Agile Programming - A Poor Choice of Words? Mon 12 May 08

_20070925_1320_acrobat_williewonk_2Agile Programming is a popular programming methodology.  But it's not alone. There are other methodologies such as the Rational Unified Process, Spiral, and the traditional Waterfall methodology in common use.  Each has it advantages and disadvantages and each is named in a way that describes the process.  However with Agile its very name can tend to cause confusion.  "Agile" gets confused with "agile".  Wait a minute.  Other than the capitalization aren't they the same things?  Well not exactly.  Agile with capitals does mean something different than lower case agile and that's where the confusion comes in.

Agile (upper-case) programming in overly simple terms is a method of developing programs using closely knit teams to quickly produce releasable code in short time frames.  Based on the Agile manifesto principles it has some certain processes.  Wikipedia provides a good overview and a simple Google search will provide a mass of references. 

agile (lower-case "a") programming simply denotes being flexible in our design and adjusting as we go.

The term Agile was no doubt derived from its lower-case counterparts and that's where the difficulty comes in.  When we speak of Agile others often hear agile.  And after all who wouldn't want some flexibility in programming?  So very often you quickly get buy-in to employ this methodology when you use this term.  That is until the realization sinks in that what your user thinks they bought is not what you thought you were selling. 

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Let's Hang Up The Gloves Mon 03 Mar 08

Hang_em_up_smnMarketing guru, Mary Schmidt, recently wrote a post, "Don't Get Defensive.  Just Fix It." in which she makes 2 excellent points that bear a lot on how we in IT deal with our customers.  As the HelpDesk often has to deal with "issues" this is especially important in that area.  Schmidt starts off the post by saying "I’m convinced that many of the world’s problems could be quickly fixed or even avoided if people didn’t automatically get defensive when faced with an issue or disagreement."

When our customers come to us with issues we need to resist taking it as a personal affront lest we become defensive.  Often we fall into the trap of using IT's weasel words such as "It works on my machine" or "No one else has had a problem with that."  The implicit message in this is that the problem is the customer's fault which makes them defensive and it just escalates from there.  As Schmidt suggests sometimes we need to just get beyond this and just fix the problem.  Hang up the boxing gloves and work on the solution.

Joel Spolsky has a fantastic post, "Seven steps to remarkable customer service".  Be sure to read all seven steps but pay particular attention to steps 4 and 5.  In these Spolsky gives some great examples of what not being (or being) defensive can do.  They illustrate the point very effectively.

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Mind Your Posture or RTFM? Mon 25 Feb 08

Toy_sampling_megaphone_altemarkMarketing guru, Seth Godin recently had an extremely interesting blog post, "The posture of a communicator".  It's a short post but a powerful one.  I believe it gets to the heart of one of the biggest complaints people have with IT, namely, our poor communications.  IT is well known for its speaking in acronyms, writing cryptic error messages, writing incomprehensible (and not very useful) user guides, and using "code words" rather than plain language.  We often top it off with an arrogant attitude when people tell us they don't understand what we are saying.

Godin's first sentence gets right to the point.

"If you buy my product but don't read the instructions, that's not your fault, it's mine."

I'm sure there are a lot of people in IT that would disagree with that statement.  You know the ones.  They're the ones that complain about users not reading the manual and just wish they would "RTFM" (read the f*&%$#*$ manual). 

Should our users read the manual?  Do I wish the would read the manual?  Absolutely!  But the reality is they don't.  As Godin states:

"It's really easy to insist that people read the friggin manual. It's really easy to blame the user/student/prospect/customer for not trying hard, for being too stupid to get it or for not caring enough to pay attention. Sometimes (often) that might even be a valid complaint. But it's not helpful."

The key phrase there for me is "But it's not helpful."  That's correct, it's not helpful.  As a service provider our job isn't to be "right" but to make sure the customer can use our product.  So it doesn't matter if we are right about thinking they should read the manual since it doesn't help.

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"No News is Good News" --- Wrong! Mon 14 Jan 08

E_a_karroozi At the end of November we purchased some new furniture from Ethan Allen and also arranged for them to reupholster some chairs.  We naively asked if we might get them by Christmas and were told it might be possible but not likely that we would receive the new furniture but they would probably receive the fabric and pick up the chairs for reupholstering before Christmas.  We finally received the new furniture last weekend and they came to pick up the chairs for reupholstering this past Saturday.  Although this will eventually work out and we'll be happy with the furniture the whole process has been rather unsatisfactory.

The reason for the dissatisfaction?  Simply it was communication or more correctly the lack of communication.  A number of times we called to find the status of our order but were told the sales associate that sold us the furniture was on leave but someone would get back to us but no one ever did.  Finally in the last week of December I called and was told it was scheduled to be received by the store during the first week of January and that we would be contacted to arrange delivery of the new furniture.  I asked about the pickup of the chairs for reupholstering but was told that another department handled that and some one would contact us.  The delivery of the new furniture went as they described but we still couldn't get any information on the chair pickup.  Finally, at the beginning of the second week of January my wife called the store manager (and had to leave a voice mail) and indicated that if we didn't hear something by this week we would cancel the order for the reupholstering.  This apparently got their attention and the chairs are being upholstered now. They're due to be done in two weeks,  I'll let you know if they come through on this promise.

[Update January 27th - they missed their self-imposed 2-week delivery time with no communication that it would be late - looks like we will have to call yet again.]

[Update February 2nd - they called us early in the week (we didn't have to call them) and at our request delivered it this weekend.  Although we are satisfied with the furniture their customer service is so bad we would have to thing twice about going back there.]

It's rather disappointing that a store such as Ethan Allen with its reputation for a quality product (for which it receives a premium price) has such poor customer service and indifference to customer concerns.

Interesting you say, but this is a blog about IT.  So where's the connection?

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Do You Have A Mission Statement? Mon 17 Sep 07

62043main_footprint_on_moon_4 The other day while surfing on CNN I came across an interesting article, CNN Heroes: The men of Apollo about the documentary movie "In the Shadow of the Moon".  The movie is about the Apollo astronauts and their memories of the Apollo missions.  From time immemorial, man has looked at the moon and wondered what it would be like to walk on it.  I've always kind of envied Neil Armstrong for being able to be the one.

What caught my attention in the CNN article is when they used one of my favorite President Kennedy quotes:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

What I've always admired about this quote is that is one of the best examples of a mission statement that I've ever seen.  I like its clarity.  It gets right to the point.  It succinctly tells us what we are trying to do and when we need to have it done.  You don't see that very often anymore.

Over at Man on a Mission blog they list mission statements from quite a few companies.  Frankly most of them aren't very good.  Typically, they're too long and written more as advertisements and leave you wondering about what it is exactly they are trying to do.  Take a look at a few of them.  If you read some of them without knowing what company they are for you might have a very hard time of figuring out what they are trying to accomplish.

Arguably, Kennedy's statement may not be comparable to all these company mission statements since it is not the mission statement for the government but for a single project.  Writing a mission statement for a project should be simpler since the mission is so much more focused than the mission for an organization.

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Improving Your Call Center Process Mon 23 Jul 07

Call_annais Katie Konrath over at has a great series going on customer service and call centers.  Her most recent post "More ideas about improving customer service calls." is a follow-up to Part 1 and Part 2 on this subject.  In this follow-up post Konrath lists a number of suggestions but two of the ideas I found especially intriguing:

"What if customers calling the customer help line could "take a number"and then the call service would call them back when it was their turn?"

"What if customers could book appointments to speak to customer service representatives?"

I think these are excellent suggestions.  While many, if not most, of the calls to our Help Desks are not the kind our callers want to defer I would think many might be of the sort where the caller doesn't need to talk to the Help Desk right this second.  The important thing is that we are giving our callers a choice for them to decide what meets their needs best.  What a refreshing concept.

This is a great example of looking at things from the customer's perspective and designing the process around their needs more than yours.  Interestingly enough I can see where implementing this kind of approach could help both our customers and IT.  A classic win-win.

Have you implemented something like this?  Please share your experience.  Anyone have additional suggestions?

"Call" photo by annais

If this topic was of interest, you might also like these:

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For Those of You That Are Tired of Hearing About the iPhone Thu 19 Jul 07

Tired of hearing about the iPhone?  If so you may enjoy the following:

Without question the iPhone has lived up to its potential in this instance.

Now about all those news stories about Paris Hilton . . .

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PowerPoint: The Good and Bad Mon 16 Jul 07

Welcome_to_powerpoint_garethjmsau_3The jury is still out on PowerPoint as far as I'm concerned.  I can't make up my mind if it is one of those technologies that has changed our life for the better or instead has filled us with fear and loathing.  People seem to dread going to PowerPoint which is a shame because it has so much potential for good.

Last Thursday Kent Blumberg posted a number of links including a great video on how NOT to use PowerPoint (video below).  This is "Life After Death By PowerPoint" by Don McMillan.  It is a great send up of everything wrong you've ever seen in a PowerPoint.  The really funny part about it is that most of it really happens.

In a quirky bit of timing, earlier that week I mentioned to a colleague a presentation (video also below) I'd seen by Dick Hardt, Founder and CEO of Sxip Identity.  This is a great presentation on 2 fronts.  First the topic "Identity 2.0" is very interesting.  Second and most important in terms of this post is that the presentation is simply amazing.  I've never seen anyone give a PowerPoint like this before.  Finally someone has truly tapped in to the potential of of PowerPoint.

Lastly, I've included a bonus video about PowerPoint that you might like.  So on to the videos.

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Should Corporate IT Be Afraid of the iPhone? Wed 27 Jun 07

Jobs_iphone_2The iPhone is coming!  The iPhone is coming!  Is this the modern day IT equivalent of the "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"?  Personally, I don't think so.  It is however, a lot of hype and rhetoric which is what I assume Apple wanted all along.  The whole discussion is just more of the Macophiles vs. the Macophobes debate.  From what I've seen it really is cool but in the end it won't be that big of a deal for corporate IT.

From the Macophile side we are told resistance is futile.  Over at Apple 2.0 in their post  "The Coming Battle: Apple's iPhone vs. Corporate IT Departments" they argue "But what both these articles also concede is that resistance may be futile. Increasingly, it's users who drive the adoption of new technologies within corporations, not IT. And when the user is a VP or maybe even the CEO, all bets are off."  Their absolutely right although I'm guessing they maybe over estimating the CEO demand (wishful thinking perhaps?).  I haven't found a lot of articles or blog posts written by the Macophiles (maybe I'm looking in the wrong place) but if you read some of the comments in the articles below you'll get a sampling of the religious fervor surrounding this.  On Tuesday afternoon NPR did a story talking about people lining up at the Apple stores 3 days in advance to get an iPhone as soon as they become available.  It would appear that a number of people have "drunk the kool-aid" that Steve Jobs is pushing. 

From the Macophobes it is one horror story after another:

Again, this all may be true but irrelevant.

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IT's Weasel Words Mon 25 Jun 07

Weasel_chuquiLast Friday Jonathon Babcock had an interesting post called "You Know It's Getting Deep When .  ." talking about the weasel words we hear from developers in regard to our projects.  He was referencing a post from the previous day by Chris Woodill called "Developer Weasel Words".  Chris has a pretty good list of phrases we often here.  Fortunately, Chris didn't just stop with providing a list.  He also made some excellent recommendations on how to reduce the amount of excuse making.

The one set that Chris had that has always been a pet peeve of mine (it also made Jonathon's favorite list) is:

It Worked on my Machine!: programmers use this excuse to downplay a bug. The reality is actually the opposite - it means that you have an intermittent bug which is by far the worst kind of bug to have in your application. You want bugs to fail quickly and consistently - any variant such as "That's Weird", "That didn't happen yesterday", "That must be a data problem", etc. is admitting you have a bug that cannot be easily duplicated.

This is such a classic that it's gone beyond just the developers.  For example, calling the HelpDesk and reporting problems accessing the Internet or starting a package program and a getting a "It works okay on my machine" just sends me through the roof.  I guess the problems are all in my head.

I do have an additional one I'd like to add to the list:

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