User story is worthless, Behavior is what we need

User Story is suitable for describing what user needs but not what user does and how system reacts to user actions within different contexts. It basically gives product team a way to quantify their output and let their boss know that they are doing their job. As a developer, you can’t write code from user stories because you have no clue on what what is the sequence of user actions and system reactions, what are the validations, what APIs to call and so on. As a QA, you can’t test the software from user stories because it does not capture the context, the sequence of events, all possible system reactions. User stories add little value to dev lifecycle. It only helps product team understand how much work they have to do eventually and it helps finance team get a view on how much money people are talking about. But to UI designers, solution designers, developers, they are nothing but blobs of highly imprecise statements that leave room for hundreds of questions to be answered. The absence of “Context” and “Cause and Effect”, and the imprecise way of saying “As a…I want… so that…” leaves room for so many misinterpretations that there’s no way development team can produce software from just user stories without spending significant time all over again analysing the user stories. Software, and the universe eventually, is all about Cause and Effect. The Cause and Effect is not described in a user story. 

Unlike user stories, the “Behavior” suggested by Behavior Driven Development (BDD) is a much better approach because the format of a behavior (Givencontext, When event, Then outcome), when used correctly, lets you think in terms of sequence of events, where the context, event and outcome are captured for each and every action user or system does, and thus works as a definite spec for designing the UI and architecture. It follows the Cause and Effect model, thus can explain how the world (or your software) works. It can be so precise that sometimes a behavior work as guideline for a developer to write a single function! Not just the develoeprs, even the QA team can clearly capture what action they need to perform and how the system should respond. However, to get the real fruit out of behaviors, you need to to write them properly, following the right format. So, let me give you some examples on how you can write good behaviors for UI, business layer, services and even functions and thus eliminate repeated requirement analysis that usually happens throughout the user-story driven development lifecycle.

Read more about how user stories suck and if behavior is used throughout the development lifecycle, it can greatly reduce repeated requirement analysis effort and can make the communication between product, design, development and QA team much more effective: 

If you like it, vote for it!

C# with keyword equivalent

There’s no with keyword in C#, like Visual Basic.
So you end up writing code like this:

this.StatusProgressBar.IsIndeterminate = false;
this.StatusProgressBar.Visibility = Visibility.Visible;
this.StatusProgressBar.Minimum = 0;
this.StatusProgressBar.Maximum = 100;
this.StatusProgressBar.Value = percentage;

Here’s a work around to this:

this.StatusProgressBar.Use(p =>
  p.IsIndeterminate = false;
  p.Visibility = Visibility.Visible;
  p.Minimum = 0;
  p.Maximum = 100;
  p.Value = percentage;

Saves you repeatedly typing the same class instance or control
name over and over again. It also makes code more readable since it
clearly says that you are working with a progress bar control
within the block. It you are setting properties of several controls
one after another, it’s easier to read such code this way
since you will have dedicated block for each control.

It’s a very simple one line function that does it:

public static void Use<T>(this T item, Action<T> work)

You could argue that you can just do this:

var p = this.StatusProgressBar;
p.IsIndeterminate = false;
p.Visibility = Visibility.Visible;
p.Minimum = 0;
p.Maximum = 100;
p.Value = percentage;

But it’s
not elegant. You are introducing a variable “p” in the
local scope of the whole function. This goes against naming
conventions. Morever, you can’t limit the scope of
“p” within a certain place in the function.

Update: Previously I proposed a way to do it without generic
extention method which was not so clean. Andy T posted this cleaner
solution in comments.

How to convince developers and management to use automated unit test for AJAX websites

Everyone agrees that unit testing is a good thing, we should all
write unit tests. We read articles and blogs to keep us up-to-date
on what’s going on in the unit test world so that we can
sound cool talking to peers at lunch. But when we really sit down
and try to write unit tests ourselves – “Naaah, this is
waste of time, let’s ask my QA to test it; that’s much
more reliable and guaranteed way to test this. What’s the
point testing these functions when there are so many other
functions that we should unit test first?” Had such moment
yourself or with someone else? Read on.

I had a conversation with our development lead Mike (using a
highly generic name since my
last post
caused some trouble), who runs “the show”
in our engineering team. As usual there was reservation in
introducing unit test to regular development schedule. Mike also
had valid points about lack of powerful tools for doing unit test
on AJAX websites. He also had confusion on ‘what’ and
‘how’ to unit test our code so that we aren’t
just testing database failures but real user actions that executes
both business and rendering logics. So, the discussion has a lot of
useful information, that will help you take the right decision when
you want to sell unit test to your ASP.NET and/or AJAX development
team and finally to higher management so that you can buy enough
time for the effort.

Friday, Jan 2007 – hallway
: Hey Mike, we need to start doing unit testing at
least on our web services. We are wasting way too much time on
manual QA. Since we are an AJAX shop, unit testing all our web
services should give us pretty well coverage.

Mike: Sure, that sounds fun. I will do some
feasibility check and see how can we chip this in into our next

Friday, Feb 2007 – washroom
Omar: Hey Mike, let’s start doing unit
tests. I haven’t seen any tests last month. Can we start from
this sprint?

Mike: Sure, we can surely start from this
sprint. Let me find out which tool is the right one for us.

Friday, March 2007 – meeting room
Omar: Hey Mike, haven’t seen any unit tests
in the solution so far. Let’s seriously start writing unit
tests. Did you make any plan how you want to start unit testing the

Mike: Yeah, I did some digging around and found
some tools. But most of them are for non-AJAX sites where you can
programmatically hit a URL or programmatically do HTTP POST on a
URL. You can also record button clicks and form posts from the
browser. There’s Visual
Studio’s Web Test
, which does pretty good job recording
regular ASP.NET site, but poor on AJAX sites. Moreover, you need to
buy Team Suite edition to get that Web Test feature. Besides,
recording tests and playing them back really does not help us
because all those tests contain hard coded data. We can’t
repeat a particular step many times with random data, at least not
using any off-the-shelf tools. We need to test things carefully and
systematically using random data set and sometimes use real data
from database. For example, a common scenario is loading 100 random
user accounts from database and programmatically log those users
into their portal and test whether the portal shows those
users’ personalized data. All these need to be done from
AJAX, without using any browser redirect or form post, because
there’s one page that allows user to login using Ajax call
and then dynamically renders the portal on the same page after
successful login. The UI is rendered by Javascript, so only a real
browser can render it and we have to test the output looking at the

Omar: I see, so you can’t use Visual
Studio Web Test to run unit tests on a browser because it does not
let you access the html that browser renders. You can only test the
html that’s returned by webserver. As we are AJAX website,
most of our stuffs are done by Javascripts – they call
Webservice and they render the UI. Hmm, thinking how we can do this
using VS. We can at least hit the webservices and see if they are
returning the right JSON. This way we can pretty much test the
entire webservice, business and data access layer. But it does not
really replace the need for manual QA since there’s a
lot of rendering logic in Javascript.

Mike: Now there’s a new project called
Watin that seems promising. You
can write C# code to instruct a browser to do stuffs like click on
a button, run some javascript and then you can check what the
browser rendered in its DOM and run your tests. But still,
it’s in its infancy. So, there’s really no good tool
for unit testing AJAX sites. Let’s stick to manual QA, which
is proven to be more accurate than anything developers can come up
with. We can handover a set of data to QA and ask them to enter and
check the result.

Omar: We definitely need to figure out ways to
reduce our dependency on manual QA. It simply does not scale. Every
sprint, we have to freeze code and then hand over to QA. They run
their gigantic test scripts for a whole day. Then next day, we get
bug reports to fix. If there’s severe regression bug we have
to either cancel sprint or work whole night to fix it and run
overnight QA to meet deployment date. For last one year, every
sprint we ended up having some bug that made dev and QA work over
night. We have to empower our developers with automated unit test
tool so that they can run the whole regression test script

Mike: You are talking about a very long project
then. Writing so many unit tests for complete regression test is
going to be more than a month long project. We have to find the
right set of tool, plan what areas to unit test and how, then
engage both dev and QA to work together and prepare the right
tests. And then we have to keep the test suite up-to-date after
every sprint to catch the new bugs and features.

Omar: Yes, this is certainly a complex project.
We have to get to a stage that can empower a developer to run
automated unit tests and not ask QA to test every task for
regression bugs. In fact, we should have automated build that runs
all unit tests and does the regression test for us automatically
after every checkin.

Mike: We have automated build and deploy. So,
that’s done. We need to add automated unit test to it.
Seriously, given our product size, this is absolutely impossible to
engage in writing so many unit tests so that we can do the entire
regression test automatically. It’s not worth the time and
money. Our QA team is doing fine. They can take one day leave after
deployment when they do overnight work.

Omar: Actually QA team is at the edge of
quitting. They seem to have endless work load. After deployment,
they have to do manual regression test on production site to ensure
nothing broke on production. While they are at it, they have to
participate in sprint initiation meetings and write test plans.
When they are about to complete that, devs checkin stuffs and ask
for regression test of different modules. Before they can finish
that , we reach code freeze and they have to finish all those task
level tests as well as the entire regression test. So, they end up
working round-the-clock several days every sprint. They simply
can’t take it anymore.

Mike: How is it different than our life? After
spending sleepless night on the deployment date, next day we have
to attend 8 hours long sprint planning meeting. Then we have to
immediately start working on the tasks from the next day and have
to reach code-freeze within a week. Then QA comes up with so many
bugs at the last moment. We have to work round-the-clock last 3
days of sprint to get those bugs fixed. Then after a nerve wrecking
deployment day, we have to stay up at night to wait for QA to
report any critical bug and fix it immediately on production. We
are at the brink of destruction as well.

Omar: That’s understood. The whole team
is surely getting pushed to their limit. So, that’s why we
urgently need automated test so that it addresses the problems of
both dev and QA team. Dev will get tests done at a faster rate so
that they don’t get bug reports at the very end and then work
over-night to fix them. Similarly, we offload QA team’s
continuous overwork by letting the system do the bulk of their

Mike: This is going to kill the team for sure.
We have so many product features and bug fixes to do every sprint.
Now, if we ask everyone to start writing unit tests for every task
they do, it’s a lot of burden. We can’t do both at the
same time.

Omar: Agree. We have to cut down product
features or bug fixes. We have to make room in every sprint to
write unit tests.

Mike: Good luck with that. Let’s see how
you convince product team.

Omar: First let me convince you. Are you
convinced that we should do it.

Mike: Not yet. I don’t really see its
fruit in near future, even after two months. There’s so many
features we have to do and so many customers to ship to, we just
can’t do enough unit tests that will really shed off QA load.
It’ll just be a distraction and delay in every sprint, heck,
in every task.

Omar: Let me show you a graph which I believe
is going to make an impact:


So, you see the more automates test we write, the less time
spent on Manual QA. That time can be spent on doing new tests or
task level tests and increase quality of every new feature shipped
and drastically reduce new bugs shipped to production. Thus we get
less and less bugs after every successful sprint.

Mike: Ya, I get it, you don’t need to
convince me for this. But I don’t see the benefit from
overall gain perspective. Are we shipping better product faster
over next two months? We aren’t. We are shipping less
features and bug fixes by spending a lot of time on writing unit
tests that has no impact on end-user.

Omar: Let me see if your assumption is


You see here, the more automated tests kick in, the more time QA
can spend on new features or new bugs. I agree that the speed of
testing new features/bugs decrease first one or two sprints, but
then they gradually get picked up and get even better. In the
beginning, there’s a big overhead of getting started with
automated test. But as sprints go by, the number of unit tests to
write gradually gets stable and soon it becomes proportional to new
features/bugs. No more time spent on writing tests for old stuff.
So, the number of unit tests you write after four sprints is
exactly what needed for the new tasks you did on that sprint.

Mike: Let’s see what if we just
don’t do any automated test and keep things manual. How does
the graph look like?


Omar: The future looks quite gloomy. We will be
spending so much time on regression test as we keep adding stuffs
to the product that at some point QA will end up doing regression
test full time. They will not spend time on new features and we
will end up having a lot more new bugs slipped from QA to
production due to lack of attention from QA.

Mike: OK, how do we start?

Omar: First step is to get the regression tests
done so that we can get rid of that 24 hour long marathon QA period
end of every sprint. Moreover, I see too many devs asking QA to do
regression test here and there after they commit some tasks. So, QA
is always doing regression tests from the beginning to the end of
each sprint. They should only test new things for which automated
test is not yet written and let the automated test do the existing

Mike: This will be hard to sell to management.
We are going to say “Look for next one month, we will be half
productive because we want to spend time automating our QA process
so that from second month, we can do tests automatically and QA can
have more free time.”

Omar: No, we say it like this, “We are
going to spend 50% of our time automating QA for next oen month so
that QA can spend 50% more time on testing new features. This will
prevent 50% new bugs from occurring every sprint. This will give
developers 50% more time to build new features after one
month.” We show them this graph:


Mike: Seems like this will sell. But for first
couple of sprints, we will be so dead slow that some of us might
get fired. Think about it, from management point of view, the
development team has suddenly become half productive. They
aren’t building only few new features and bugs are not
getting fixed as fast rate. Customer are screaming, investors
asking for money back. It’s going to get really dirty. Do you
want to take this risk?

Omar: I can see that this decision is a very
hard decision to take. I know what CEO will say, “We need to
be double productive from tomorrow, otherwise we might as well pack
our bags and go home. Tell me something that will make us double
productive from tomorrow, not half productive.” But you can
see what will happen after couple of months. Situation will be so
bad that doing this after couple of months will be out of question.
We won’t be in a position to even propose this. Now, at least
we can argue and they still have the mind to listen to long term
ideas. But in future, when our QA team is doing full time
regression test, new buggy features going to production, ratio of
new bugs increasing after every release, more customers screaming,
half baked features running on the production – we might have
to shut down the company to save our life.

Mike: We should have started doing automated
tests from day one.

Omar: Yes, unfortunately we haven’t and the more we delay,
the harder it is going to get. I am sure we will write automated
tests from day one in our next project, but we have to rescue this

Mike: OK, I am sold. How do we start? We surely
need to unit test the business and data access layer. Do we start
writing unit test for every function in DAL and Business layer?

Omar: Writing unit test for DAL seems pointless
to me. Remember, we have very little time. We will get max two
sprints to automate unit tests. After that, we won’t get the
luxury to spend half of our time writing unit tests. We will have
to go back to our feature and bug fix mode. So, let’s spend
the time wisely. How about we only test the business layer

Mike: So, we test functions like
CreateCustomer, EditCustomer, DeleteCustomer, AddNewOrder in
business layer?

Omar: Is that the final layer in business
layer? Is there another high level layer that aggregates such CRUD
like functions?

Mike: For many areas, it’s like CRUD, a
dumb wrapper on DAL with some minor validation and exception
handling. But there are places where there are complex functions
that do a lot of different DAL call. For example,
UpdateCustomerBalance – that calls a lot of DAL classes to
figure out customer’s current balance.

Omar: Does webservices call multiple business
classes? Do they act like another level that aggregates business

Mike: Yes, webservices are called mostly from
user actions and they generally call multiple business layer
classes to get the job done.

Omar: Where’s the caching done?

Mike: Webservice layer.

Omar: That sounds like a good place to start
unit testing. We will write small number of unit tests and still
test majority of business layer and data access classes and we
ensure validation, caching, exception handling code are working

Mike: But there are other tools and services
that call the business layer. For example, we have a windows
service running that directly calls the business layer.

Omar: Can we refactor it to call webservices

Mike: No, that’ll be like creating 10
more webservices. A lot more development effort.

Omar: OK, let’s write unit tests for
those business layer classes separately then. I suppose there will
be some overlap. Some webservice call will test those business
classes as well. But that’s fine. We *should be* unit testing
from business layer. But we don’t have time, so we are
starting from one level up. Webservices aren’t really
“unit” but you have to do what you have to do. At least
testing webservices will give us guarantee that we covered all user
actions under unit test.

Mike: Yes, testing webservices will at least
ensure user actions are tested. The background windows service is
not much of our headache. Now how do we test presentation logic? We
have ASP.NET pages and there’s all those Javascript rendering

Omar: Let’s use Watin for that.

Mike: How to make that part of a unit test

Omar: Watin integrates nicely with NUnit,
mbUnit. mbUnit is pretty good. I used it before. It has more test
attributes and Assert functions than NUnit.

Mike: OK, so how do we unit test UI? A test
function will click on Login link, fill up the email, password box
and click “OK”. Then wait for one sec and then see if
Javascript has rendered the UI correctly?

Omar: Something like that. We can discuss later
exactly how we test it. But how do you test if UI is rendered

Mike: We check from browser’s DOM for
user’s data like name, email, balance etc are available in
browser’s HTML.

Omar: Does that really test presentation logic?
What if the data is misplaced? What if due to CSS error, it does
not render correctly.

Mike: Well, there’s really no way to
figure it out if things are rendered correctly. We can ask the QA
guys to keep watching the UI while Watin runs the tests on the
browser. You can see on the browser what Watin is doing.

Omar: OK, that’s one way and certainly
faster than QA doing the whole step. But can it be done
automatically like matching browser’s screen with some

Mike: Yeah, we need AI for that.

Omar: Seriously, can we write a simple UI
capture and comparison tool? Say we take a screenshot of correct
output and then clear up some areas which can vary. Then Watin runs
the test, it takes the screenshot of current browser’s view
and then matches with some screenshot? Here’s the idea:


Say this is a template screenshot that we want to match with the
browser. We are testing Google’s search result page to ensure
the page always returns a particular result when we provide some
predefined query. So, when Watin runs the test and takes browser to
Google search result page, it takes a screenshot and ignores
whatever is on those gray area. Then it does a pixel by pixel match
on the rest of the template. So, no matter what the search query is
and no matter what ad Google serves on top of results, as long as
the first result is the one we are looking for, test passes.

Mike: As I said, this is AI stuff. Some highly
sophisticated being will be matching two screenshots to say, Yah,
they more or less match, test pass.

Omar: I think a pretty dumb bitmap matching
will work in many cases. Just an idea, think about it. This way we
can test if CSS is giving us pixel perfect result. QA takes a
screenshot of expected output and then let the automated test to
match with browser’s actual output.

Mike: OK, all good ideas. Let’s see how
much we can do. We will be starting from webservice unit testing.
Then we will gradually move to Watin based testing. Now it’s
time to sell this proposal to product team and then to management

Omar: Yep, at least get the webservices tested,
that will catch a lot of bugs before QA spends time on testing.
Goal is to get as much testing done by developers, really fast,
automatically then letting QA spend time on them. Also we can
run those webservice unit tests in a load test suite and load test
the entire webservice layer. That’ll give us guaranty our
code is production quality and it can survive the high traffic.

Mike: Understood, see ya.

. . .

March 2008, Friday – The Code Freeze Day

Omar: Hey Mike, how are we doing this

Mike: Pretty good. 3672 unit tests out of 3842
passed. We know why some of them failed. We can get them fixed
pretty soon and run the complete regression tests once during lunch
and once before we leave. QA has completed testing new features
pretty well yesterday and they can check again today. We got some
of the new features covered by unit tests as well. Rest we can
finish next sprint, no worries.

Omar: Excellent. Enjoy your weekend. See you on


Suggested Reading:

Tips and tricks to rescue overdue projects

One of my friends, who runs his own offshore development shop,
was having nightmare situation with one of his customers. He’s way
overdue on a release, the customer is screaming everyday, he’s
paying his team from his own pocket, customer is sending an ever
increasing list of changes and so on. Here’s how we discussed some
ideas to get out of such a situation and make sure it does not
repeat in future:

Kabir: Hey, can you help me? My customer is making us
work for free for extra two months to fix bugs from our last
delivery. We did what he said. But after he saw the output, he came
up with hundred changes, which he somehow presents as bugs or
missing features and make them look like they are all our fault and
making us work for last two months for free. He is sending new
changes every week. We have no idea when we will complete the

Omar: I see. Did you get a signed list of requirements
from customer before you started the development?

Kabir: Of course, I did. He sent us a word document
explaining what he wants and we sent him a task breakup with hour
estimates and total duration of three months. Now after three
months when we showed him the product, he said, it’s no where close
to what he had expected. Then he sent a gigantic list of things to

Omar: All of those are bugs?

Kabir: Of course not. Most of them are new features.

Omar: Then why don’t you say those are new features? You have
the original word document to prove. Just ask him to show where in
the word document did he said X needs to be done?

Kabir: Well…, he’s tricky. He somehow makes things look
like it is obvious that X needs to be done and he’s not going to
accept a requirement as done until X is done. For example, he said
there must be a complete login form in the homepage. So, we did a
typical login form with user name, password and OK, Cancel button.
Now he says where’s the email verification thing? We said, you did
not ask for it. He said, “this is obvious, every login form has a
forgot password and email verification; I said *complete* login
form, not half-baked login form”. So, you see, we can’t really
argue to keep our image. Then, we did the login form exactly how he
said. Now he says, where the client side validations of proper
email address, username length, password confirmation? We said, you
never asked for it! He says, “come on, every single website
nowadays has AJAX enabled client side validation, do I have to tell
you every single thing? Aren’t you guys smart enough to figure this
out? You are already doing this for the third time, can’t you do it
really well this time?”

Omar: OK, stop. I see what’s your problem. Some customer
will always try to make you work more for less money. They will try
to squeeze out every bit of development they can for their bucks.
So, you have to be extra careful on how much you commit to them and
make sure they cannot chip in more requirements while development
is going on or when you deliver a version. Mockups are one good way
to make sure things are crystal clear between you and
customer. Did you not show him mockups of the features that
you will be building and make him sign those mockups?

Kabir: Yes, I made some mockups. But they were simple
mockups. I did not show the validations or all those side jobs like
sending verification emails.

Omar: Did you run those mockups through your engineers?
They could have told you about those details.

Kabir: No, I did not because developers don’t work on the
project until I get a signoff from client. So, I prepare all the
mockups myself to save cost.

Omar: So, this is the first problem. The mockups were as
ambiguous as the customer’s word document. Basically the mockups
just reflected the sentences in word document. Mockups did not
really show all possible navigations (ok, cancel, forgot, signup),
system messages, system actions behind the scene, workflows etc.
Are you getting what I am saying?

Kabir: Yes. Come on, I am not a developer. I can’t think
of every single details. That’s what developers do when they start
working on it.

Omar: But you provide estimates based on your mockups
right? So, if mockup shows there’s only a simple login form and
change password link, you charge 5 hours for it. But then when you
realize you have to send email for change password, email needs to
contain a tokenized URL, that URL needs to show a change password
form, where you need to validate using CAPTCHA etc, it becomes 20
hours of work. Right?

Kabir: Well yes. Generally I multiply all estimates by
1.5 just to be safe. But things have gone 3X to 10X off original

Omar: Yes, I just gave you an example how a login form
estimate can go 4X off when the mockup is not run through an
engineer and the important issues are not addressed.

Kabir: So, you are saying I have to prepare all mockup
with an engineer?

Omar: In general, yes, since you aren’t good enough to
figure those out yourself; no offence. You will get good enough
after you build couple of products and get your a** kicked couple
of times, like mine. Mine got kicked about 17 times. After that it
became so hard that when I sit on it, I produce really good
mockups. After some more kicks, I hope to get 100% perfect in my

Kabir: Ok, so the process is, I get word doc from
customer. I produce mockups from it. Then I run them through
engineers to add more details to them. Then after review with
customer, I run them through engineers again to estimate. Then I
ask customer to sign-off on the mockups and the estimate,

Omar: Well, first let me say, you don’t do a three month
long iteration since you are far away from your customer. You do
short two weeks sprints. Do you know SCRUM?

Kabir: Yes, one of our team does it.

Omar: I assume the team that got their a** kicked don’t
do it?

Kabir: right, they don’t.

Omar: OK, then first you start doing SCRUM. I won’t teach
you details. You can study about SCRUM online. Now, you collect
‘user stories’ from customer. If customer does not give you user
stories, just vague paras of requirements, you break the
requirements into small user stories. Understood?

Kabir: No, give example.

Omar: OK, say customer wants a *complete* login form. You
break it into couple of stories like:

  • User clicks on “login” link from homepage so that user can
    login to the system

    • User enters username (min 5, max 255 chars, only alphanumeric)
      in the username text field
    • User enters password (min 5, max 50 chars, only alphanumeric)
      in the password field
    • User clicks on “OK” button after entering username and
    • System validates username and password and shows the secure
      portal if credential is valid and user has permission to login and
      account is not locked.

Understood what user stories are?

Kabir: Yes, but you are missing all the validations that
we also overlooked and now we are working two months for free. This
“user stories” do not help at all.

Omar: Hold on, you just saw basic steps of a user story.
Now you describe each user story with the following:

  • All possible inputs of user and their valid format
  • All possible system generated messages for invalid input
  • All possible alternate navigation from the main user story. For
    example, while entering password, user can click on a help icon so
    that user can see what kind of passwords are allowed.

Got it?

Kabir: Now it’s starting to make sense. Then what? Show
these user stories to customers?

Omar: No, show them to your lead engineer who has enough
experience to identify if you missed something. Your Engr should
point out all the alternative system actions at least.

Kabir: What if my Engr can’t figure them out? What if
he’s just as dumb as me?

Omar: Fire him. Get a pay cut for yourself.

Kabir: Seriously, what do I do if that’s the case?

Omar: Your engineers will *always* come up with issues
with your mockups. You should always use another pair of eyes to
verify your mockups and add more details to it. You aren’t the only
smart guy in the world you know?

Kabir: I thought I was, ok. What’s next?

Omar: File those user stories in your issue tracking
system in some special category. Say “User Stories” category. What
do you use for your issue tracking system?

Kabir: Flyspray

Omar: Good enough. Create a new project in Filespray
named “User Stories”. File tasks for user stories. Each story, one
task. Attach the mockup to the tasks. Then create one account for
your customer so that customer can login and see the user stories,
make comments, suggest changes etc. You will get the conversation
with your customer recorded as comments in the task. This comes
handy for engineers and for resolving dispute later on. Moreover,
get your customer to prioritize the tasks properly. Understood?

Kabir: I don’t think customer will go through that
trouble. Customer will ask for some word document that has all the
user stories and she will write in the document what are the
changes. I will have to reflect them in Flyspray. Is it really
necessary to file user stories in Flysrpay? Can’t I just maintain
one word doc with customer?

Omar: Absolutely not. Word documents suffer from
versioning problem. You have one version, your customer has another
version, your engineers have another version. it becomes a
nightmare to move around with word docs which has many user stories
in it and keep them in sync all the time. Moreover, referencing a
particular use case also becomes a problem. Say at later stage of
the project, there’s a bug which needs to refer to User Story #123.
You will have to say User Story #123 in
centralserverfileshareuser stories1.doc. Now if
centralserver dies, or you put it somewhere else, all
these references are gone. Don’t go for word doc. Keep everything
on the web that you can refer to it using a URL or small number.
Another problem is numbering stories in Word Doc. Word won’t
produce unique ID for you. You will end up with duplicate user
story numbers. If you use Flyspray, it’s will generate unique ID
for you.

Kabir: OK, let me see how I convince my customer to use

Omar: Yes, you should. If Flyspray is hard for customers,
use some simple issue tracking system that’s a no-brainer for
non-engineers. Some fancy AJAX based todolist site will be good
enough if it has picture attachment feature and auto task number

Kabir: OK, I will find such a website. So, I got the user
stories done. Now I show them to customer, review, make changes.
Finally I get customer to sign off on User story #X to #Y for a two
weeks sprint. Then what happens?

Omar: On your first day of sprint, you do a sprint
planning meeting where you present those user stories to your
engineers and ask them to break each story into small tasks and
estimate each task. Make sure no engineer put 1 day or 2 day for
any task. Break them into even smaller tasks like 4 hours of tasks.
This will force your engineers to give enough thought into the
stories and identify possible problems upfront. Generally when
someone says this is going to take a day or two, s/he has no idea
how to do it. S/he has not thought about the steps need to be done
to complete that task. Your are getting an estimate that’s either
overestimated or underestimated. Forcing an engineer to allocate
tasks in less than 4 hours slot makes an engineer think about the
steps carefully.

Kabir: If engineers do this level of estimate, they will
think about each task for at least an hour. This is going to take
days to finish estimating so many tasks. How do you do it in a

Omar: We do 4 hours Planning meeting where Product Owner
explains the stories to engineers and then after 30 mins break,
another 4 hours meeting where engineers pickup stories and breaks
them into tasks and estimate on-the-fly. This 4 hours deadline is
strictly maintained. If Product team cannot explain the tasks for a
sprint in 4 hours, we don’t do the tasks in the sprint. If the
tasks are so complex or there are so many tasks that they cannot be
explained in 4 hours, engineers unlikely to do them within one/two
week long sprint. Similarly if engineers cannot estimate the tasks
in their 4 hours slot, the tasks are just too complex to estimate
and thus have high probability of not getting done in the sprint.
So, we drop them as well.

Kabir: This is impossible! No one’s going to attend 8
hours meeting on a day. Besides, telling them to estimate a task on
the spot is super inefficient. They won’t produce more than 60%
correct estimates. They will give some lump sum estimate and then
go away.

Omar: Incorrect, if engineers cannot make estimates of a
task in 10 to 20 minutes, they don’t have the capability of
estimating at all. If your engineers are habituated to take a task
from you for estimating and then go to their office, talk to their
friends on the phone, drink soda, walk around, gossip with
colleagues and end of the day if they have the mood to sit and
think about the estimate then open a new mail, write some numbers
and email it to you; they better learn to do this on-demand, when
requested, within time constraint. It’s a discipline that they need
to learn and implement in their life. Estimates are something they
do from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep.
Besides, the planning meeting is the best place to estimate tasks –
all engineers are there, product team is there, your architects
should be there, QA team is there. It’s easy to ask questions, get
ideas and helps from others.

Kabir: I have engineers who just can’t do well under
pressure. They need some undisturbed moment, where they can sit and
think about tasks without anyone staring at them.

Omar: Train them to learn how to keep their head cool and
do their job in the midst of attention. Anyway, let’s stop talking
about these auxiliary issues and talk about the most important
issues. Where were we?

Kabir:About dropping tasks, I already negotiated with
customer that we are going to do story A, B, C in this sprint. Now
after the sprint planning meetings, engineers say they can’t do B.
Problem is I have already committed to deliver A, B, and C to
customer within 2 weeks and sent him the invoice. How do I handle

Omar: How do you commit when you don’t know how long A,
B, and C are going to take?

Kabir: Customer tells me to do A, B, C within two weeks.
And after doing some preliminary discussion with engineers, I
commit to customer and then do the sprint planning meeting. I
can’t wait until the sprint meeting is done and developers
have given me estimates of all the tasks.

Omar: Wrong. You commit to customer after the sprint
planning meeting is done. Before that, you give customer just a
list of things that you believe you can try to do in following two
weeks. Tell customer that you will be able to confirm after the
sprint planning meeting. The time to do a sprint meeting is only 8
hours = a day. So, end of the day, you have some concrete stuff to
commit to customer. From your model where you give engineers days
to estimate, it won’t work. You have to finish planning
within a day and end of the day, commit to customer.

Kabir: What if customer does not agree? What if he says,
“I must get A, B and C in two weeks, otherwise I am going somewhere

Omar: This is a hard situation. I am tempted to say that
you tell your customer, “Go away!”, but in reality you can’t. You
have to negotiate and come to a mutual agreement. You cannot just
obey customer and say “Yes Mi Lord, we will do whatever you say”
because you clearly cannot do it. The fact is, end of the sprint,
you *will* get only A and C done and B not done. Then customer will
Fedex you his shoes so that you can ask someone to kick you with

Kabir: Correct, so what do I do?

Omar: There are tricky solutions and non-tricky honest
solutions to this. Tricky solution is, say you engaged 5 engineers
in the project who can get A and C done in time. But you realize
you need another engineer to do B, otherwise there’s no way you can
finish A, B and C in two weeks. So, you invoice customer with 6
engineers and get A, B and C done. Now customer may not agree with
you paying for the 6th engineer. Then you do a clever trick. You
engage the 6th engineer free of cost in this sprint. Don’t tell
customer that there’s an extra head working in the project. Or you
can tell customer that out of good will, you want to engage another
engineer free of cost to make sure customer gets a timely delivery.
This boosts your image. Later on, when you get a sprint that’s more
or less relaxed and 4 engineers can do the job, you secretly engage
one engineer to some other project but still charge for 5 engineers
to your customer. This way you cover the cost for the 6th
engineer that you secretly engaged earlier sprint. This is dirty.
But when you have so hard a** customer who’s forcing you “what”,
“when” and “how” all at the same time and not open to negotiation,
you have no choice but to do these dirty tricks. You can also add
extra one hour to every task for every engineer in a sprint or add
some vague tasks like “Refactor User object to allow robust login”.
This way you will get quite some amount of extra hours that will
compensate for the hidden free engineer that you engage. You get
the idea right?

Kabir: Ingenious! And what’s the honest and clear way to
do these?

Omar: You negotiate with customer. You tell your customer
that he or she can only have any two choices from Money-Scope-Time.
This is called the project management triangle. Do you know about

Kabir: Googling…

Omar: Read this article:

It shows a triangle like this:


So, your customer can specify any two. If customer specifies
Scope and Time (“what” and “when”), then customer must be flexible
on Money or “how” you do it within those two constraints. If
customer specifies Money and Scope, then you are free to decide on
time. You engage lower resource and take more time to get things
done. Got the idea?

Kabir: Yes, understood. Nice, I can show this to customer
and educate him. Is there any book for the evil tricks that you
just gave me?

Omar: No, I might write one soon. I will name it
“Customers are evil, so be you”.

Raisul: Hey, I have fixed people engaged in a project. I can’t
change the number of people sprint-to-sprint to compensate for
change in money. So, the triangle does not work for me. What do I
do here?

Omar: Right. I also made a slightly different version of
it. Here’s my take:


This is for situation where you have fixed resource engaged for
a particular customer. In that case, you cannot reduce people
on-demand because you cannot reassign them. Such a case requires
different strategy. If customer forces you Quality and Time,
customer must be willing to sacrifice Quantity. Customer cannot
say, produce perfect login form in 2 weeks and add cool ajax
effects to it. Customer has to sacrifice cool ajax effects, or
sacrifice *perfection* of login form, or sacrifice number of

From the above two triangles, which one’s more appropriate for

Kabir: Second one because customer hires 5 engineers from
me. I cannot take one away and engage in a different project. Well,
not openly of course.

Omar: OK, sounds fair. What else do you need from me?

Kabir: Let me think about all these. This is definitely
worth thinking. I have to figure out whether to play fair or play
clever. End of the day, I need to produce great product, so that, I
get good recommendation and future projects from customer. So, I
need to do whatever it takes. It’s hard to run an offshore dev shop
where we kinda have to work like slaves and like a bunch of zombies
mumble every 10 mins – “Customer is always right”. You are very
lucky to have your own company.

Omar: I had two offshore dev shops before Pageflakes. I know how it feels.
Wish you good luck. I have seen your product, you guys are building
a great ASP.NET MVC+jQuery application. Release it. It’s worth

Raisul: Thank you very much. See ya…

(End of chat)

This is the diagram my friend produced, which shows the steps to
do before a sprint is started:

Workflow for Product Manager

Handy for Product Managers. Enlightening for developers.

kick it on

An Agile Developer’s workflow when SCRUM is used

If you are planning to start SCRUM at your company, you might
need to train developers and QA to get into the mindset of an Agile
developer. SCRUM is only successful when the developers and QA get
into the habit of following the principles of SCRUM by heart. So,
sometimes you need to offer training or do trial sprints to give
some room to your developers how to get used to the working fashion
of SCRUM. Giving them a handy workflow diagram that shows how they
should work helps soothe the steep learning curve required for
non-super star developers. I made such a workflow while I was
teaching SCRUM at my friend’s company. The following diagram was
printed and hung over the desk of each and every developer to help
them grasp the culture of SCRUM quickly:


We use Flyspray for issue tracking, so you will see the mention
of it frequently.

You will see the step to “Update Sprint backlog with remaining
hours” is missing. This is done kinda verbally and scrum master
(sometimes same person who is the product owner) keeps track of

Hope you find this useful.

kick it on

Using multiple broadband connections without using any special router or software

I have two broadband connections. One cheap connection, which I
mostly use for browsing and downloading. Another very expensive
connection that I use for voice chat, remote desktop connection
etc. Now, using these two connections at the same time required two
computers before. But I figured out a way to use both connections
at the same time using the same computer. Here’s how:

Connect the cheap internet connection that is used mostly for
non-critical purpose like downloading, browsing to a wireless

Connect the expensive connection that is used for network
latency sensitive work like Voice Conference, Remote Desktop
directly via LAN.

When you want to establish a critical connection like starting
voice conf app (Skype) or remote desktop client, momentarily
disconnect the wireless. This will make your LAN connection the
only available internet. So, all the new connections will be
established over the LAN. Now you can start Skype and initiate a
voice conference or use Remote Desktop client and connect to a
computer. The connection will be established over LAN.

Now turn on wireless. Wireless will now become the first
preference for Windows to go to internet. So, now you can start
Outlook, browser etc and they will be using the wireless internet
connection. During this time, Skype and Terminal Client is still
connected over the LAN connection. As they use persisted
connection, they keep using the LAN connection and do not switch to
the wireless.

This way you get to use two broadband connections


Here you see I have data transfer going on through two different
connection. The bottom one is the LAN which is maintaining a
continuous voice data stream. The upper one is the wireless
connection that sometimes consumes bandwidth when I browse.


Using Sysinternal’s TCPView, I can see some connection is going
through LAN and some through Belkin router. The selected ones – the
terminal client and the MSN Messenger is using LAN where the
Internet Explorer and Outlook is working over Wireless