Delivering a Hippo

When delivering software through the delivery chain, I’d like to refer to the software as a Hippopotamus. Previously I have heard Michael Bolton (Not the singer, or the guy from Office Space) refer to software (and the delivery process) and especially requirement handling by telling a story about blind men and elephant. I do have my reasons to switch the elephant to a hippo, which I then explain later on.
If you like elephants more than hippos, too bad.

The Story

There is a group of blind men. They get a task to describe what a hippopotamus looks like. They need to give the description to a man that will build a crate to transport the hippo to the wild.
The group is first gathered around the head. They describe the beast as a big headed creature that has a huge mouth and sharp, long teeth, relatively small eyes and small, but alert ears. The creature seems to also have a slightly bad temper. They measure the size of the head and give the description to the transport team.
After the description, the transport team builds a crate and the delivery starts.
They get the whole head to the crate, it fits perfectly. But then there comes something else.
It seems they’ve forgotten something.
At this point it’s about the time for me to reveal a bit on how do I see this. First of all the group of men, the blind ones, I saw them first as bunch of software developers delivering the latest features on maintenance project. But to be fair, the group should also contain some test engineers, requirement responsible (product owner or whatever the title is), project manager and so forth. For as far as I know, regardless on the role on the project, in this kind of scenario we people tend to get blind. And it is not related on this scenario. When we as humans concentrate on the problem at hand we have great capabilities on concentrating on just that and to forget everything else. Which is somewhat crucial. It is crucial for the delivery to be delivered as it should’ve been. It should also be crucial to focus on other things than just the delivery itself.
What the group of blind men has forgotten is that the hippo has it’s body. The body is bigger and wider than the head and therefore it has no place in the crate. However, if they want to deliver the head, they should also deliver the body. So they turn back to the hippo and feel the sheer size of it’s body.
They describe the quite huge creature to the  transport team. The transport team, for they are clever, will now build a crate to contain both the head and the body. Not just the body.
So everything should now be fine, or what do you think?
The team has now delivered the complete hippo to the transport team and managed to get it inside the crate. Sure, and everybody is happy. The main functionality is delivered with the maintenance package without huge amount of flaws in it. As it usually is.
But did they forget something? No, everything is neatly packaged and ready to be delivered.
Well, the hippo has the rear end. And as you know, hippos tend to mark their territory with their rear end. They are clever in that way that they spread their manure (aka hippo -shit) around by wagging their tail vigorously. It’s an effective way to spread the message. And there we have the slip through. To be honest It wouldn’t matter if the group of men were blind or not; slip through will eventually happen every now and then to the teams that are or are not visually impaired. Really, we’ve all been there.
What we can learn from here is few things. First of all, the roles of the team should be spread a bit. There should be at least one person taking care of the maintenance and regression. Whether that is a test engineer or a developer does not actually make any greater difference. It usually is enough that you verify that he regression should not happen and that the old stuff is delivered also. The other thing to consider would be to take one of the transport team to check the delivery.
And for the love of God (or whatever deity your world goes around – money, consuming, stock exchange, sex, rock n’ roll etc), don’t get me wrong here. I do not mean that we need more people to the team. I do think that more blind men see just as much as less of them. What I mean with the role is that we, humans, are capable of switching to different roles. Even during the workday. Regardless what I think about multi-tasking (I am strongly against, really, it does not work for me), I do think that same person that handles the delivery of the main functionality can also handle te delivery and verification of the maintenance delivery. And the verification of regression tests. Does not even have to be a developer to do that. Or QA, depending on from which side you look at it. There’s plenty of things we QA -engineers can learn from the developers and developers can also learn a thing or two from testers. Some of the test engineers are even capable of writing code themselves and most of the developers are capable of testing their (or someone else’s code) during the day. And after this is done, they can continue concentrating to deliver the main functionality. It really is as simple as that. Nothing fancy here.
So, now we’ve covered the main functionality and the regression. The head and the body are happily delivered. What to do with the tail?
First of all. We will always have slip throughs. Really, there is no way we can get rid of them. There is no way we can test and code in a way that will lead to a delivery and simultaneously not have anything weird hidden in the delivery. But of course we should do anything we can to prevent them happen.
What could be helping here was that there is a role in the team for experimental testing. Do something unconventional. Someone from the team should get to bash the hell out from the application, tease the boundaries, break it, create chaos. Do things users won’t do (that list is actually shorter than you think ;)). That will, eventually reveal some of the bugs that the more conventional testing won’t do. If possible, automate that and do it all the time. Just keep the chaos running.

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