Monday, September 25, 2006

Practice what you preach

Man, I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would write about time boxing and prioritization again that soon. Or couldn't I? Whish it were true, as knowing myself it would be the mother of all lies to say so, as it was almost the day after my last posting that faith struck again. Read on and you will understand why I haven’t been updating this blog for more than two weeks now.

What was the case? I was just about to move in two weeks and still had a lot of things to do. One of them visiting a SOA Suite 'code camp' in Slovakia on which I was to present about Oracle Business Rules, and I still needed to prepare myself. But at the same time many things needed to be done privately to prepare for the move. I already had some extremely busy weeks before, so I saw going to Slovakia as an opportunity to escape and get some rest before the move itself. And boy, what a mistake that was.

As always it started with too many things to do in too little time. We have a parquet floor in our new house that looked so dull that I nearly fell asleep only by looking at it. So we decided that it needed a different colour. But also the ceiling, walls, casing, etc needed to be repainted. I hoped that during my stay in Slovakia the painting could be done and the floor soured. Painting alone would have taken two weeks the least when I would have done it myself, but as my brother in law was doing it and since he is a professional I hoped for some magic here.

And magic he did, but when I got back on Friday the floor still needed to be soured. I hoped (but was not really expecting) to be able to sour and clean in one day. Two of my best friends helped me out on Saturday, but on Sunday I was on my own. And despite my best efforts it took me until Monday before souring was finished and then I still had to clean, paint and enamel. So despite the fact I was supposed to go to the office I was pushing myself to the limit while trying to get the floor to the stage that it was painted, working for eight hours in a row, no rest except for a quick coffee.

I had to compensate Tuesday evening to get some urgent work done, so on Wednesday I still had not packed even one cardboard box. And what a contrast that was with my original planning that assumed that I would start packing somewhere during the Sunday! As a result I had one Wednesday evening and one Thursday left to pack before Friday, which was the day the remover would come. And I only had that Thursday because I could switch it with Friday, which originally was my day off.

So what you then do is stop thinking, start packing like a madman, and see how far you get. And at 01:00 we were almost done! But not quite, so when the remover came at 9:00 it was an utter chaos in our old house, and a couple of boxes were carried away while I was still packing them. There was only a small comfort in hearing that the removers were used to this because they saw this happening all the time. Despite my wife pledging me not to do so, I had to leave at 11:00 to the office. Later on my wife told me that that was the moment she knew for sure she was married to a lunatic.

Now what has this all to do with time boxing and prioritization? Everything! It perfectly illustrates the situation that we encounter very often being a customer wanting every requirement to be implemented, which in theory makes time-boxing using the MoSCoW principle and leave out Should Haves if they don’t fit anymore in the time-box (when there is a temporary work-around) almost impossible. In my case the requirement was that everything should be packed before the removers would come. The time-box is obvious: Friday 9:00 the removers are there, period.

However, no matter what kind of customer you have in practice MoSCoW can at least be used to determine a best order in which things should be done, doing the most important things with the biggest risks first. In my case that was preparing big and heavy things for removal, like securing the washing machine. I got that done. And even though customers say they want every requirement implemented, when no time or budget is left they suddenly are capable of making compromises and drop Should Haves like they couldn't care less. Just like that. In my case the compromise was that the removers left enough stuff behind so that I needed to drive myself two more times to get the old house empty as a work-around.

Maybe some next time I will tell you about the similarities between something that all people understand, being that you don’t leave your garbage to the new owners of your old house, and the principle of refactoring, which only a few software developers seem to understand.


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