lines of code

What determines yesterdays' quality: bad variable names, many dependencies, flawed design decisions and the number of lines of code

They stare at each other for a moment. Zed says “what if today’s internal quality was better?”. What would our code like, and what would it mean for us? Carry dreams away. ” If today’s code were better,  we would have less dependencies and much less code, and everything was so clearly named that I knew where to start working immediately. But I don’t know where to start refactoring! It’s all tangled together, I don’t understand what half the code is doing, it just sounds like a dream. And I don’t have time to work on that dream, because we have to hurry! The customer will return from holiday soon, we need to show some progress. Hmm, Zed goes. I think if we stared naming the variables better in the bit we’re working on now, we could see some improvements soon, it would make our work for this afternoon and tomorrow already a bit easier. With the refactoring tools we have it’s not dangerous at all, and we can always get the previous revision from version control if necessary. We could spend part of our increased speed tomorrow on some other improvement.


If internal quality goes up, speed will increase. This can free up time to improve (but you have to make a conscious choice, hence the decision square). With time available for improvement, internal quality can improve, given you choose relevant improvements and have agreed what improved internal quality means. The 'condensator' symbol indicates there may be a delay. Try to choose improvements that improve internal quality quickly - that helps motivate further improvements. If this works you will get a snowball effect: you will go faster and faster, while delivering ever better quality software.

“That would be great”, says Carry “I’d really like that. But I’m scared to break features that are already working. With all these dependencies I don’t know what might fall over when I refactor. Remember the trouble we had with the helpdesk after our last release? Hmmm… Would you be willing to help me clean up the design in the part I’m working on?”

“Sure”, says Zed, “Why not, I can’t go any slower than I am now, and maybe together we can come up with a way to add some tests as well. I’ve been aching to write some of these microtests, I’ve done some exercises but I just can’t figure out where to start. I’ve heard that it can help you focus on the design as well, and the refactorings would be a lot safer – Come to think of it, I still don’t fully trust our refactoring tool, it seems a bit wonky at times; some refactoring up front would make it easier to add tests, so having your help to refactor would be great, it would be a lot safer that way”.

Test Driven Development, Pairing and Refactoring improve today's quality, so that we can go faster later today or tomorrow. Pairing supports refactoring, Refactoring supports Test Driven Development and vice versa. This leads, amongst other things, to Better Variable Names, Less Dependencies and code that expresses its intent more clearly

Test Driven Development, Pair Programminging and Refactoring improve today's quality, so that we can go faster later today or tomorrow. Pairing supports refactoring, Refactoring supports Test Driven Development and vice versa. This leads, amongst other things, to Better Variable Names, Less Dependencies and code that expresses its intent more clearly. Pairing and TDD also help prevent and eliminate defects, but that is a subject for another story.

Carry and Zed sat together, changed some names, did a few commits and eventually found a place where they could start writing a test. To their surprise, adding a few more tests was easy, and they were surprised at how little time it took to actually do these things. Carry had some time left at the end of the afternoon to continue reading GeePawHill’s post:

“If you want to increase the productivity of your team, then do these three things:

  1. write a microtest that fails before you change any code;
  2. adopt a “no-pair no-keep” agreement;
  3. establish a shared understanding of internal quality.”

Zed was happy they did this as well. Tomorrow, they could go even faster! He was almost thinking of working alone again tomorrow and skipping the tests, but thought again. He wanted to go at least as fast the day after tomorrow…

Tomorrow, today will be yesterday. Any improvement we can make today, however small, will help us go faster tomorrow.

Tomorrow, today will be yesterday. Any improvement we can make today, however small, will help us go faster tomorrow.

After thought

For a long time I’ve been planning to illustrate the value of test driven development through diagrams of effect here.  We’ve been using this to ‘sell’ the benefits of TDD to course participants and folks we mentor for a few years now, and it’s been remarkably effective. The essence is simple, as Marc Evers put it:

“If we work on the same code as you today, and we write tests and pair when you don’t, We’ll be drinking beer in the bar, while you’re still inside fixing bugs”

Well, that’s the benefit for programmers. I haven’t met product managers or customers who dislike getting better quality software sooner either :)

Undoubtedly, the speed with which this post was written (as well as the lack of pairing and TDD that goes with writing prose in the flow) merit improvements. Your suggestions and comments are most welcome.

Until cooler heads prevail – some things that let me calm down when reading online discussions

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

I was getting really frustrated about some online discussion today. It seemed other people were getting even more upset than I was (and even that is just one of many possible interpretations. I know from experience that the more frustrated I am, the less reliable my interpretations are). Instead of blowing off steam by firing of a blog post in frustration… which would let steam off on my end but could potentially multiply frustration elsewhere, I stumbled across Habits & strategy for effective listening by David Parnell. and decided to write publish on that instead. Tips for listening in a discussion can be just as useful when reading a discussion. (more…)

The best way to rob a bank is to own it

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

I hope I got your attention with this title :) It’s taken from this video : the Great American Bank Robbery: , taken at the Hammer Museum at the university of California in Los Angeles (hence the many references to california in the presentation and Q&A. it’s message applies to the rest of the USA and other parts of the world just as well):

William K. Black, the former litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board who investigated the Savings and Loan disaster of the 1980s, discusses the latest scandal in which a single bank, IndyMac, lost more money than was lost during the entire Savings and Loan crisis. He will examine the political failure behind this economic disaster, in which not only massive fraud has taken place, but a vast transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class continues as the federal government bails out the seemingly reckless, if not the criminal. Black teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and is the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One. (Run Time: 1 hour, 38 min.)