Comprehensive Documentation

“Comprehensive documentation” is possibly the most misunderstood phrase in the Agile Manifesto. People see it and they think it means that they don’t have to—or shouldn’t—write anything down. They don’t understand that the value pair statement, “working software over comprehensive documentation,” emerged from an environment in which every decision had to be made and written down in a comprehensive requirements document before we could start writing code. We would spend months creating this artifact that provided no value to the customer.

Valuing “working software over comprehensive documentation” means don’t spend a lot of time writing a specification. Focus on identifying the smallest thing you can build that the customer will find valuable. Build that in a very short amount of time and get it into the customer’s hands so they can tell you whether this is what they were looking for or not. Then repeat the process.

If you need to start a fire, don’t waste time clearcutting a forest when all you really need is kindling and a few branches.

Why Did You Choose Agile?

I once worked for a manager who summed up his attitude toward Agile by paraphrasing Tupac Shakur: “I did not choose the Scrum Life, the Scrum life chose me.” He disliked Scrum, thought Agile was silly, and resented being forced to operate under its guidance.
I did not choose the “Scrum life,” either; it was chosen for me. Like most people, the choice was made for me: my introduction to Agile came about because the company I worked for adopted Scrum. I had doubts at first. I had witnessed new management fads before. Usually, the vocabulary changed, but everything else remained the same.

This time, I saw a difference right away. When my team committed its first Sprint, no one meddled. No one changed our priorities mid-flight. And while we struggled at first to plan the right amount of work—too much the first Sprint, too little in the second—once we found our rhythm, magic happened. When we left work at the end of the day, the sun was still up. We had weekends to ourselves. Death marches ceased.

I became a believer, and when offered the chance to serve as Scrum Master, I jumped on it with both feet. My team was proud of what it produced, enjoyed creating it, and had time for full lives outside of work. This was unheard of for all of us, and the resulting happiness drove me to continue to learn and grow as an Agile leader.

Although Scrum was chosen for me, I chose Agile. I chose it because it is the happiest, most satisfying, and most humane way to work that I have ever encountered.

What about you?

Hat tip to Jessica Wolfe (Twitter: @thejessicawolfe) for posing this question at last week’s Lean Coffee for All Things Agile meetup!

How Keylor Navas Cost me my iPhone

Where’s my wallet?

I pat myself down. Did I put it in a different pocket? But of course not. Those dudes in the Panama kits who were jumping and pushing and singing, “Olé Panama.” They weren’t celebrating. They were picking my pockets.

My passport. $300 in local currency. My iPhone.

All gone.


Carolyn and I are leaving the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier between Costa Rica and Panama at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose. Carolyn finds someone who speaks English—Juan, one of the stadium vendors. He guides us to the police substation. I explain in broken Spanish that I’ve been robbed, and Juan fills in the gaps. The police sympathize, but can’t do anything. I hadn’t expected they could. I only want to file a police report so I can take it with me to the American embassy in the morning to replace my passport.

Then Juan has a brainstorm. Holds up his iPhone. “Can we track your phone?”

Of course! I log into “Find my iPhone” on his device. My phone is still in the Parque Metropolitano, on the other side of the stadium.

The policeman’s eyes light up. “Vamonos!” he says, and points to a four-seat pickup truck. He and his partner jump in the front. Carolyn and I in squeeze into the back with Juan, who holds his iPhone over the front seat for the cop in the passenger’s seat to navigate.

My phone doesn’t move as we careen around the stadium. Can we get there in time?

We halt in front of a set of moveable, metal barriers with about two feet of space between them. The cop orders a security guard standing nearby to move them.

He refuses. I don’t understand what he says, except for a name.

“Keylor Navas.”

“They won’t let us through,” Juan says. “Keylor Navas is coming out soon.”

We can’t get through because the Costa Rican keeper dawdled in the shower?

The cop isn’t any more impressed with this obstruction than I am, but the guard won’t relent.

Donde esta su supervisor?” the cop demands.

The feckless guard calls over to a woman wearing a yellow security shirt. Then he looks at the cop, and drags one of the barriers to narrow that two-foot gap.


Supervisor saunters over. The cop explains the situation. She shakes her head.

“Keylor Navas,” she says.

The police officer shouts at her. The only words I understand are, “panameños,” “robaron,” and “gringo,” but I get the gist. Some Panamanians robbed this American. Let us through.

“No. Keylor Navas,” she repeats, and walks away.

We have to find another route.

The cop throws the shifter into reverse, whips the steering wheel to the right, and stomps on the gas.


Did we just… hit something? The cop doesn’t care. He shifts into first, starts to pull away. Supervisor and Señor Barricade run over, waving their hands and shouting.

We’d backed into Supervisor’s parked car.

We have to get out. “Another car is coming,” Juan tells us. It arrives, lights flashing. We pile into it. Away we go. My phone is moving. It’s leaving the park. Slowly. Are the thieves on foot?

Maybe, but traffic is horrendous, creeping along slower than a walk. We’ll never get there, I think. There’s no way the cops can get through.

Wrong. They hit the sirens and the horn, and drive as though a murder scene awaits. We straddle the center line between two rows of cars doing their best to pull over to either side. We pass cars with inches to spare. I white-knuckle the chicken handle above the door. Carolyn refuses to look up.

Juan is grinning ear to ear. He’s having the time of his life.

Aquí! Aquí!” he shouts. The driver pulls onto the curb. There’s a man walking by, talking on his phone. He’s wearing a Costa Rica jersey. Definitely not one of the dudes who mugged me.

I say, “That isn’t the dude!”

The cops jump out of the car, anyway. Stop the man on the phone. Demand he hand it over. Behind him by about ten feet are three other men, apparently not with him, also not the dudes, but the cops stop them, too.

What have you done with this gringo’s wallet and phone?

“That’s not my phone,” I shout. “Those aren’t the dudes! Esos no estan los hombres!

The cops say something to Juan. “Call his phone,” he tells Carolyn. She does. Nothing. Because that isn’t my phone, and those aren’t the dudes.

Juan zooms in on the Find my iPhone map. My phone is on the other side of the street, maybe half a block up.

The cops jump back into the truck. We can’t get across the street, because a low, concrete wall separates two directions of gridlocked traffic. Sirens wailing, off we go again. I’m certain we’re going to ram someone. We find a gap, make a turn. Make another. At one point, I think we were going the wrong way on a one-way street. But we reach the spot on the map. We park on the sidewalk, and everyone gets out.

Traffic creeps by, but the locator for my phone doesn’t move. Carolyn calls and it goes right to voice mail. The thieves have turned the phone off. But maybe it’s still here. Maybe they saw the police coming, and threw it away. We start looking around.

We’re in the parking lot of some other Costa Rican law enforcement agency, and the agent on duty is not happy to see a gringo crawling around, looking under the cars. He and the driver cop exchange a terse conversation. From the tone, I gather that cooperation between the two agencies is not exactly strong.

We have to leave.

I’m not getting my stuff back. The cops feel almost as bad about it as I do. They really wanted to catch those Panamanian thieves for me. The least they can do, they say, is take us back to our hotel.

Back into the police car we go. In this traffic, it will be at least an hour.

But the cops aren’t waiting for traffic. Lights. Siren. Make way, make way. We have to get these gringos back to their hotel. Once we get out of the traffic jam, we race down side streets as if lives hang in the balance.

At the hotel, everyone gets out. The driver cop shakes my hand.

Lo siento mucho, señor.”

Juan translates the rest: “We feel bad. We tried everything we could. If we could have gotten around the stadium, but…” The cop sighs.

“Keylor Navas,” he says, and shrugs. “Keylor Navas.”

Ten Years After Murder in the Grove

Ten years ago today, I arrived in Boise, Idaho, to attend my first writer’s conference: Murder in the Grove. I had come because Robert Crais was the keynote speaker. I was a huge fan, and I had some vague idea that I would ask him what I needed to do to become a best-selling author. He would give me a checklist. I would follow it. I would become famous.

Or something like that.

It didn’t quite work out that way, of course. I did meet Robert Crais, and I couldn’t have been prepared for how gracious he was. Somehow, I ended up at his table for dinner on Friday night (where he refused to let anyone pay for drinks). He was happy to give all the advice I could absorb about the craft of writing. But there is no defined process to becoming a best-selling author, and he couldn’t give me a checklist. All he could tell me was that I should write about what spoke to me, study and improve my craft, and don’t quit.

Ten years later, I still haven’t given up, even though there have been times I wanted to. I’ve improved my skill. I’ve honed my craft. I’m getting there. Maybe best-seller status will happen, maybe it won’t—there are so many variables beyond my control. What’s important is that I continue to enjoy what I’m doing. My current work-in-progress is the best I’ve ever written, and the next novel will be even better. I’ll keep writing what speaks to me. I’ll keep learning. And I’m not going to quit.


When I was twenty, I threw out my junior high and high school yearbooks.

My friends at the time told me I would regret not being able to look back. But I never have. Nostalgia anchors you to the past. I’ve spent the last thirty years doing my best to keep moving forward.

More to see than a sunrise

My morning commute takes me eastbound across the Howard Frankland Bridge into Tampa. I am rewarded with spectacular sunrises most days. I try always to appreciate their beauty.

In today’ spectacle, a thin ribbon of cloud bisected the disc of the sun. I was surprised to realize that the sun was not uniform in color. Above the cloud, its orange was brighter, with a more yellow flavor than the bottom, which was darker, with a reddish tone.

I had never noticed this about the sun. I had never looked for it, to be honest, and might not have noticed it today if not for that fortunate cloud. I “knew” that the rising sun was orange. I assumed that what I saw each morning was all there was to notice.

How many things do we look at without really seeing them? How many times do we assume that our perception of the world tells us all we need to know? Just as there is more to the rising sun than a single color, there are more opportunities in life than we recognize at first glance.

The boiling sun

On my commute over the Howard Frankland Bridge this morning, the sun put a Tampa skyscraper in silhouette as it rose, and lit a wispy cloud above it so that the cloud looked like steam rising as the sun boiled away.