At Agile 2005 I met Bob Payne during an open space discussion about growing an online agile community. Bob didn’t just talk. He helped make it happen by recording interesting conversations and turning them into podcasts. You can download them from Agile Toolkit. For those of you new to podcasts, you don’t have to have an iPod to listen in. I click on any podcast link in my browser, for instance, and the mp3 file plays after it downloads. Some highlights: Ward Cunningham and Rick Mugridge on Fit; Todd Little on the Agile Project Leadership Network; Mary Poppendieck on Lean; Lynn Miller, Jeff Patton and myself on User-Centered Design. Dave Astels, Scott Ambler, Bob Martin, Arlo Belshee, Nancy Van Shooenderwoert, Mike Hill, Esther Derby, Diana Larson, and Pollyanna Pixton round out the list. Bob’s planning on recording conversations and conference events at Agile 2006. Thanks, Bob!
Today I happened upon a notable source. Ed Yourdon is writing once again about structured analysis. According to Ed,
“This is an update, condensation, and pragmatic revision of my 1989 tome, Modern Structured Analysis, which is still employed by malicious professors to torture innocent students in universities around the world—the decision to update the material, and to rewrite what was probably far too ponderous a tome (672 pages) even in the days when people actually had enough time to read books printed on dead trees—[is based on the fact that] today, we’re too busy to spend much time thinking about anything, and we’re also far too busy to read more than a couple hundred pages of the bare essentials on any topic. What we want is just enough … “
Ed plans on completing his book in 2007. There are a handful of chapters available now including one on Data Flow Diagrams and another on Process Specifications (which shows many different ways to represent what’s going inside a bubble on a data flow diagram). At OOPSLA last year I had the pleasure of hearing stories from Ed including how he’d been recently asked, “Aren’t you dead?” Ed’s very much alive. I’m not sure when I’ll next create any of these models, but I want to know about them from the source.
Last week I received an email with this tagline:
“Replacing an on-site customer with some use cases is about as effective
as replacing a hug from your Mom with a friendly note.”
I enjoy this person’s funny, witty, and constantly changing taglines. They certainly add zest to mail messages. But this one bugged me. It set up a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy occurs when someone sets up choices so that it appears there are only two possible conclusions when in fact there are further alternatives. Consider the phrase “if you’re not for me you must be against me.” Most of the time this is a false dichotomy. There are other possibilities. You may totally be indifferent to the person’s proposed idea or undecided. There may be several unmentioned possibilities (and they may not be mutually exclusive).
Driving to a Portland SPIN meeting last night I saw this bumper sticker: “I don’t have to like George Bush to love my country”. Wow. A false dichotomy pointed out in the political arena. What a novelty!
But back to what bugs me about this tagline. It first set up the false dichotomy that “mom’s hug” is better than “friendly note”. But wait! Mom’s hugs aren’t always better than friendly notes. Maybe you need that friendly note to help you through a tough day. Maybe that friendly note includes a useful reminder. In that case a friendly hug might be a good start, but it’s not enough. Mom can always give you a friendly hug and write you a friendly note.
The tagline then makes the powerful analogy between mom and onsite customer, and friendly note and use cases. If you don’t think this through you could end up being swayed to believe that use cases and notes are never as good as mom or onsite customers or apple pie (and that you have to pick one). But use cases and onsite customers can co-exist if you need them to. There are legitimate reasons to write things down. Maybe writing helps a customer sort through what she really wants. There can be value in recording what was said because it needs remembering by more than the development team. The next time someone tries to sway you by setting up a false dichotomy don€’t get caught in their faulty reasoning. Stop. Think things through. Then decide what your position is or whether you see more possibilities.