Agile Apologies

I remember once wearing my mic to the bathroom. When I returned everyone knew where I had been. It was hard enough for my co-presenter to not fall on the floor laughing, let alone the 60 people attending the seminar. I had to jokingly apologize to my audience for sharing too much before we could go on with the rest of the day.

We all make mistakes.

Last week the Agile 2007 conference registration system made a big mistake. Everyone got an acceptance or rejection letter intended for someone else. Within 24 hours personal apologies had been sent out via email to people who had mentioned this snafu, and the correct notices were sent. Big embarrassing mistake handled rather nicely. Or so I thought.

But today I (and a few hundred other submitters) received an official apology letter from the conference meeting planners explaining in gory detail the technical reasons for the original glitch, how they had dutifully tested the fix before sending out the acceptance and rejection letters, and that the conference registration system folks were sorry for any confusion this had caused.

Hm. A second apology. What was with that? Stop dwelling on being so sorry.

But wait. It gets worse. The apology was sent via a list service configured to transmit all mail it received to the members of the list. So a few auto-reply out of town emails and grumpy complaints were forwarded, too. Followed by queries about how to stop the emails and replies to those queries. (At this point I was laughing, but not sending any email to the list!) These were then followed by two more apologies: one from the list maintainer and another from the chair of the Agile Alliance who put a stop to the chatter.

I get it. You are sorry. I’m sorry that you were so sorry and felt the need to give more information information. But next time I’m hoping that the volunteer conference organizers take an agile apology approach (I’ve learned this over my many years of being involved in conferences with my inevitable mistakes and recoveries). If someone complains, they deserve a personal response. But one apology is enough. And you don’t have to explain why a goof up occurred, just how it is being fixed (if that’s possible).

Agile apologies please! And for you complainers to the list: lighten up. Everyone makes mistakes.

Martin Fowler is no Kent Beck

I know the difference between those two….When authors make mistakes, readers notice. In my latest IEEE Software Design Column, Driven…to Discovering Your Design Values, I quoted Martin Fowler as claiming that test-driven development,

“gives you this sense of keeping just one ball in the air at once, so you can concentrate on that ball properly and do a really good job with it.”

Kent quoted Martin in his book Test Driven Development by Example.
It gets a little tricky when you cite someone quoting someone else. Originally, I had the reference to the book in line with the quote attributed to Martin (but my citation only listed the book title, not the author). My editor moved that citation to the back of my article and undstandably filled in Martin as the author. Easy mistake to make and I didn’t double check the references when it was refactored. I assumed my editor would fill in the author appropriately and double check citation.

My fault. You heard it from me first. When anything is refactored, whether it is code or citations or comments, you need to check twice. Since I don’t have an xUnit tool to write tests for citations and quotations, this has to be by visual inspection. I’ll know better next time. Thanks Mirko and Shinobu for caring enough to email me about this mistake.