After a great experience at the Agile Testing Days last year, I decided to answer their call for papers early. By the time the full program was announced (somewhere in april), I had almost forgotten that I participated. So it was a pleasant surprise to see my name listed among all those great speakers. I decided to break out of my comfort zone for once and in the last minute I “prezi-fied” my existing presentation. Confidently stressed, I flew east to Berlin to be part of what proved to be a wonderfully memorable conference.
It was sunday October 3, which meant I arrived on the 20th anniversary of the German unification. The last time I had been in the city centre, Berlin was still a divided city. I was 16, and overwhelmed by the contrast between the neon-lit Ku’damm and the clean but spookily deserted East. Going through checkpoint Charlie to the East – and happily back again, while others desperately wanted to but couldn’t – still ranks among the most awkward moments in my otherwise pretty uneventful youth. Sure, the Alexanderplatz, Ishtar gate and Pergamon museum impressed me, but why a country would deliberately lock up its people was totally beyond my 16-year-old self.
So, with a few hours of daylight left, I headed to some sites that I still remembered from the days of yore. The Brandenburger Tor was now the backdrop for big festivities: music, beer, bratwurst and parachute commandos executing a perfect landing at Helmut Kohl’s feet at the Reichstag. No concrete walls to be seen. Unter den Linden completely opened up again. It felt great. Sometimes nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
The morning of tutorial day, the Seminaris Hotel conference lobby was buzzing with coffee machines and activity. I had enrolled for Elisabeth Hendrickson‘s “Agile transitions” tutorial, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Eight people were taking part in the WordCount experiment, of which Elisabeth recounts an earlier experience here. After a round of introductions, we divided roles within the WordCount company: tester – developer – product manager – interoffice mail courier (snail mail only) – computer (yes, computers have feelings too) or observer. Strangely enough, I felt this natural urge to be a tester. I didn’t resist it, why should I? Elisabeth then proceeded to explain the rules. We would play a first round in which we had to stick to a set of fixed work agreements, like working in silos, formal handoffs and communicating only through the interoffice mail courier. The goal of the game was basically to make our customer happy by delivering features and thus earning money in the process.
We didn’t make our customer happy, that first round. On the contrary – confusion, chaos and frustration ensued. Testers belting out test cases, feeding them to the computer, getting back ambiguous results. Developers stressed out, struggling to understand the legacy code. Our product manager became hysterical because the customer kept harassing him for a demo and no-one was responding to his messages. The mail courier was bored, our computer felt pretty abandoned too. It all felt wonderfully unagile.
In round 2 we were allowed to change our work agreements any way we wanted, which sounded like music to our agile ears! We co-located immediately and fired our mail courier. We organised a big kickoff-meeting in which the customer would explain requirements and walk us through the application. We already visualised the money flowing in. In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice – not so much. We spent a whole round discussing how we would work. We lost track of time. There were no new features, and no money. We felt pretty silly.
Round 3 was slightly better. We were able to fix some serious bugs and our first new features were developed, tested and working. But just when we thought we were on a roll, our customer coughed up some examples that she really wanted to pass too. They didn’t.
Pressure was on in round 4, which was going to be the last one of the day. Would we make history by not delivering at all? Well, no. We actually reinvented ATDD, by letting the customer’s examples drive our development. This resulted in accepted features, and some money to go with that. We managed to develop, test and demo some additional functionalities too. A not-so-epic win, but a win nontheless. Wordcount was still in business. If there would have been a round 5, I’m pretty sure WordCount Inc. would have made a glorious entrance at the Nasdaq stock exchange.
Elisabeth did a great job facilitating the discussions in between rounds and playing a pretty realistic customer. All the participants made for a very enjoyable day too. The day really flew by and ended with a great speaker’s dinner at the borders of the Schlachtensee. A Canadian, an American, a German and a Belgian decided to walk back to the hotel instead of taking the bus. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but that refreshing 5km walk through the green suburbs was actually the perfect closure of a terrific day. And without a map, I might add. As the rapid Canadian pointed out later: documentation is overrated.