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Does anyone else use index cards?

Frank Carver
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Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
One of the suggestions in Extreme Programming (XP) is to use index cards for just about everything :- planning, fault-reporting, meetings, designs ... I now find that I'm using 5x3 index cards for a lot of uses, and slightly bigger 6x4 cards for some diagrammatic designs. Is anyone else doing this? If so what problems have you encountered?


Read about me at frankcarver.me ~ Raspberry Alpha Omega ~ Frank's Punchbarrel Blog
shailesh sonavadekar
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Joined: Oct 12, 2000
Posts: 1874
hi , frank , See the XP concept is very new process & it is not widely yet accepted , because the success of this for m of process is not yet documented , there are few methodologists like martin fowler along with Ron Jeffries who have implemented Cryslar C3 project with innormous success . That is the basic problem. I think many more people should come out with the proofs showing the success of the process.

Kent beck has also given the limitations of this methodology. It is not yet successfully implemented for the huge projects involving huge no. of programmers.
Index card is just like CRC cards proposed by same people like Kent Beck & Ward Cunnigham for oops. Basically crc card is quite useful in having class diagrams of uml. Same way index cards can be used for anything that you wish to do ( the various things that you have asked like planning, fault-reporting, meetings, designs. ) It is you who have to decide for what you want to use it ? whether it will be successful or not ? that you have to analyse for your situation. See the size of the card you have to customize. The way people have customize CRC cards for their maximum benefits. Process Like XP is not restricting you from that.
I hope this is useful. I would be eagar to know your response & the anaysis of your exp. on your project. Please tell me if I have mistaken anywhere.

[This message has been edited by shailesh sonavadekar (edited October 18, 2000).]
Steve Fahlbusch
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Joined: Sep 18, 2000
Posts: 582
    
    7

Frank,
I use post-its. I find them to easier to use and discuss in open team settings and brainstorming. As I am sort of moving towards the FDD process, i use 4 different color pads. Also i make a lot of use of the larger, lined yellow pads.
Steve
Jack Blassingame
Greenhorn

Joined: Apr 04, 2001
Posts: 7
I use index cards for everything. Levenger makes a special pocket organizer (read wallet) that will hold index cards (3x5) nicely. It also allows 1 card to be outside the wallet in a special holder for immediate note taking. Note cards also work well for CRC cards too.
vaibhav punekar
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Joined: Jan 20, 2001
Posts: 134
Hi,
This is my first posting to this forum.When I went through few topics I thought I m living on some other planet.It was completely new for me.But I always wish to enter in such topics starting with being absolute fool.So as far as I guess These cards are nothing but FLIP CARDS.Is it?Flip cards are used to write the word-list by many IITians in India to remember the words especially those who are preparing for GRE/GMAT.Are such cards meant for the same for ready reference.Please correct me if I m wrong.


VAIBHAV <BR>SCJP
Frank Carver
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
Gosh. I remember this thread ...
I'm now using 5x3 cards for even more than I was back in October. I'm hardly ever to be encountered without at least 20 of them for misc note taking, ideas and off-the-cuff designs.
Before I really "got into" index cards, I did try post-its and cut-up paper, but they were both too floppy. The stiffness of an index card really helps when you chuck a few into your pocket and fetch them out later. Post-its stick, flutter and get in a tangle, regular paper creases, crumples and tears.
The main problem is keeping them grouped and/or ordered when you have multiple card-using projects underway. One thing I have tried fairly successfully is to punch a whole in the corner of each card (not oo near the edge or it can tear) and use "treasury tags" to hold them together.
Any more index-card stories?
Sowmya Karmali
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 30, 2001
Posts: 10
What I would like to share a way to organise user stories more effectively. Number each sheet, something like MODULENAME/1. There are also user stories that link modules, e.g., A customer may avail only 3 accounts of type 'loan' from a bank. This is a link between the customer and account modules. These user stories would look different from the "independent" stories. Could be a different colour or shape. These would be numbered as CUST-ACC/1, with possible references to the specific user stories(the numbers) in each of the two modules. So a person designing one user story would look at his sheet for references to other user stories, not to code for them, but to make sure that he's on track.
Why doesn't somebody write a tool to write and manage user stories so that XP can be more environment friendly?
Sowmya

[This message has been edited by Sowmya Karmali (edited April 05, 2001).]
Johannes de Jong
tumbleweed
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Joined: Jan 27, 2001
Posts: 5089
The only time I used them was in a general OO intro course Frank.
I was impressed with the possiblities though. I will use them when I start my 1st OO project. If I dont end up going on pension first
Frank Carver
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
It's one of the strange, and deeply clever, things about XP that some of the suggestions seem so arbitrary (index cards, 40 hour week) but are actually much more appropriate solutions than is first apparent.
Since I started using index cards, I have come to realize just how flexible and powerful they really are. Remember that the XP creed includes "do the simplest thing..." and "You aren't gonna need it", and I hope you can see why I don't like any form of up-front "preformatting" on index cards. Sure, a syntax-speciied name and/or number may be useful in some cases (but probably fewer than you think), but I really don't want to feel compelled to put such "furniture" on every card I write "just in case I need it later".
I use 5x3 blank cards for most tasks, and write/draw on them just what is needed, and no more.
In particular, I don't like the idea of any kind of sequence number. Writing such a number on the card imples that there is some ordering of the cards which is so significant that it overshadows all other possibilities. It also continually tempts you to think of the cards in that order. But that's not how these cards work best. I'm happy to group a deck of cards according to a project or topic, but I may re-order them several times a day for different purposes, and may regroup them for different uses, as things develop. A deck of cards sometimes has an ordering (the one on top is number one, and so on), and sometimes doesn't (are the cards on the kitchen table part of the same sequence as the ones in my pocket?)
Don't loose this "extreme" flexibility by imposing a fixed structure on the cards.
As to software, this is proposed from time to time, but cards are just so much more flexible and portable that I can't imagine any software solution on current hardware being equivalent. Sure they could do with some sort of backup mechanism, and probably some way for remote developers to share them, but these small features are not (IMHO) worth crippling the usability by limiting them to use on a computer, through the very limited IO devices currently available.
Johannes de Jong
tumbleweed
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Joined: Jan 27, 2001
Posts: 5089
Do I understand correctly that you have a "library" of cards Frank yhat you keep going back to ?.
For instance you created a card for an chair object last year, with all the actions (methods) attributes etc on it. You land a contract at a furniture store today. They want you do design a wharehouse system.
You run to your box and flip through the old cards ie. the card, or better still the card-box, becomes a "tool"
Frank Carver
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Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
Umm, not really.
I do have a card-box, which I carry to and from work each day, but that mainly contains the sort of information you might keep in any sort of personal organizer. What I was really talking about is that I typically have twenty or more projects in various states of completion - some just ideas or notes, some a deck of stories, or maybe some CRC cards, or specific technical tasks or faults to be addressed.
When I "context-switch" for some reason, I get out all the cards for a project and sort, group, re-evaluate, and puzzle over them until I feel comfortable once again with where I had got to the last time I worked on the project.
It's very rare that any cards are carried forward between projects. Code is, all the time, but that's another issue altogether.
martin fowler
Author
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Joined: Dec 11, 2000
Posts: 53
The important thing about cards, is that they remind us that sometimes working at a computer screen is not the best way to do something. When planning, it's easy to pick cards up and move them around - so it fits in very nicely with XP's release planning.
You can hold stuff in a database and print onto card stock, although people have often found that the database doesn't add much.
I'm also not keen on numbers. With numbers you have remember things like "what was in story 231?". Giving them a short name is much easier.


author of:<br /><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0201485672/electricporkchop" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Refactoring : Improving the Design of Existing Code</a><br /><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/020165783X/electricporkchop" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">UML Distilled, Second Edition: A Brief Guide to the Standard Object Modeling Language</a><br /><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0201895420/electricporkchop" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Analysis Patterns : Reusable Object Models</a><br /><a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0201710919/electricporkchop" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Planning Extreme Programming</a>
Lori Battey
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Joined: May 17, 2000
Posts: 37
If you have different projects going on, use a colored marker and mark the top of the cards - you can do the whole package of cards when you first open them up. This way you can "color code" your projects and they won't get confused!
Lori


Lori Battey<br />SCJP2
Johannes de Jong
tumbleweed
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Joined: Jan 27, 2001
Posts: 5089
Do the cards then become part of the project documentation ?
Man I'm dying to do my first XP ala OO project
Frank Carver
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
Another popular question! And the short answer is no.
It was atrange to get used to for a pack-rat like myself, but the XP consensus seems to be that you should ruthlessly get rid of cards when their use is over. If you really need some information from some cards to be carried forward, then transcribe it to a new, more appropriate representation. This may be more cards, with a different grouping of information, or a web site, or a database, or a presentation about accuracy of estimates, or whatever.
This is another one of those clever-but-subtle XP practices. Making this a manual process which has to be explicitly considered every time naturally limits the amount of "cruft" a prject accumulates. It is so much easier to just toss some cards than to sit down and transcribe some no-longer-relevant scribble.
Sowmya Karmali
Greenhorn

Joined: Mar 30, 2001
Posts: 10
Okay, so we are saying that user stories need not be numbered like inmates of an asylum. I'd love to have the flexibility that comes along with it, but I am worried about a few things.
Dont we need to be able to get all the user stories ( across release plans) together when needed? Don't index cards get misplaced? I mean, dont we need to organise the cards in [I]some[I] way?
When you are ISO/SEI certified, you need to keep a record of all the project documentation and requirements doc is an important one. If these index cards ( the only carriers of the reqs) are not part of the project documentation, then what goes to the audits as a req spec?
Frank,Martin, I would specially appreciate your comments on this.
Sowmya.
martin fowler
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Joined: Dec 11, 2000
Posts: 53

Dont we need to be able to get all the user stories ( across release plans) together when needed? Don't index cards get misplaced? I mean, dont we need to organise the cards in [I]some[I] way?

Different projects do it different ways. Some transcribe into a spreadsheet. C3 kept the cards on the customer's desk with rubber bands to group them into iterations.

When you are ISO/SEI certified, you need to keep a record of all the project documentation and requirements doc is an important one. If these index cards ( the only carriers of the reqs) are not part of the project documentation, then what goes to the audits as a req spec?

If that's the case then you'll have to create some additional documents to satisfy the ISO folks. XP travels light and tries to eliminate unnecessary documents. If the only reason you use a document is to satisfy an auditor, that's counts as unneccessary in my book!

------------------
author of:
Refactoring : Improving the Design of Existing Code
UML Distilled, Second Edition: A Brief Guide to the Standard Object Modeling Language
Analysis Patterns : Reusable Object Models
Planning Extreme Programming
martin fowler
Author
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Joined: Dec 11, 2000
Posts: 53
And I forgot. One of the best written documents of requirements is the acceptance tests. They are detailed, accurate, and can easily be verified.
Arasu Arasakumaran
Greenhorn

Joined: Feb 18, 2004
Posts: 1
Has anyone tried using electronic index card softare such as ndxCards for XP? I would like to learn from the experience.
Ilja Preuss
author
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Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Originally posted by Arasu Arasakumaran:
Has anyone tried using electronic index card softare such as ndxCards for XP? I would like to learn from the experience.

Isn't the goal of that software quite different from the reason of using cards in XP's Planning Games?
The software seems to be about easy *storage* - you simply open a new card, write something into it, save it, retrieve it.
XP uses cards to foster *collaboration* - the team sits around a table, everyone can grab a card, write something on it, hand it to someone else, tear it apart etc. It's hard to imagine for me to get the same level of involvement using a computer program...


The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny - it is the light that guides your way. - Heraclitus
Stan James
(instanceof Sidekick)
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Joined: Jan 29, 2003
Posts: 8791
We use cards for the initial giant planning game with the customer. I wish I could post pictures of these meetings. Handling physical cards is magic. Two people can take a pile of cards in a corner and haggle out priorities. People run a couple cards down the hall to a domain specialist for review. They weigh them, chew on them, stack them different ways, tear them up. Laying them all out in order (yes we sequence them 1..n) on long tables clear across the room makes it very clear what priority means.
I would love to see us use cards more after those meetings, too. One step at a time!
BTW: If you have 5x3 cards you're holding them sideways, I think.


A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of the idea. John Ciardi
Frank Carver
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Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
Wow. This must be one of the oldest "live" threads here!
I still use cards for most parts of the software development process. I still have a drawer full of card decks from part-completed projects.
At one point I tried using cards for a general "to do" list, but found that even 5x3 cards are too heavyweight for small, easy-to-forget tasks, so I currently use a simple text file on a USB flash drive, which I print out for use offline if I need to process jobs where I don't have a PC to hand.
As an aside, the cards I use are 5-inch-horizontal by 3-inch-vertical, ie. "landscape" - do you use them in "portrait", Stan?
Ilja Preuss
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Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Originally posted by Frank Carver:
At one point I tried using cards for a general "to do" list, but found that even 5x3 cards are too heavyweight for small, easy-to-forget tasks, so I currently use a simple text file on a USB flash drive, which I print out for use offline if I need to process jobs where I don't have a PC to hand.

This reminds me of the evolution of XP - in the early literature, you will find task cards mentioned which are produced in the iteration planing meeting. Today most teams seem to prefer to just write a task list on the white board.
The team I am currently on isn't yet ready for index cards, it seems. We are just moving away from MS Excel to XPlanner - which probably is a step in the right direction. But it's going so *slowly*...
Lasse Koskela
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Joined: Jan 23, 2002
Posts: 11962
    
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Ilja, how's XPlanner working for you? Maybe there would be an article hiding somewhere


Author of Test Driven (2007) and Effective Unit Testing (2013) [Blog] [HowToAskQuestionsOnJavaRanch]
Ilja Preuss
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Joined: Jul 11, 2001
Posts: 14112
Originally posted by Lasse Koskela:
Ilja, how's XPlanner working for you? Maybe there would be an article hiding somewhere

Well, I can't really tell - till now, we mainly used it as a "time recording" tool, not for planning. Today was the first iteration planning meeting using XPlanner, and I have the vague feeling that index cards would work ways better...
Lasse Koskela
author
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Joined: Jan 23, 2002
Posts: 11962
    
    5
Originally posted by Ilja Preuss:
Today was the first iteration planning meeting using XPlanner, and I have the vague feeling that index cards would work ways better...
Yeah. It seems to be an unavoidable phenomenon that everybody simply stops thinking while the scribe types away on the projector... Please let us know your general opinion(s) about the tool as time goes by.
Frank Carver
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Joined: Jan 07, 1999
Posts: 6920
I had a go with XPlanner a couple months ago. While it may have changed a little since then, I have felt no particular temptation to use it again.
My main issue with it is that it seems to have too many assumptions about how it should be used, built in to the software. In particular, when I create a new story card on an actual card, it has no other information on it. In particular, it is not allocated to any particular release or iteration, and may not end up ever being scheduled. XPlanner got "in my face" about allocating every new story to an iteration as it is created.
Similar problems include the inability to easily move stories between iterations, the inability to group and navigate cards in alternate ways ("these are the stories from Bob, these are the stories from the field team, ...")
In short, I felt like the software was tying one hand behind my back for no particular gain.
I was tempted to write some software that did the same job, but without all the assumptions and limitations, but after thinking about it for a few days, I realized that I was just reinventing the Wiki
Scott Ambler
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Joined: Dec 12, 2003
Posts: 608
One of the benefits of using simply tools such as index cards, post-it notes, and white boards are that they are inclusive tools. Anyone can work with them, including your stakeholders. If you choose to work with simple tools and techniques you can get your stakeholders actively involved in development. Active Stakeholder Participation is Agile Modeling's (www.agilemodeling.com) version of on-site customer -- not only do we want the customer on site to provide information and make decisions, AMers also want to put those folks to work.
- Scott


<a href="http://www-306.ibm.com/software/rational/bios/ambler.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Scott W. Ambler</a><br />Practice Leader Agile Development, IBM Rational<br /> <br />Now available: <a href="http://www.ambysoft.com/books/refactoringDatabases.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Refactoring Databases: Evolutionary Database Design</a>
 
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