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6 years ago

Tale: Deadline and Technical Debt

Once upon a time there lived a very brave and adventurous young man by the name Arthur. He lived in a large kingdom with knights and castles and an extremely cunning king who had a beautiful daughter – Caroline. She was so beautiful, that every morning birds would fly through the open window with fresh roses in their beaks. Birds would drop rose petals near her bed and fill the air with pleasant tweets, every five minutes exactly. Then they would fly away to never come back…they would simply die outside, because they couldn’t live without princess’ beauty anymore.

The king was greedy so he held annual competitions during which the contestants had to pay 10 sovereigns each to participate. The winner would marry Caroline, but missions were so hard, that there were no winners ever!

New competition was announced and brave Arthur decided to win the highest prize! He saw the beautiful princess only once before and fell desperately in love with her.

On a sunny day all the contestants gathered together on a central square. The king said: “Brave men! There will be 3 main missions… and a very easy 4th mission to the winner. Today I’ll tell you about the first mission only. You have to build a house in 10 days. It should have 2 rooms, doors, windows and a roof. That’s all you have to do!!”


Mission #1

Is it possible to build a house in 10 days? Arthur was disappointed. He had hoped to kill a dragon, catch a witch or do something else that a brave knight is supposed to do. But he was smart (and brave). He spent all the day doing nothing but thinking. Other contestants laughed at him: “Look at Arthur! He gave up miserably! Arthur, go home, you are such a loser!” But as you know, our Arthur was smart so he decided to build the simplest house possible. And he did it: the ground became a floor; house had only 2 tiny rooms and the light would enter through the 2 windows near the front doors; the roof was there to simply protect from rain and snow – no more no less! Most importantly, he finished it in 8 days! Many, many other brave men tried but failed. Some started to build a large and solid house and ran out of time. Others started building too quickly and their houses would collapse half way through. However, brave Arthur and a dozen other guys completed the first mission successfully.

“I am proud of you! – said the cunning king. “Now here is the second mission for you all. This time, you should build a basement that will be twice as large as the house itself. Also you should build a fireplace. You all have a total of 12 days to get the job done.”

Mission #2

And again Arthur spent the whole day thinking. “I don’t even have a floor in the house… How can I build a basement? The house will simply break down… If I spend time on the floor, I’ll have no time to do the rest.” Then he found a workaround. He decided to dig deeper than usual. “Deep basement should be safe enough and floor is not required in this case! Fireplace will take 2 days to create, and I can definitely make this basement in 9 days!”

Arthur worked like crazy and completed the mission in 11 days. He slept for the whole 12th day – the last day of the mission. At the end, only 5 other brave men have completed this stage of competition.

“You did a fantastic job!” – the king said. – “Now listen to the last mission. You should build an upper level in your house. An upper level may have only one room, but you have only 5 days to do it.”

Mission #3

All the contestants were quite excited. It looked like an easy task. But Arthur was sad. “If I build another level” – he thought – “my house will crash…” This time he started to work immediately. He brought several large logs into the basement and made props. It took him a total of 2 days. Arthur was not sure that it’d be enough, but he had no more time and decided to accept the risk. Luckily, he had a flat roof and therefore it turned out to be relatively easy to create another level right on top of it. Arthur was tired, but extremely happy. After all, he was the only one who made it through the last mission!

“My boy!” – King happily hugged Arthur. – “You did it! I can’t believe, but you did it! You are just one step away from the Caroline’s hand. Your last mission can’t be simpler – You should live in the house you built during the first 2 weeks. This is it. And then you will have my blessings and the hand of my beloved daughter, Caroline!”

“Wow, so easy!” – said Arthur. “Yes, it is” – answered the king with a smile on his face.

Mission #4

The next day brave Arthur was killed by the crashed ceiling. It was a windy and rainy day…

  • John

    This is what is wrong with Agile, working with short sighted requirements and fooling yourself that building only what is needed is a solution for a product with many future releases. May work for a card shuffling program or a primitive online store, but not for an enterprise level product.

    A conversation about the King’s vision to learn about his desire for a multi level house with a basement would have worked – and that is not specific to Agile, Lean, Scrum, Waterfall, RUP, or whatever the current methodology is at the time. It’s just common sense… Heck even just saying what you ask is not possible, and getting the support from the organization would have spared Arthur his life.

  • Michael Dubakov

    Nice shot! But in this case it would not help. The King was cunning and would never tell the whole story. Scope creep…

  • Ben Hyde

    Close, but no cigar. King got nothing. The manual for being a King is clear. It’s expected that you burn thru the talent like that, but it is a sin to do so and come away empty handed.

  • Olga Kouzina

    Yeah, the king should’ve planned on more than just getting 10 sovereigns from each contestant :)

  • Giorgio

    Agile is here to provide value at the end of every mission…

  • Martin

    What is the birds-dropping-flowers-every-5-minutes-and-then-dying part about?
    I didn’t get the whole story until poor Arthur came into play…

    Don’t agree with Olga though – the King only seemed to want to cash his n * 10 sovereigns and didn’t care at all for Arthur; marrying his daughter to the right person was not in his mind (in the requirements).

    To me the lesson learned is: watch out, your boss is going to sell you for a dime, unless you are smarter than him and can outwit him: Build a house that is 200% of what he asked for, just to be sure.
    Poor Arthur won’t die of the ceiling collapsing, but of exhaustion, trying to satisfy his bosses anticipated needs…

  • Colin Jack

    You start by saying “This is what is wrong with Agile” then say “A conversation about the King’s vision to learn about his desire for a multi level house with a basement would have worked – and that is not specific to Agile, Lean, Scrum, Waterfall, RUP”.

    Not a problem with agile at all then?

  • cover

    @John well, if u learn how to translate enterprise vision into short sighted requirements for common sense people – u win. so do i.

  • Paul W. Homer

    The only way Arthur could have won was by walking away. The game is rigged. He should have just moved on and gone after the next woman in the next kingdom. Sometimes you can’t win, no matter what you do.

    Even if he had known exactly were the contest was headed, there was no way he could have built anything in time that would have changed the outcome. The King just isn’t interested in grand-children (yet). I think the song goes something like “You have to know when to fold ’em …”


  • Franz See

    How was this agile? If this were agile, there would have been Customer Collaboration (see

  • Michael Dubakov

    @Paul W. Homer
    Exactly. Sometimes external rules make your project “mission impossible”. This tale just shows the real danger of a mix deadline + technical debt.

  • Paul W. Homer

    Well, I was thinking about it last night and I realized that Arthur could have won, all things considered.

    First, he should have sat out of the competition on his first year and watched. That would have given him enough information to properly plan for the next year (even if the contest changes each year, it would allow him some sense of how the King was causing trouble each time).

    Next, once in the competition he needs to be a little less “strict” with the definitions. For instance, Mission #2 requires building a basement, the size of which is fixed, but the location is not. Sure, most of us take “basement” to mean “directly under the house”, but if one builds it off to the side somewhere, there is less chance of the house collapsing.

    The same is true for Mission #3, if it is built “up” and over “open” ground (not the existing house), then it won’t necessarily destabilize the whole structure when it comes down. In fact, if each of the three components is properly “encapsulated” away from each other, then when the last two collapse, so long as the main floor room is not above or below them, it will be unaffected. Then Arthur will win his prize.

    What Arthur failed to do in his design and construction, was insure that component failure doesn’t propagate throughout the system. If he had stretched the requirements a little to achieve this, he certainly had time to complete the work, so although the second floor would still have collapsed, he’d still be alive and get to marry Caroline anyways.

    (The moral of the story is to NOT build it exactly the way the users tell you to do it?)

  • Michael Dubakov

    @Paul W. Homer
    Wow! Cool! It seems you solve the puzzle. And also it seems that good object oriented design with better encapsulation is something worth to follow :)

  • Aktiv Kapital

    .., debt is almost a common thing among the people now a day… even if you are the most responsible man in the this is still a common thing..

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    Thanks your article is delightful.
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  • online-office

    Yeah, the king should've planned on more than just getting 10 sovereigns from each contestant :)

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