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Clarke Ching's Rocks and Snowballs Blog

My Dad to me: "What do you do in your job?"

clarke ching

I spent a lot of time with my Dad when I was back home in New Zealand this year.  He's a farmer (at heart) and I'm a computer scientist (at heart), and, honestly, we've never had anything in common work-wise, but we get along just fine.

At one stage, while sitting in his boat fishing, he asked me, "What is it you do in your job?"

I said, "Ahhh", because it's hard to enough to explain my job (or Agile) to people who work with computers, let alone a gnarly old farmer who's been semi-retired for the last 10 years and used a computer for the first time when he bought an instruction manual for rebuilding his bulldozer.  

My only option, really, was an analogy, but since my dad is a very concrete person it had to be a very concrete analogy.  I thought a moment ...

I said, 'You remember how, when I was little, you built your garage and we then lived in it while you helped the carpenter built our house?'


"You remember how we then moved into the house and, when I was about 10, you built on the conservatory?"


"You remember how, some time after I left home, you replaced the conservatory and extended the front room out and bought that huge telly?'

"Ah ha."

"And, you remember how, a few years ago, you extended my old room and put in your air-con and ensuite?  And how Mum now wants to replace the kitchen?"

"I do."

'Well, I help businesses improve themselves just like you built up your house.  They can't afford to build the whole thing perfectly up front, they don't usually know what perfect even looks like, and they want to start using their improvements this year, rather than waiting 5 years, or 20."

"And that's what you do?"


"But do you do that with computers, rather than hammers and nails?"

"We do."

Five minutes later and Dad said, "And when you do this, do you talk your 2nd son - the practical one - into becoming a builder so it's cheaper to keep extending your house?"

"We do".


I hope this helps.

Published: New Beta of Rolling Rocks Downhill.

clarke ching

I've just uploaded the 2nd Beta version of Rolling Rocks Downhill, my biztech novel.

So what's new?  Well, just like the latest iPad, it's 25% thinner (I reduced the word count, without sacrificing content, from 100k words to 75k).  The plot is firm and the previously thin characters are now 50% less-thin!  It's a whole lot easier to read, though it still needs to go through a proper copy-editting process before it gets published proper.  It is still riddled with spealling mistaeks, but that's coz it's a beta and (if you haven't noticed) I'm crap at spelling.  

Oh, and it still ends on a cliff-hanger, at the end of the 2nd act.  The 3rd act contains new knowledge for a most Agile (and other) folk, but the beta stands on its own, without the third act.   And that's what's got me all conflicted:  the third act could easily be either the last act of this book or the first act of "Rolling More Rocks Downhill".   I'm wondering if I should practice what I preach ...

Here it is: and

Small bets & Pilots

clarke ching

Tim Hartford, the "undercover economist", has written a nice article about the economic benefits of plotting and prototyping which, I think, will appeal to my Agile friends. It ties in nicely with how Zara works but it's talking about projects. 

"The option to conduct a cheap test run can be very valuable. It’s easy to lose sight of quite how valuable. Aza Raskin, who was lead designer for the Firefox browser, cites the late Paul MacCready as his inspiration on this point. MacCready was one of the great aeronautical engineers, and his most famous achievement was to build the Gossamer Condor and the Gossamer Albatross, human-powered planes that tore up the record books in the late 1970s. 

One of MacCready’s key ideas was to develop a plane that could swiftly be rebuilt after a crash. Each test flight revealed fresh information, MacCready figured, but human-powered planes are so feather-light that each test flight also damages the plane. The most important thing a designer could do was to build a plane that could be rebuilt within days or even hours after a crash – rather than weeks or months. Once the problem of fast, cheap experimentation was solved, everything else followed."

In my language, projects are a bet, and running pilots (or delivering incrementally with the intention of abandoning a bad big bet and celebrating) is loading the dice. One of the ways we load the dice is to dramatically lower the cost of failure, then fail!


Zara articles are like busses

clarke ching

My buddy Greg sent me this article about Zara from yesterday's Telegraph. 

My wife sent me this article about Zara from yesterday's times (paywall). 

What's up?  Nothing from Zara for years then two articles in one day. I wonder if they've realised they're this decade's Toyota and have decided to talk about it. I hope so.