Elephant Carpaccio

Carpaccio – thinly sliced meat

I co-facilitated Alistair Cockburn’s elephant carpaccio exercise yesterday. This is an exercise to teach developers and business analysts:

  • How to slice large applications into 1-day to 1-week requests, from the business perspective
  • How to slice application requests into 15-30 minute work slices, from both the business and programming perspective

Previously, there had been some discussion at work about problems people were having with large stories. Coincidentally, @jtf mentioned the facilitation guide for the exercise around the same time. Looking through the guide, it covered a lot of the issues we had been talking about, and seemed like a better scope for true learning, as opposed to just pointing people to the story splitting resource. Given that the facilitation guide was so detailed, it didn’t seem too much of a stretch to have a go at running the course.

Main problem: after deciding to actually do it, I had about 2 days to prepare, and a huge amount of loose ends to tie up before I escaped work on paternity leave. Luckily, I had a very experienced business analyst to help me run the exercise: Lisa Ellis. Lisa was able to smoothly cover my lapses.

What worked:Team

  • the exercise is a very good way of teaching the reasoning and benefits of small yet complete story slices. The approach is focused on the coaching aspects of asking participants go think through the issue for themselves
  • I think it was very fun for everyone. 40 minutes to go through 10 – 20 stories? Go!
  • The facilitation guide was incredibly detailed, which made it very easy to help participants reach their learning goals.

What didn’t work:

  • some participants were not ready with a development environment – note to self: ensure everyone is prepared before turning up.
  • I wasn’t fully prepared, and didn’t have enough answers at my fingertips, and wasn’t always quite sure about what the next steps of the exercise were. I had to refer to the notes quite a lot. Luckily Lisa was there to help.
  • We ran out of time in the end, and had to cut the coding time short by 1 iteration. Interestingly enough, this actually helped highlight the benefits of small slices and prioritising by value

This was my first time running this exercise. Even with a scant 2 days notice, we had 20 people sign up. I think there’s a lot of demand yet in the company. We’ll definitely be running this exercise again (with a bit more finesse)

Carpaccio image by Manoel Petry, and used under the terms of the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.