12 October 2007 @ 5pm


Working the Story

Preamble: Alright. So I can’t imagine that this idea is wholly original, but I don’t have time to look it up right now.

I’m in Arlington, visiting my parents and getting ready to celebrate my dad’s birthday. In his retirement, he’s taken up (or re-taken up) painting — specifically, oil painting. At dinner (kebabs), I asked him about some of his recent assignments (he’s in a few classes). Last week, his assignment was this: Take a household object (he used a metal duck … what? you don’t have metal ducks in your house?), and spend one hour painting it. Then, paint the same object, in only 20 minutes. Then, paint the object one more time, in only 5 minutes.

The goal is to see what the essential components of the object are, to reduce the object down to its essence, its core.

This week, his assignment is to do the exact same thing, but in reverse. In five minutes, get the core of the object (this time, it’s fruit). Then, over twenty minutes, redo it, adding nuance. Then, do it a third time, going for as much detail as you can get into it in the hour.

Interestingly, this parallels my PearBudget development from the last week. Because I’m a fiddler, I know that I need to set constraints on my time. So I wrote out the story of a user’s interaction with PearBudget. Everything from the initial glance at the homepage, to the creation of an account, to the first login, to the budget creation wizard, to the logging out, yadda yadda yadda, to the forgotten password at re-log-in time, etc.

Then, I’m step through it, one piece at a time. Each piece gets an hour of time, and then it’s on to the next piece. After I’ve gone through the whole story (I think there are, like 15 steps? 20?), I go back through, adding in nuance, detail, clarification, etc. But the idea is to get the essence, as quickly as possible. Also, it gives Sarah time to step through behind me and to see the areas that don’t make any sense. That feedback then becomes important for my next pass through.

That’s the theory, at least, behind “working the story.” In practice, I’m finding it really really hard to drop something just as I’ve begun to get my head around it. So I might have to change my approach as time goes on. It’s early enough in the game that I’m going to have a couple of false starts. That’s another benefit of the agile approach — you haven’t invested crazy amounts of time when you figure out something isn’t working.

Okay. Enough with the talky. Back to it.

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