Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies

Since I had plenty of time to read on my flights back and forth to OOPSLA, I managed to read through a few books. One of them was Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies by Tom DeMarco et al. Being the sceptic that I am, my attitude when starting to read this book was: "Yeah, I know a lot of people has praised this book and I know that Tom DeMarco has written Peopleware, but what the hell do these bozos know anyway!" ;)

I figured that the six of them could probably scrape together a few decent people patterns, but I am a bit fed up with the whole pattern template style, so my expectations were not as high as they should have been.

Anyway, the book is amazing, the pattern template is really lightweight, basically, a name, an image, a statement, and a story. And the stories, are good. The authors have a remarkable ability to observe human nature and also the ability to write about what they see.

Some Patterns

The book contains 86 patterns, most of them are negative since they are funnier, as one of the authors said on a podcast.

Dead Fish

A dead fish is a project, that every one knows is impossible to start out with, but nobody says anything since the culture in the company is that way. If you say something you may get responses like,

Prove it! Prove that it is not feasible that this project will succeed!


Are you a weenie or a layabout?

Projects like this are usually worked on until it is inevitable that they will be late, and then everybody acts surprised.


A nanny is a project manager that is aware of the capabilities of her staff and nurtures them and lets them at their peek. The nanny is responsible for improving her staff and make responsible project citizen of them. A nanny enables workers to do their job.

Eye Contact

If your life depended on a project, would you want them working close together or in different corners of the world? Human communication goes way beyond words, and it is foolish to think that it is possible to work at full speed with people who don't know each other and live in different places.


A dashboard is a highly visible board, that enable the project members and others to get an instant view of the status of the project. It can be a web page or a board on the wall. What is significant with a dashboard is that it is updated as soon as anything important happens in the project. All project members care for the dashboard since that is the place where they can find out how they are doing. Dashboards contain just the right amount of data.

Film Critics

A film critic is a project member or someone related to the project who thinks that they can succeed even if the project is a failure. They may often have good points, but usually when it is too late to do something about it. It is no use to have a person like this on the team, since they are not really on the team if they don't go down with the ship.

Natural Authority

The word authority have several meanings. The meaning of an authority is a person who knows a great deal about something. Another meaning, in authority, is a person who is in charge. A person who is an authority and in authority is a natural authority. This is the healthy pattern.

The White Line

The white line is the line on a tennis court. The line is a clear signal if the ball is in or out. Occasional dispute may arise over a questionable judgment call, but the line is respected by everyone. Most projects don't have this line. Create a white line for your project so that you know what is inside the project scope and what is not.

Silence Gives Consent

If someone don't oppose an idea, it is, usually, taken as consent. Especially from people who come from different working areas, like management and programmers. Silent consent is not good for anyone, because nobody is sure what has been decided and what has not. A way to remedy this problem is to keep a list of commitments where it is written down who has promised who what. The Scrum sprint backlog is similar to such a list.

Time Removes Cards from Your Hand

The earlier a decision can be made, the better. If you know that a project will not make a deadline, the decision to change the scope should be made as early as possible, since that will allow the team to work on the most important features first. If a decision is delayed until it is too late, the decision is made implicitly by time.


Instead of being daunted by overwhelming tasks, projects with rhythm take small, regular steps thus establishing a regular beat that carries them toward their goal.

This journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step --Lao Tzu

False Quality Gates

False quality gates are quality checks that don't do anything to promote the quality of the project. It is a sign that more attention is concentrated on format, rather than content. It can be a glossary of terms with the wrong content or a word template where most of the sections are filled in with the words "This section must contain text to fulfill company guidelines".

Testing Before Testing

Testing before testing refers to the practice of thinking about how to test a feature at the same time you think about how to implement it. If it cannot be tested how can you know that it does what you say?

Cider House Rules

Cider house rules are rules written by someone unconnected to the project. Rules like this, that give no apparent value, are a burden to the project and therefore often ignored.

Nobody pays attention to them rules. Every year Olive writes them up and every year nobody pays any attention to them. -- John Irving, The Cider House Rules

Talk Then Write

The team makes decisions during conversation, and then immediately communicates the decisions in writing. This is a really important pattern that it is easy to forget!. A common place where this kind of decisions are written down is very helpful.

Practicing the End Game

A team that does not release often and regularly will often take a long time to make a release. The act of releasing a product should be practiced often so that is becomes a natural part of the project.

Data Quality

Data quality often sucks! A common solution is often to attack the problem with technology instead of putting in the manpower that is actually needed to improve the quality of the data. Company web-sites are the prime example of this. They are often full of completely useless information.

Undivided Attention

Complex work is hard and it requires undivided attention to be performed properly. Splitting people's attention over multiple project will severely hinder their performance.

By doing two things at once, you've cut your IQ in half, and believe me, those 40 points can really make a difference. -- Dale Dauden, The New York Times

Orphaned Deliverables

Orphaned deliverables are deliverables that no-one values enough to pay for. Always make sure that there is a sponsor for every artifact that you are developing.

Hidden Beauty

Hidden beauty inside a program, that little extra thing, that may seem unnecessary, is what shows that the creator cares about his work. It is not unnecessary! This caring is what separates a quality product from garbage.

I Don't Know

If you are afraid of saying the words, "I don't know!", you are probably working in an organization where saying it means that you will be taken for a fool. In a healthy organization, "I don't know!", means that you don't know, but you will in a while, if it is important enough.

Loud and Clear

Having a clear goal, that everyone agrees to, is vital to a project. Clear goals allows you to focus the project activity if it starts to move away from its purpose. A PAM statement, that contains the Purpose, Advantage, and Measurements of a project is very helpful.


The patterns described above are just my short summaries, and I don't do them justice, but hopefully I have awoken your interest in this wonderful book.

It made my top-ten list and I recommend it to everyone from programmer to president. I like that the authors don't always provide a solution, but instead just describe the way they see it, it is up to you to figure out a solution to the problem yourself.

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