Backlog Logjam

log jam With Twitter hash tag #rethinkingbacklogDavid Hussman mused

I see many people who hear backlog and think “things I will never get”

Then he asked

Is it time for a new word?

Here’s a sampling of the responses to David’s query


It might be a hayseed rearing in one of the Little Boxes made of ticky-tack in the sardine suburbs of Tony Soprano’s New Jersey, but I suggested Hopper. No reaction. Crickets chirped on Twitter. So let me explain.

If Agilistas used Hopper instead of Backlog, then hoofed ruminant programmers like me would be gravity fed! It’s unnerving to programmers when there isn’t a stream of mouth-watering cud ready to be digested. Programmers wouldn’t be beholden to trying to think for, and prod, hapless product owners. Immutable gravity would move whatever shit they tossed in. hungry pig

Most so-called product owners do not know enough, or are not engaged enough with the vision for the product, to prioritize things…unless it’s a startup and it is your bacon smoke going up the chimney. Otherwise, the concept of product owner makes no sense in the typical corporate paradigm. You don’t have ownership unless you actually own it.

As a hungry programmer, I like the image of positioning my pie hole below the spigot.


In the corporate realm, I wonder if the more common scenario than a backlog so large people are concerned if stories will ever get into an iteration, is having a backlog so thin that well-intentioned people are scrambling around 10 minutes before iteration planning to make sure there is enough cud to toss into the UCS, or Usability Calamity Software (aka, agile tracking tool), for the salivating programmers.

This opinion might be slightly tainted by an un-coached, agile-lite project I once worked on. Please don’t try agile without coaching.


Search the #rethinkingbacklog thread started by David Hussman on Twitter to see more replacement candidates for Backlog.


Thanks David – you spark some of the best discussions.

The Missing Link in Google Wave – UI For Primates

The transitional fossil between a transformative concept and a useful tool is probably always going to be the answer to:

Would a primate find it useful?

Okay naysayers, New Caledonian crows are an example of a non-primate clever enough to use a stick to poke food, but the scope here is primates; the nearly hairless apes like you and me.

An amusing poll at asks,

Which is easier to understand?

On the left hand side of the poll, is a screen shot of the Google Wave inbox. On the right hand side, is a sequential series of screen shots of stuff that’s notoriously difficult to understand like:

Google Wave Inbox Notoriously Difficult to Understand
Google Wave Inbox

  • The Geopolitical Climate of Southeast Asia
  • Self-Balancing Binary Search Trees
  • Polymodal Chromaticism
  • The Raison d’être for the Movie The Sandlot 2
  • Mating Habits of the Red-Sided Garter Snake
Having an unfinished thesis on a hopelessly academic model for the flow of two immiscible fluids based on complex analysis, I added:

The 2D analytic manifold of a Riemann surface

to the mix of stuff easier to understand than Wave. The picture (above right) is a butt-simple graphical rendition of the surface of a square root, f(z) = Sqrt(z). To everyone’s dismay, the f(z) in my unpublished thesis took an entire typeset page. No wonder I drop-kicked a PhD fellowship to procreate; mating was the only thing I figured I could do as well as a snow monkey.

Google Wave is a transformative concept. To be fair, the monkey nuts of Google Wave are built on the shoulders of forward thinkers (Ray Ozzie) and well-established technologies and standards (XMPP). But it remains to be seen if humans will find it useful.

Last July I was excited about Wave, after attending the Hackathon at Googleplex with the inimitable Garry Smith. I wrote about Google Wave and Collaborative Projects.

I was talking to everyone who would listen. Now that WikiWikiWeb founder Ward Cunningham thinks Wave is cool, every curious person in the agile community and beyond is clamoring for Wave invitations.

Where’s the Grand Metaphor for Wave?

Primates need metaphors to understand. It is not human hubris to say that humans might need a smaller rock than an orangutan, nonetheless a confused human appears every much as pitiful as a confused orangutan.

Email has a metaphor. Email has snail mail where the internet is a carrier pigeon or IPoAC (IP over Avian Carriers). Instant messaging has the metaphor of Morse Code operators sending and recieving messages. A Wiki has a bulletin board metaphor. Google Wave has nothing. Yet.

Where are the Visual Cues in Wave?

To thrive in complex social interactions, primates form mental maps representing the social hierarchy of thier posse. One of the confusing things about a Wave is the absence of visual hierarchy.

In a Wave, there are no clear relationships between elements in one’s inbox. Every blip carries equal weight. One might issue a mind-bogglingly-profound blip that’s answered by

That’s awesome dude

Both blips carry equal weight to a subsequent participant joining the Wave.

A Wave needs some kind of tag cloud do-hicky, or real-time executive summary. When there’s information overload, humans need a lazy way to

Cull the salient from the slobber

Everyone at Googleplex, Younger and Smarter

I remain steadfastly bullish about Google Wave. Everyone at Googleplex is younger and smarter. The billiards-playing Stanford graduates toiling at Google’s Mountain View sweat shop, and the fledgling community of adopters and gold-miners, are bound to make Wave useful to the masses. But for now, I’ll continue using cotton string and re-purposed cans. tin can phone

If Software’s Like Farming, How Do I Certify Organic?

The abundance of software metaphors is amusing.

Before writing code, we used the archaic but apropos writing instructions. That is because writing instructions is literally what we did, uh… and still do.

If I used Twitter, and you followed me, you’d find that on most days,

Bob is slinging instructions.

Metaphors abound for the stuff that happens between digital nothingness and an app one can demo. A sampling from blog posts Why Software Development isn’t Like Construction and Tending Your Software Garden borrow metaphors from several industries attributable to various software luminaries (see table).

Metaphor Industry Remark / Attribution
Building an app Construction Software is soft, buildings aren’t (McConnell)
Creating an app Theology It’s a science (Gries, 1981); It’s an art (Knuth, 1998).
Growing an app Farming Hunt and Thomas, and others
Accreting an app Oyster Farming e.g., system accretion (McConnell); oysters make pearls
Driving an app Transportation like driving a car”” (Plauger and Beck)
Producing an app Entertainment like filming Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (Heckel)

Teams freshly introduced to agility might feel they’re divining an app; not unlike a dowser might try conjuring up Sahara groundwater from the nearly imperceptible twitches of his divining rod.

I am partial to the Farming metaphor. Are you? I have started using grow instead of build in professional conversations – whenever I can remember.

In keeping with the post Simple Design or Swiss-Army Knifing, I pledge to strive to minimize my natural tendency to over-fertilize (i.e., I will deny the impulse to shovel on piles of steaming manure – one method, one purpose).

If software is like farming, how much manure should we use?