Posted on 17/8/06 by Felix Geisendörfer
Ok, right now I'm deep inside the process of exploring some of the agile coding technics out there (including test driven development). But what I slowly come to realize, is that I'm still trying to pinpoint the concept of agility itself.
One thing I've learned so far: It's most likely not testing, not automatisation, not source control, not wiki's, not any of the stuff I've just finished about reading in "Practices of an Agile Developer". Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading this book a lot, I think the tips in it are awesome and I'll try to make use of them where I see need. But one thing that I think should be more emphasized is the non-technical aspect of agility.
Let me try to show what I mean by talking about living in a house (or appartment):
You just finished your dinner and you want to get right back to that interesting book/movie/... you were involved with before starting to eat. You take your plate and put it into the sink (the place were you put the plates from last night, and the night before). On your way back to the living room you notice the dirty carpet in the hallway and you hear yourself saying: "uhm, guess I should clean that up - one of these days". Back in the living room you see a pile of magazines, empty cups and old (are they?) phone call notes on the table -> "Hm, guess I should clean those up was well, ...". But back to your interesting book/movie/... you wanted to enjoy! ... - All the sudden it's 1:30am. You've got distracted by some other things (this new cool tv show, a friend calling on the phone, ..., etc.) and you decide it's time to go to bed. The next morning you wake up, the sink is still full of unwashed dishes, the carpet is dirty and the living room is a mess, but do you feel like cleaning them up, now, at 8 am in morning? You probably don't. This will most likely go on for a couple more days (weeks?) until you decide to do one big clean up session that you try to push off as long as possible. After you are done with it, you will feel a lot better for next 1-2 days, until everyday live slowley starts to turn your place into a mess again.
Alright, if this story does not sound a bit familiar to you, consider yourself lucky and go back into your IDE, this post is not for you. But if you are like me, who always talks about his desk that he wants to clean up the next couple days, that class that needs documentation and those other things that never seem to really get done - welcome in the club.
When you think about it, you'll probably agree that you could have a clean house (and not a messy one for 90% of) all the time if you would constantly wash the dishes, clean the rooms, and take out the trash. But realistically, you are not always going to do it. You don't always feel like commenting all your code, refactoring crapy interfaces and answer the emails in your filled up inbox.
So what to do? To be quite honest, I don't claim to have the ultimate answer to this one. But how about this:
"Divide and Conquer" -- (most likely) Julius Caesar
It's one of my favourite quotes of all times because it can essentially be applied to *any* kind of problem. The bigger and more complicated an issue is, the more likely it's made up of smaller chunks you could attack one at a time. The house is dirty? Next time you see those dishes - do them. Next time you see the carpet - clean it. Oh and before you watch this movie tonight, clean up the table in the living room. Don't try to do it all at ones, it's not agile. Sure, getting a big issue solved all at ones is a very satisfying feeling, but unfortunatly it's not big enough to motivate you earlie enough the next time it comes up. The same goes for code, projects, etc. You are behind the deadline of a project, but instead of sending out the email to the client, you try to finish at least this one promised feature to show him as an excuse before getting the email out? Don't. Send the email, let the client know what's going on. And if you still manage it to complete one or more of the features he'll be just as happy to hear it. Got this huge undocumented piece of code? Go in and comment 3-4 functions right now, and do it again over the next couple of days, try to find a rythm in it.
Ok, enough hypocritical ranting - back to reality. The question is still, how do you motivate yourself to be more of a google octopus instead of a microsoft wale? What technics work, which ones don't?
I'm trying my luck with progressive tasks lisks that have little progress bars you can fill up as a tasks come closer to completion. I set my watch to alarm me when I'm overtime on a certain thing I was working on. I write posts on my blog about agility ; ). And it does seem to have some kind of positive impact I think. But I'm more then interested to hear about your ideas / oppinions / experiences in this area. So in case you are one of those people I told to stop reading after the house story, what's your secret?
--Felix Geisendörfer aka the_undefined
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