This Month’s Pattern *

82 What Smell?

People in the organization cannot detect its underlying vitality or decay.

  • Madame Fleury’s Bakery is in the village of Chamonix in the French Alps. Every morning, each customer who enters to get fresh bread or croissants breaks into an uncontrolled grin; the place just smells so scrumptious. Madame Fleury and her staff give excellent service to their delirious customers, but they are not smiling.
  • On the eastern end of Long Island, there are duck farms. Most are family-owned and family-operated. You know you are approaching a duck farm not by seeing it, not by reading a sign for it, but by smelling it. Stench is a kind descriptor for the smell. If you can stand to get close enough, your eyes will tear involuntarily. How can the family work on the duck farm, day-in and day-out? The only possible answer is that they just don’t smell all those duck deposits.

The metaphorical scent of projects, and of entire organizations, is usually strong; it varies from bakery to duck farm, but the denizens’ senses are saturated by the smell.

All workers need to know what their organization smells like, so they can decide to either

  • Breathe deeply and do nothing different at all.
  • Open the windows a bit.
  • Fumigate.

No matter what position you hold in your organization, you cannot determine its smell yourself. You need to bring in some fresh noses from the outside world to sniff around your place. Interestingly, if you have been around projects for a while, you are probably completely capable of doing this task for other organizations. You might be able to set up a Smell-Now: It’s-For-Facts (SNIFF) program through a local chapter of a professional society.

We have been sniffing around organizations for years, and without explanation, here are some actual scents we’ve sniffed, other than bakery and duck farm:

  • nursing home
  • monkey cage
  • teenager’s bedroom
  • make-up room backstage
  • sea breeze 
  • oncologist’s waiting room
  • mildew
  • playground
  • electrical fire
  • cigar bar

If you can’t guess the kind of organization from its scent, either you’re in it, or you have just never walked into that kind of office.

As the Lynyrd Skynyrd lyric goes,“Can’t you smell that smell?”

* Each month we plan to publish here one of the patterns from our Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies — Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior. (Watch this space for a mere 86 months and you'll have read the whole thing.) The book is published by Dorset House Publishing, in the US and Hanser Verlag in Germany. It is available at Amazon and also as a Kindle book.


Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
12-Sep-2017 to 14-Sep-2017

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

Brussels, Mastering Business Analysis
13-Sep-2017 to 14-Sep-2017

James Archer teaches Mastering Business Analysis. Contact IT Works for details of this course.  

Stockholm, Mastering the Requirements Process
26-Sep-2017 to 28-Sep-2017

Brussels, Mastering the Requirements Process
10-Oct-2017 to 12-Oct-2017

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact I.T.Works for details.  

Brussels, MRP part 2
11-Oct-2017 to 12-Oct-2017

Rome, Mastering the Requirements Process
16-Oct-2017 to 18-Oct-2017

Rome, Mastering Business Analysis
19-Oct-2017 to 20-Oct-2017

James Robertson teaches Mastering Business Analysis. Contact Technology Transfer for details of this course.  

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
6-Nov-2017 to 8-Nov-2017

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
7-Nov-2017 to 9-Nov-2017

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Adept Events. Dutch description, or in English.

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process part 2
9-Nov-2017 to 10-Nov-2017

Suzanne Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process part 2. Details for this advanced class at Den Norske Dataforeningen.

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
14-Nov-2017 to 16-Nov-2017

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details and registration, please contact IRM UK.

in depth

Business analysis is often seen as a technical skill. But the business analyst has another set of responsibilities -- to dig into what the stakeholder's mind and uncover what is really needed, and not just what they say they want. 

A Ruby Beam of Light, Book I of Tom DeMarco's Andronescu's Paradox saga is now available in English in paperback and ebook, from Double Dragon Publishing.

"This war isn't going to blow anything up, only turn everything off."

Suzanne and James Robertson's "Requirements: The Masterclass LiveLessons-Traditional, Agile, Outsourcing". 15+ Hours of Video Instruction. 

Als auf der Welt das Licht Ausging, the German edition of Tom DeMarco's science fiction epic, Andronescu's Paradox, has now been published by Hanser Verlag in Munich.  Translation by Andreas Brandhorst.

James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Writing the Right Agile Stories on YouTube. Download the webinar slides.