The Coffee House

coffee house

An Agile Excursion

by Solveig Haugland

Looking back, nobody could agree what really made the project go bad. But everyone agreed that Sid had gone nuts.

The JavaRanchers, in their hurry to get their code ready for the fall release date, had gotten a little over-organized. It all seemed so innocent at first. They made lists. Then spreadsheets. Then project plans, and then multiple levels of organizational hierarchy, and four-dimensional schedules. Then of course when the staff senior project manager told the senior staff project manager and the lead senior project manager that it looked like the September 1st release wasn't going to happen, the senior lead project manager went out and hired 42 more contract JavaRanchers to help move the project along. Which is when the project, oddly enough, actually ground to a halt.

Sid and Zeke, who were lead senior staff developers on a couple of the project modules, slunk into the Coffee House around 2 to avoid their daily 3-hour status meeting.

"Give me a latte with a triple shot of strychnine, Brenda," Zeke groaned as he bellied up to the bar. "I don't want to be in a world that has this project in it."

"And a d-d-d-dodeca-espresso for me, Lacey," stammered Sid, jumping up and down at approximately 120 reps per minute. "I got to keep alert! The Incan Monkey God is going to come to me at midnight to tell me how to get this project back on track! Yes, he is! Hey, isn't that Tony Randall? Pretty pretty flowers!"

Lacey grinned. Brenda looked as if she wanted to look sympathetic but also wanted to bust out laughing. " you guys are still on the stagnant death march project from hell., eh?" Brenda asked as she poured out the latte, sans strychnine. "Any new info today, Zeke; any progress?"

"Well, we got the users to tell us that the requirements they gave us last month bear absolutely no resemblance to the software they want, but that's OK since none of the developers actually knew those requirements existed. Apparently two thirds of them have been working on a really cool offshoot of wiki and the other third have been playing Quake. So now we have to re-gather the requirements, and analyze them, and that usually takes about a year in itself but we have a day and a half."

"Oh is that all!" Brenda started laughing but Zeke was too far gone to hear her.

"Well, no. Sid here has gone into infinite loop caffeine intake and whenever you ask him for a project update, he just keeps talkin' about how the Pope and him have joined the Swiss luge team and they need to go luge shopping."

Lacey, who was as amused as Brenda but didn't relish human suffering quite as much, said. "You know, Zeke, I think there's something that just might help y'all, over the hill in that big ol' Salt Lake City. Did you know the Agile Development conference is takin' place right there?"

"Agile! I've got an agile badger in my pants! Whoopeee!" That of course was Sid, who by now had stripped naked (thus belying the pants remark) and was doing some pretty remarkable cartwheels up the side of the Coffee House.

"Agile Development....isn't that a bunch of religious folks who worship a guy named Kent Beck and have this heretical notion that ya don't need the traditional 1500-page specification? I tell you, I think them folks is a big tetched."

"Well, OK, that's not entirely wrong, but you know what else they do? They tend to release software."

You could tell that Zeke was struggling. He was a Traditionalist and hated the idea of taking on some pansy ass new fangled touchy feely methodology. On the other hand, his bonus should he bring this project in on time was a brand new John Deere combine with a titanium Mac 17-incher mounted on the cupholder. He struggled. He shifted in his chair. He swatted Sid as Sid came twirling down the near wall, and yelled for somebody to put some clothes on that man. He looked close to a decision.

"Can a man get a decent whiskey in that town? In Salt Lake City?"

Lacey nodded. "Yes, but not on election day or in a month ending in an R."

Zeke said "I'll do it!" and that weird guy in the back of the coffee house played the theme from The Magnificent Seven as Zeke threw Sid over his shoulder and strode out the coffee house's swinging doors.

Zeke rode hard all the way to Salt Lake, with Sid strapped to the horse's rump, inhaling some pretty nasty fumes which it turned out are a great antidote to overcaffeination. They arrived just in time for the conference ice breaker, where they strode around the room, eyeing the pretty ice-breaking belly dancers.

"Who is that guy in the weird hat with the wild look in his eyes?" asked Sid, newly adjusted to the real world and just a little afraid of it.

"I imagine he's just the entertainment," Zeke assured him.

They looked around at the small but talkative developers around them. One table was listening intently to a guy with a radio announcer's voice discussing gap-toothed women. A tall man in frightening cowboy boots was describing the pot-smoking rules in Amsterdam. Several men with really cute accents who looked to be thoughtful workers were discussing soccer in a depressed sort of way. "We're supposed to learn how to release software from these folks ??? " Sid was skeptical. Zeke had a nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach, but four drink tickets and their corresponding contents helped ease the discomfort. They went to sleep that night in an uneasy state of mind.

The next four days, however, changed their minds, lives, and attitude toward supposedly silly touchy feely development methodologies. Zeke learned much to his chagrin that just because you write something down, well, that don't make it true. Sid learned that extreme programming does not in fact mean just staying up til it's done. They both learned that there are two kinds of customers, liars and damned liars, and you have to watch them to find out what their requirements are, not actually believe them when they say they need shoulder-mounted faxes and milkshake machines for their field people. They learned not to giggle and elbow each other when somebody said SCRUM master, and to not confuse process with actually knowing what they were doing.

And they bought a bunch of technical books, as all people of honor do, and stuffed them in their leather saddle bags along with some incredibly tasty brownies from the afternoon snacks. They stuffed themselves at the end-of-conference banquet, laughed uproariously at the truly amazingly exceptionally hilarious top ten lists, donned their novelty sunglasses, stuffed the novelty plastic clappers in their pants, and danced up a storm, especially to "YMCA".

The next day, flushed with new ideas, new books, and while they wouldn't even admit it under torture, empowerment, Sid and Zeke made the return trip to the JavaRanch, humming snatches of their Agile Development Song. They met with the senior staff senior project manager, discussed the user requirements, did some non-paralyzing analysis, threw a pile of dead fish out the window of the meeting room, and in the end figured out that an application meeting the customers' needs already existed and could be purchased at WalMart for $49.99. Sid and Zeke exchanged high fives and went home, at last, for a well-deserved whiskey.

This month's Coffee House Adventures were inspired by a trip to the 2nd Annual Agile Development Conference in Salt Lake City. The conference was not only chock full of great information and run by a conference team that knows the importance of chocolate, but was just plain lots of fun. And as if that weren't enough, these agile development guys can dance up a storm.
Solveig Haugland is an independent trainer and author near Boulder, Colorado. Her businesses include for those switching from Microsoft Office to  (; Techwriter Stuff: The Single Source, tshirts and posters for tech writers and those who love them; and of course Dating Design Patterns, the original reusable solutions to recurring problems.