Little Tim and the messy house

The messy kitchen
The messy kitchen

A cute little boy, Tim, lives in a messy house.

In the morning Tim’s mum, Tina, spends an hour looking for rubbish in the house, when she finds some, she writes a note on a piece of paper where she describes the steps that she followed when she found it, and sticks the note in one of 5 different drawers. Each drawer is labelled “Severity 1”,  “Severity 2” and so on down to “Severity 5”.

Tina and Tim’s uncle Bob, meet every evening to discuss the daily findings and after arguing for a good while they agree on how to file the notes written during the day into 5 folders with labels “Priority 1”, “Priority 2” and so on up to “Priority 5”.

Tim’s father, Oleg, every morning picks the folder with label “Priority 1” reads the notes Tina wrote, follows the steps, finds the rubbish and throws it in the bin. He then writes an extra note on the piece of paper saying that he has thrown the rubbish in the bin. If the Priority 1 folder is empty, Oleg picks the Priority 2 folder and follows the same process. Some times Oleg cannot find Tina’s rubbish even when following her written steps, in this case he adds a note saying “there is no rubbish there!”. Sometimes Tina takes it personally and Oleg sleeps in the spare room. Oleg barely ever opens the folders with Priority 3 to 5. Such folders are bursting with new and old notes from many years back.

Tina spends an hour a day rechecking the Priority folders to see if her husband has added his notes. When she finds one, she will follow her own steps to make sure that Oleg has removed the rubbish from where it was as he said he did. If he did it, she will shred the original note, if the rubbish is still there she will add a note at the bottom saying, “the rubbish is still there, please go and pick it up!”. She will spend some more time adding some extra information on how to find the piece of rubbish. Sometimes, while she is tracking some old rubbish she finds some new, in this case she creates another note and adds it to a drawer.

Each piece of rubbish was filed neatly
For each piece of rubbish, a report was filed neatly

From time to time uncle Bob calls around asking for rubbish reports and rubbish removal trends. In these occasions Tina and Oleg spend the night up counting and recounting, moving sorting and drawing before they send a detailed rubbish status report.

Strangely enough, no matter how hard Tina and Oleg work at identifying, filing, removing, reporting and trending rubbish, the house is always full of shit and uncle Bob is always angry. Tim’s parents are obsessed in finding new rubbish but they don’t pay much attention to family members dropping chewing gums on the floor, fish and chips wrapping paper in the socks drawer, beer cans in the washing machine and so on. After all Tina will find the rubbish and following their fool proof process they will remove it!

One day Tim calls her parents and Uncle and sits them down for a chat. He suggests to stop throwing rubbish on the floor and messing up the house so that they can reduce the amount of time spent finding, removing filing and trending the rubbish. He also suggests to get rid of the folders labelled Priority 3, 4 and 5 as nobody has done any work on them and after all the existence of a minuscule speck of dust on the bathroom floor is not going to make their life uncomfortable. He also suggests that Tina calls Oleg as soon as she finds some rubbish so that he can remove it straight away, without the need for adding notes.

Uncle Bob tells Tim that what he says is nonsense, because the family are following a best practice approach for rubbish management and in agreement with Tina and Oleg locks him up in a mental facility.

Everybody lived unhappy ever after.

Have I eventually gone bonkers and started talking nonsense?

No, I haven’t suddenly gone crazy. I am Tim and I want to change the world.

23 thoughts on “Little Tim and the messy house

    • Hi John, thanks for your support. Tim says that the world can be changed person by person and one converted is better than nothing.He also says that once you are converted you don’t accept the status quo any longer and help convert other people, it’s a snowball effect.

  1. Good analogy. This story shows the ridiculousness of the whole testing concept.
    Too bad Tim is sent to the mental facility before he even can come up with an even better solution: not producing the rubbish in the first place.

  2. Hey Gus, I really like the metaphor – it clearly shows how wasteful bug management can be!

    I have a couple of questions:
    1. What does “messy” mean? Do all the people in the house think of the “rubbish” as mess?
    2. What if Oleg isn’t around to pick up the rubbish in the morning & Tina forgets where all the rubbish is & how messy it is? That rubbish might be forgotten… (I agree the rubbish removal trends are unnecessary)

    Sounds like they need to enlighten uncle Bob, or failing that show him the door 🙂

    Nice thought provoking post & a metaphor I am likely to use again, thanks for sharing


    • Hi Duncan, thanks for your feedback. Let me try to answer your questions:

      1. Messy is probably not the right word, I should have said “dirty house”, I thought about it but “messy house” sounded better, so allow me the poetic license 🙂

      2. If you consider Oleg as the metaphor for more than one developer (it’s not very common to have a team with one single developer), then Oleg can go on a holiday, get sick and all that without creating a problem because Sergey will be able to help Tina. If nobody is around and Tina is worried about forgerring, she can always write a note on a post it and use it a conversation starter when either Oleg or Sergey are back

      Uncle Bob should be fired straight away (no reference to uncle bob martin here!)

      Use away and let me know if you find other people that want to help Tim change the world!

      • Hey, I can’t comment on poetic licence – I’ve been known to use the term “sauce code” in my kitchen brigade metaphor 🙂

        Going back to Tina’s short term memory – I’m going to need to switch out of the metaphor a moment…

        A rule of thumb I use is if the time between uncovering the bug to fixing the bug will be greater than those involved in the conversation & demo of the bug can remember the detail then log it.

        This typically results in bugs found during development are not “tracked”, but bugs found in integration environments are “tracked” due to the longer feedback loop.

        How would that sit in your metaphor?

        • Hi Duncan you are uncovering the deeper meaning in the metaphor, congratulations! There are 2 core concepts that Tim touches in the proposed solution:
          1. Focus on flow of value, that means when a bug is discovered, fix it immediately so that the value can reach the customer.
          2. Get rid of priority 3 to 5 folders, i.e. assess immediately whether you need to fix something or not (with the help of Oleg and Bob if needed), if you don’t need to fix it, there is no point in logging it at all. (Why remove a spec of dust on the bathroom floor?)

          Tim would recommend not to have a development phase and a separate integration phase, Tim suggests to have development and integration shared activities.

  3. From my perspective, the analogy of the messy household and the need to cleanup is flawed, as it does not address the typical software issues: In software, you not only need to clean up. You can do cleanup (aka refactoring) without opening and managing issues, for sure.

    But you can not add another room, rebuild the house to host another 27 persons, rework the kitchen
    into a tennis court without some form of management – and it’s imho the bigger/riskier/more complex issues we need (formal) tracking for.

    Nobody in his/her right mind would create issues for small refactorings – but imho trackers do have
    significant value.

    disclaimer: I currently work on an “open-source” software maintenance and improvement methodology ( resp. – which elaborates on “cleanup-in-the-large”…

    • Dr. Gernot, thanks for your feedback.
      Tim is not only talking about small refactoring. Tim is talking about building new products, complex products. I have ditched defect management tools for the last 4 t years and never missed them once. I worked on small products and large and complex ones.
      Could you expand on what specific problems you resolve by using defect management tools?

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