Given it is the time of year for huddling round the fire, talking of pantomimes and fairy tales, I thought I’d share one from a few years ago. One or two folk may have therefore heard it before.
If you are a purist adherent of the Agile method, please forgive me for leaving out much of what you hold dear, as this comes from the requirements end of a project, but I hope it keeps the spirit. If you are the long-suffering recipient of crap systems, you have my heartfelt sympathy and I hope this points out pitfalls to watch out for. This tale however, was whispered in my ear as I slept by a renegade Development Elf, or just possibly the Design Fairy herself, who exerts her copyright…….
“We’ve got one, we’ve got one” – the cry echoed round the office. Excitedly the product team gathered round the desk to see the tiny creature sitting calmly on the edge of the computer screen, drawing patterns in the dust with her feet. “A Design Fairy” breathed the marketing manager, “I never really believed they existed. Where did you find her?”
“Jo spotted her in the snack bar trying to hide behind the chocolate bars, and we lured her out with little pieces of Aero till we could see enough of her to formally declare we recognised her and claim our three wishes”
“User stories” corrected the Fairy, “and I’m waiting for you to tell me them. There’s nothing like a good story, that’s what I say”.
They looked at each other.
“I want the new system to Sing and Dance” yelled the marketing manager
“ And I want it Now” cried the product manager
“and cost very little” got in the Finance manager quickly, before anyone else got carried away.
The Fairy tapped her little wand on the SpriteTab Mk3 she pulled out of an invisible pocket in her pink gauze business suit. A few calculations later the device began to hum. A shimmer started in the middle of the floor and crept slowly up the desk until it settled into a shape in front of their eyes.
The shape shuffled uncertainly on its flippers and began to bark, slightly off key.
“A Performing Seal?” cried the Product manager. “What am I supposed to do with a bloody Performing Seal?”
“I suppose at least its memorable” hazarded the Marketing Manager, “and he’d be at home at a Launch Party.” His giggles were just a bit too close to hysteria as his assistant led him away to sit somewhere quiet for a while.
“Meets all the requirements!” snapped the Fairy, putting away the tablet. “Sings, Dances, Is Here Now, and Costs Very Little. Well at least unless the cost of fish escalates unexpectedly”
“But this isn’t what we wanted at all” groaned the Product Manager. “Is it Bill?” he looked across to the Finance Manager, who was on the phone and gesturing not to be disturbed. “ Trying to get a price from the zoo” he hissed.
“It won’t Work” the product manager sobbed, “You can’t use a Performing Seal to pay bills!” The Marketing manager looked up from the Seal logo he was doodling on a graphics package “We could try the novelty of an underwater bill delivery mechanism..?”
“Work?” said the Fairy. “You didn’t say it had to Work. You should have been more careful with your Acceptance Criteria”
“But we need to change it..” started the Product Manager
“Stop right there” cried the Fairy “that’s a discussion for the Scope Creep that is. If you look around the skirting boards at dusk you might see him. He always skulks around a large project. But I’m off, my job’s done” And with that she disappeared, leaving only a bright and entirely artificial smile to glow for a few minutes longer.
It was a few weeks later when a very surprised office junior heard a tiny yell when she tried to wipe up spilled milk at the side of the coffee machine. A rather dishevelled Fairy rearranged her tiara and tried her hardest to look dignified while damp and wrapped in kitchen towel. Being a very bright junior (who was filling in on the project for the marketing manager while he was on an extended holiday) – the girl immediately Recognised the Fairy and claimed her wishes. “You could at least pour me the coffee I was getting” said the Fairy.
“I may be the junior but I’m not here to make coffee!” snapped the girl. Tactically this could have been a mistake, for the Fairy began to look grumpier than the Queen at the Opening of Parliament.
Half an hour later the office assembled round the Fairy, who had at last found a reasonable use for one of those stripy deck chairs that stand on your desk and hold a mobile phone.
The Product Manager coughed and unrolled a long scroll.
“Our First Wish” he intoned “is that the new system should do All These Things” One end of the scroll slipped from his fingers and rolled out across the floor. The Fairy nodded and waved a tiny pen drive at the document. “Nice to see you’re prepared this time” she said.
“It should Cost Nothing at All” said the Finance Manager, who felt he was getting the hang of this.
“And it should Work Right First Time” said the Service Manager, who was still cross that he’d not been around on the previous occasion to inject some practicality into the proceedings.
The Fairy smiled as she took out her shiny new fPad running the latest Magic 5K operating system with ESP2 interface. “Just a minute while I work it out”.
The machine shimmered slightly this time, and the crowd stepped back nervously.
“OK”, said the Fairy,tucking it away. “We’ll be in touch”.
“But what about our system?” cried the Service Manager “When will it be here? I have agents to train.”
“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that just yet” smiled the Fairy “our estimated delivery date for all that lot is 1st January 2056.” And with that she slid unnoticed away, like a particularly pleasant glass of whisky that suddenly isn’t there anymore.
For many months the team ploughed on, trying to cover their project work while also surreptitiously turning over papers, rifling through bins and being particularly alert around food and drink, but all to no avail. The project got later and later, the overspend mounted and just when things couldn’t look bleaker, the Marketing manager felt well enough to come back to work.
At last on one particularly gloomy day, after the HR manager had been round for an encouraging chat to the troops, the junior had had enough and went off early to the pub next door to drown her sorrows. She found a quiet corner, slipped off her Power Shoes with Extra Pointy Heels for Greater Authority and rubbed her blistered foot.
“They’re supposed to be Glass you know” said a little voice nearby, with just a hint of a hiccough. “If you want to be in a Fairy Tale”. The Junior peered into the velour cushions and lifted out the Fairy. “You look a bit of a mess” she pointed out, tactless once more. But this time she followed it with the Magic Words – “Let me buy you a drink”. The fairy sighed.
“You’re a good girl you are. You have no idea how wearing it is to have everyone asking for things the moment you meet them. Want, want, want, that’s what it’s like. Me, Me,Me. The “I Claim My Rights!” they’re the worst. Pompous to the end. Though it does make for some job satisfaction when you unveil the flock of Winged Pigs they’ve just ordered. But really” (and here she started to sound just a hint wheedling) “Really what I want is for people to get what they need and like me. I worked for Father Christmas for a while you know, but there’s no place for a middle-aged Elf in the Grotto. Once your looks go, you’re out.” The junior was far too young to sympathise, but old enough to recognise someone whose drinking was about to topple them into the embrace of the evil twins Melancholy and Maudlin.
“Let’s go for coffee and cheesecake” she said brightly, and picking the Fairy up she stuffed her into a pocket.
Ten minutes later a mug of coffee and slice of cheesecake shared a discreet table in a nearby cafe with a saucer holding a few fragments of cake and a teaspoon of coffee. The snoring Fairy was removed from her pocket and set gently down. A slight prod brought her awake
“grmmphrrrr….and I remember when all we had to work with was a magic tape measure you know” said the fairy, sitting up “those were the days, you really could work wonders with one of those. Digital magic was all about waving your finger in the air…” Her meanderings were stopped by judicious application of cake.
“I need to know how to tell you want we want, without making a mess of it” said the Junior, “and I need to find that out without asking you something that counts as a Wish.”
The Fairy sucked the gooey jam off her fingers and loosened the buttons on her skirt waist. “If only Humans would listen, instead of asking questions. I’m an Agile Fairy..” she paused to glower at the Junior, who had developed a sudden and more tactful coughing fit at this. “I told them, right at the start, I need their User Stories. I like a good story, me. In fact right now there’s nothing would suit me better than someone telling me a good long set of stories. Except possibly someone remembering to publish information about how great the system was that they got. People forget that Recognizing Fairies should include approbation as well as claiming wishes. We need the other Fairies to know how good we are. It’s only Fairy after all”.
So the afternoon wore on and the Junior told the Fairy stories about what the project was trying to achieve and why it was important. The Fairy kept prompting her to make the stories specific so they didn’t overlap, and to be clear what was the purpose and benefit of each. For a while the Junior had to resist poking the Fairy in her tiny golden eyes (or at least rearranging her tiara for her) for being so picky, but after a few goes it began to make sense and the stories flowed more easily.
She covered who needed to be able to do what, and who needed to get what, and most importantly, like a chorus to each story – how they would know when they had it. And with each story a Token for a Discussion was added to the growing pile on the table . Occasionally the Fairy would take a token and ask questions, and the Junior answered her. The afternoon wore on as they went through it all several times, both stories and Cheesecake. Once the Fairy was happy she understood them all, she produced her small fPad and an even smaller printer from a briefcase she hadn’t previously had. All were in a shining colour to match the business suit that had miraculously become glittering and pressed again as they talked. “I wish I had that knack of dressing so that things match and stay in place”, said the Junior. “One wish down” muttered the Fairy, very softly.
The Fairy printed out a set of small cards, each holding a story and shuffled them in a pack. “Pick a card, any card” she said with a beaming smile. She got the Junior to arrange them on the table, moving them and sorting them until she was happy they were in order, with the top item giving the biggest benefit and so in to the lowest benefit at the bottom.
Then as the sun began to set, an even larger piece cheesecake materialised in front of the Junior. “Strange how Agility and Cheesecake go together” said the Junior as she tucked in. “Not really, just the 1st Law of Opposites Attracting, one of the fundamental things that holds the Universe together” said the Fairy. “If it wasn’t for the 1st law the North and South Poles would go flying off across the galaxy, and no organisation would be strong enough to hold both a Finance and Operations department”. She worked her way down the card pack, humming happily and adding an estimated size to each one, chosen disconcertingly by selecting from keys marked “Eeny”, “Meeny”, “Miny” and “Mo”. Finally she pressed a large red button marked with an alarm sign and the words “Automated Planning”. The fpad chortled away to itself while doing calculations. The café grew warm and the humming louder…
The Junior shook herself awake to find the shop was about to shut. She was alone at the table with a pile of plates and a bill of surprisingly small proportions. Not sure if she had been dreaming, she reached for her shoes which had managed to come off again. She smiled as the light from the window caught the glitter from two rows of small shining glass beads they had developed during the afternoon.
Next day there was a letter on her desk from a firm of systems suppliers. It described a new product range they were launching that did almost all of what her project team were looking for. And at a reasonable price. Moreover they were looking for partners to trial their first beta product now, with extra help from their consultants thrown in for free if you were prepared to have a case study written up on your use of the products. By a strange co-incidence, the first product in the range just happened to deal with the three most important areas of their project.
“Oh I heard about them from a friend and thought I ought to find out what they did” said the Junior modestly, smoothing the new and very well pressed suit that had appeared in her wardrobe that morning. “ServURite Solutions have a very good reputation. In fact, I Wish I could work with them more often.”