This Month’s Pattern *

10 True Believer

An individual embraces a school of thought as gospel. Even slight deviations from the canon are considered sacrilege.

Nearly all of the popular methods in software engineering arose from practitioners’ experience, not from basic research. People were motivated to write down what worked for them on their projects, and the experience got transferred from a small group to many others. By communicating with many of the leading process designers, we know that most of them concede that (1) their methods were developed for certain domains or project sizes and (2) their methods have never been expected to work exactly as described for all possible environments.

Our CASE tool ProMod, in its early versions, flagged as errors a lot of things that our customers considered okay. Whatever methods we implemented, we did them by the book—we were true believers. Whenever the text suggested something or showed an example, we abstracted from that and coded it into hard rules. We flagged it as an error when a user did not exactly follow our rules. Only over time did we learn to flag things as warnings instead of errors. Even more, we learned that we had to make all of the messages optional; in other words, we let the user decide whether to turn them on or off, and we allowed the rules to be violated. —PH

Although most process books contain fair warnings about the applicability of the methods, true believers either ignore these warnings or never make it to the pages that contain them, which are usually found toward the end. Currently, it is very much the vogue to be an XP advocate, even among people who have never read the penultimate chapter of Kent Beck’s first book, in which he clearly explains the limits of the approach.

One of my clients is considered by her boss to be a major success factor because of her software engineering skills and enthusiasm. We discussed UML activity diagrams in their latest variety, Version 2.1. I was surprised to hear that she refused to use the UML tool chosen by the company “since it did not support all the new features such as n-dimensional swim lanes, interruptible regions, and parameter sets.” Instead, she preferred to use Visio shapes, which gave her the freedom to follow all the suggestions of the new action language. She claimed she really needed them all. She was a true believer. —PH

True believers on your project can bog the work down. Instead of concentrating on the content, they fight methods wars. Often, true believers are found among consultants brought on board to help with methods. The ultimate clash is achieved when two principals (either insiders or consultants) turn out to be true believers of two different methodologies. Bring on the proxy wars! No matter how good they are, you’d be better off without either of them so you can get on with your business.

“Different methodologies are needed on different projects.”—Alistair Cockburn[1]

  1. Cockburn, A., Agile Software Development (Reading, Mass.:Addison-Wesley, 2002).

* 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.


Brussels, Business Analysis Agility
11-Sep-2018 to 12-Sep-2018

James Robertson teaches Business Analysis Agility. Contact IT Works for details of this course.  

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
11-Sep-2018 to 13-Sep-2018

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

Stockholm, Mastering the Requirements Process
25-Sep-2018 to 27-Sep-2018

Brussels, Mastering the Requirements Process
9-Oct-2018 to 11-Oct-2018

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

Rome, Mastering the Requirements Process
15-Oct-2018 to 17-Oct-2018

Budapest MRP
16-Oct-2018 to 18-Oct-2018

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact Aguarra for details and registration.

Rome, Business Analysis Agility
18-Oct-2018 to 19-Oct-2018

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

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
5-Nov-2018 to 7-Nov-2018

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

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
13-Nov-2018 to 15-Nov-2018

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

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
14-Nov-2018 to 16-Nov-2018

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.