Zen and the Art of Deck Building

Amazing! I just read Scott Hanselman’s blog post on finding geek balance outside of the geek world.  I started commenting on his blog, but realised I was blogging on his blog.  Here’s my own lumber-yard, geek-balance experience.
Just before Christmas, Fiona and I decided to have a deck built in the back yard.  I tossed the contractor’s quote out and decided to build it myself.  Why?  Same reason as Scott and I also specifically wanted to try my own personal Zen and the Art of Deck Building.  Fiona was naturally skeptical but indulged my mid-life crisis moment.

An apprentice in a world craftsmen.

DIY shops are intimidating.  I was an apprentice in world of journeymen and craftsmen.  I eventually found a benevolent craftsman who was humble enough to help me without judging me.  His ideas helped me simplify my design considerably and, more importantly, gave me some confidence.

Really listening to feedback. My paper design was a BDUF :-).  The moment I placed the wood on the ground, Fiona suddenly changed the location of the deck.  Short tale:  I am still building – new requirements still emerge from my main user.  Early on, I resisted every change with enormous annoyance which resulted in huge arguments.  Then I realised that the needs were real and the new requirements came from seeing how the deck looked with each step of construction.  I had an abstract BDUF and Fiona was taking in real feedback –  being agile!  And I was being rigid!

Living in the moment. I tried hard to live in the moment.  When I was digging a hole, I dug the best hole ever, deep, straight and true, until I hit a concrete block in the way.  Then my beautiful hole was a mess and I was angry at this block and tried to get past the block and continue digging my hole.  Zen moment – the task had changed.  I focused on the concrete block. Chipped away one tiny piece at a time, eventually it fractured and I could continue digging my beautiful hole.  I was focusing on the future, not the present and that screwed up my productivity.

Conflicts in collaboration. So I tried to live in the moment with everything from that point onwards.  When I was cutting wood – I cut wood and tried to get the best cut ever – to find beauty in the cut.  The one day my son, Khaleel, helped out and I got annoyed that he was messing up – it was not as beautiful as I wanted it.  After calming down and living a moment of fatherly guilt, I let him help me dig another hole and I just let him … to live in his moment.  He loved the texture, smell, etc of the sand and dirt.  I imposed my own hang-ups of not wanting to get really dirty.  I realised that he was more into having fun and I was messing up his fun – until I decided to live in the moment with him – by his values.

Finding the balance. Building the deck has been one of the nicest non-geek experiences in recent times.  It made me think differently, behave differently, regard people differently and maybe, one day, it will quietly help me build software better.  I think the trick is to find a place where you will always be the traveler in a world of benevolent journeymen.  And when you can’t find that world, then just be a benevolent journeyman in world of travelers.

Correcting my Irresponsibility

I have received a lot of positive feedback from many new faces for the SPIN talk I did this week.  Thank you.
But I am worried.  In the 45 minute talk, I did 5 minutes with Ruby code and cucumber.  Now so many people want to use cucumber.  Good for cucumber.

I think I should have stressed my point a lot more.

Take-Home #1: Find a way to make the life cycle of requirements part of your workflow.  Should it be a hard dependency?  If the requirements change, then do you want the build to break?  When requirements have a life cycle independent of the code’s life cycle, then you are opening yourself to waterfall-ish problems.

Take-Home #2: Agile in name and process can only take you so far.  You have to live it in your head and in your life.  For me, agile has a very Zen-like characteristic.  You need to live in the moment, absorb the feedback in that moment and adjust your next action in response to all this stimuli.  We are just like an amoeba that reacts to changes in pH.  But the difference is that we are capable of controlling our re-action or subsequent action.  An amoeba is agile by process only.

Take-Home #3: BDD can help you to change your coding and architecture attitude for the better.  It is subtle in its intrusion, but profound in its impact.  The subtley makes it dangerous.  It is not about the clever use of words, it is about the way those words impacts on your code and your resulting architecture.  So find your own cucumber and that does not mean you should go looking for another gherkin.

Perhaps I was not responsible enough.  My actions and words have affected people in a way that I did not intend.

Measuring the Clarity of Requirements

The last two geeky conversations I had, stumbled upon the same thing – how do you measure the effectiveness of requirements in describing the business to the business and describing the specification to the developer?
So, I posed the question “How far away are you from executing your requirements?”. If you are going to go through various steps and stages to get to compilation and then execution, then every step is an opportunity for valuable information being lost in translation. If you can compile your requirements immediately then nothing will be lost.

Each additional step between requirements description and compilation and execution is an opportunity to confuse the user and the developer and everyone in between.  That’s why fully dressed use cases are not so effective as fully dressed behavior driven stories.  And that’s why BDD is very agile and a great asset in DDD and use cases just don’t cut it anymore.

Right now, my favorite tool is Cucumber.  I can execute the requirements and that raises the clarity ranking of my requirements super high.

Modeling out Loud Deep Dive

For those of you that attended the Modeling out Loud deep dive at the S.Africa Scrum Gathering today, here are some things that I discussed.  It’s in no particular order, and it only makes sense if you attended the session.

  • BDD Stories that are authored outside the team contributes to a hand-off which influences design decisions.
  • Because we understand something does not mean that we know how to design it.
  • Be aware of when you are analysing and when you are designing.
  • Be concrete and abstract late.
  • Use the scenarios to close the loop with product owners, stake holders, etc.
  • Developers should write BDD stories and scenarios.
  • We are less ignorant at the end of the sprint than at the beginning.
  • Use code to close the feedback loop for your story.
  • A story and it’s scenarios can be a representation of your model, just like a picture, UML, test code, production code.
  • Seek out the behavior and express intentions.
  • Use the value statement to explore alternative needs.
  • Product owners should not write BDD stories
  • Recycle stories if there are scenarios that you cannot commit to.
  • Keep out the technical jargon.  The moment you get technical, then the story shifts to an implementation.
  • Evolve and accept that it is ok to change … your story, your scenario, code, anything.
  • Login is not a story

There was a lot more which we all discussed, so feel free to add what you got out of it as a comment for others to grab.

The slide deck which contained the code example is available at http://bit.ly/bhNkvQ.

And lastly, thanks for joining in.  I sincerely appreciate you making the time.

Remember that writing stories is a really difficult thing to learn, because is design is hard.  Persevere.