The Value of Collapse?

| by Dan Puckett Follow 1 Followers on Mar 01, 2011. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

Mike Burrows writes:

It occurs to me that we often expand (decompose) big features into a list of smaller ones but don't tend to collapse them back onto the original ticket later.

Is this:

  1. Common?
  2. Good? (I can think of some reasons why it might be)
  3. Bad? (likewise)
  4. Depends? (on what?)

Some within the kanbandev group believe that collapsing smaller features back into larger ones doesn't add a lot of value. Kurt Häusler writes:

I don't like expand and collapse. I do like expanding larger requirements into many small stories, right at the beginning, before they even enter the system, and keeping them small throughout the whole process. I guess that isn't always possible, but I think it is better to strive for that, than conveniently make use of larger MMFs or even mini-projects just because reducing transaction costs is too difficult, or because customers can't test "unfinished" features, or because people just generally tend to have a "think big and complex" mindset.

Simple thin vertical slices of functionality, all the way across the value stream, FTW.

Ron Jeffries writes:

XP used to recommend breaking stories down into tasks. Many of us no longer recommend that: we recommend slicing them into smaller stories instead.

There is no explicit concept of "collapse" in XP, because there is no need for it.

Siddharta Govindaraj sees some value in collapse, however:

This works if the whole viewpoint is centered around the development team alone. You slice stories and deploy them one by one and there is no need to collapse. But, when looking beyond the dev team, many steps on the end to end stream do operate on the big feature. So although you might be deploying small stories in dev, there is still a need to collapse it back when the big feature moves to the next stage.

Ron Jeffries replies:

What next stage do you have in mind? In Scrum and XP, for example, the team produces a deployable increment of software (including all the necessary documentation) every iteration.

I get that from the kanban viewpoint, one just models what is. But if what is, is a big expand / collapse, one is almost certainly modeling waste, buffers, and delays which can be removed.

And Paul Beckford writes:

Key ingredients here are small increments, feedback and iteration. When you do these things then the idea of collapse no longer makes sense at any level of abstraction other then the smallest increment (e.g. a slice, which to me is a small group of acceptance criteria, taking perhaps half a day).

[Ed. - For more perspectives on this discussion, please see the article "The Further Value of Collapse".]

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It depends by Mike Burrows

Hi Dan,

You will see from my question that I fully expected "it depends" to be the outcome, and I hoped to elicit some insight into when the expand/collapse pattern is most useful. This I got, but you report only the comments of those that (in their context) found it not useful. It would be fairer if you included comments from Dennis, Siddharta, Eric and others who described circumstances in which it could be useful and gave me some interesting food for thought.

And a clarification in case it is needed: the "we" in my question refers to me and my teams (until recently my colleagues, now my clients), not the community in general.


Positive Incline Limited
twitter: @asplake

Re: It depends by Mike Burrows

...and Chris, and Liz,...

Re: It depends by Karl Scotland

+1. There were plenty of people getting value out of collapse in large, global organisations with complex products and architectures.


Re: It depends by Dan Puckett

Hi, Mike. I'm the author of the article.

I apologize if I have mischaracterized the sense of the thread. In my articles, I try to give a balanced summary of what people are saying, but I don't always succeed.

For anyone else who want more info on this topic, I recommend reading the original thread. I agree that there's lots of insight to be gained there.

If you have specific points from the other side of the argument that you want to bring forward, please feel free to post them here so that this article is brought more into balance.

Thanks for posting!

Incredibly one-sided and inaccurate by Eric Willeke

The statement "The rough consensus of the kanbandev group seems to be that collapsing smaller features back into larger ones doesn't add a lot of value." is an entirely inaccurate summary of the 100+ message thread that's being reported against. This may be fine for an "opinion" piece, but is not appropriate for an article titled "news".

Rough Consensus? Not really. by Ted Young

I'm appalled that the author can claim "The rough consensus of the kanbandev group" about anything without an actual poll or survey, since there are those (like me) who may have differing opinions, but feel that they've been captured by others.

It seems like poor reporting to say that some conclusion was reached, rather than say "some interesting discussion happened".


Re: Rough Consensus? Not really. by Dan Puckett

Your point is well taken. Based on the comments here, I obviously misread the tenor of the discussion. I apologize for giving the wrong impression.

I have changed the wording of my article from "The rough consensus of the kanbandev group seems to be that..." to "Some within the kanbandev group believe that...". Though this doesn't fix the one-sided nature of my article, I do hope that this new wording better reflects the community's opinion than my previous wording.

Pretty shoddy journalism by David Anderson

This article completely misrepresents what was a long and complex discussion. The intent of the journalist writing this article needs to be called into question as does the concern for quality and truth in reporting of the media channel that published it.

This form of journalism is parasitic on a honest hard working professional community of people committed to higher standards in our industry and profession. This article and the platform that InfoQ has given indicate that neither InfoQ or Dan Puckett share these values.

There appears to have been no attempt to show balance or to contact any of the people quoted for permission to use there words.

Reading this leaves me filled with disappointment and sadness. I will need to review very carefully any ongoing relationship between InfoQ, the Kanban community and the Lean Software & Systems Consortium as a result.

David J. Anderson
Vice President, Lean Software & Systems Consortium
Moderator Kanbandev Yahoo! Group

InfoQ is not a journalism site by Floyd Marinescu

David, InfoQ is not a newspaper or a journalist site - we are a practitioner driven community service. All of our writers are people like yourself who work full time in the field, and donate some spare time here to help facilitate the spread of knowledge and innovation to the wider community.

We don't always get it right or as polished as some would like, but we have good intentions, just as we did when InfoQ funded the filming of many conferences including LeanSSC to bring that knowledge out for free access online for everyone.

I hope our 5 years of community service and thousands of content items that we facilitated live have set a better track record for you and the community to judge, than any one particular news item.

With regards to your point about contacting for permission, all of those quotes were made on public forums and were not private / requiring permission. It is generally accepted journalistic practice and ok by copyright law to quote someone when cited, as we did.

Floyd Marinescu
Co-founder and Chief Editor,

Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by David Anderson

So you resort to a legal defense rather than a simple apology?

While InfoQ's community contribution is without question given it's history, you have to ask whether this article has better served the community or not? And if there is no process in place to prevent a repeat what effects will similar articles have longer term?

It is an established norm in the supposedly high trust world of online forums to ask permission. Pioneers like Esther Dyson established this over a decade ago. Whether copyright law permits it or not, it isn't considered polite or an acceptable community practice by many to quote from essentially private community newsgroup discussions without seeking permission.

As a result of your actions and some previous similar examples, which weren't so unbalanced as to provoke the response you received today, it is likely that members of the Lean and Kanban community will now be much more guarded about what they are willing to say and share online and with the wider community.

They can no longer trust that their words won't be taken out of context by someone lurking on the list and reusing the material in a sensational fashion on a well trafficed web site for personal gain (even if that benefit is merely social status or improved public profile).

By publishing this article and by refusing to apologize and hiding behind copyright law as a defense you damage the community and lower the level of social capital within it.

Does our community need to move our conversation to another venue and technology platform where the terms and conditions of use expressly forbid reuse of the material without expressly seeking permission?

Or do our members need to post (c) copyright notices on the footer of their posts, in order to afford some protection from misrepresentation?


Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by Floyd Marinescu

David, Dan already apologized (see the 3rd post in this thread). I apologize as well for any upset the post may have caused And this discussion has had an impact on our process as we have discussed it internally and reviewed our best practices for balanced coverage.

We actually intend to post a 2nd article covering the other side tomorrow, courtesy of Liz Keogh.

At the end of the day we're all trying to do the right thing, and I assure you that there were no nefarious intentions.

As for the suggestion that explicit permissions are needed in order to quote & cite a public forum or blog, on this I'll just leave it as a respectful disagreement.


Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by David Anderson

Apology accepted and appreciated. Thanks

Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by Dave Rooney

...donate some spare time...

InfoQ writers receive compensation, do they not?

You mentioned that InfoQ has been providing community service for 5 years, and I do agree that a good portion of the content has been useful and informative. I have, however, never liked the summarizations of e-mail threads such as Dan's. To me, that's not writing - anyone could subscribe to these groups and follow the threads. A simple pointer to an interesting conversation would suffice in these cases.

This is, of course, my personal opinion. YMMV.

Dave Rooney
Westboro Systems

Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by Vikas Hazrati

Dave, while your point is well taken that there should be more meat to the conversations being quoted but i believe that _personally_ for me, instead of visiting 100 sites and mailing forums each day, I rather come to InfoQ and see what is making waves. If i get good mailing thread pointers from here which help me go to the mailing list and read the full conversation then I do that. if the subject does not need my attention then i move the next post. Many times i have felt that instead of reading all the 200+ messages posted against a thread in the mailing forum I get a fair summarization of the thread. To me that is huge.

Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by Floyd Marinescu

In the spirit of continual improvement, transparency, and considering all your feedback, we published a second post showing the 'other side'. I hope this is useful:

Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by Floyd Marinescu

+1 to Vikas - the vast majority of the community is not on those forums, so without InfoQ doing summaries of complex debates that span forums, blogs, twitter, alternate dimensions, etc - these ideas would not be reaching the general community on InfoQ, and especially not to the international non-english readers on,, and

I'd put out there that InfoQ has helped spread Agile faster by virtue of distilling the views of experts on forums and such into a form more consumable by every one else.

Indeed we do pay our authors (although the rates are not comparable to their full time consulting gigs), our team does this out of passion primarily and so do we the full time team at C4Media.

Link added by Dan Puckett

I have added an editorial note at the end of my article that links to Liz Keogh's new article, "The Further Value of Collapse".

Re: Link added by Mike Burrows

Thanks Dan, also to Liz for her article.

Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by David Anderson


I feel that while the behavior you describe does provide greater reach and can be argued to provide a "value-added service to the community", that the other side of the coin is it should be viewed as predatory, parasitic and in violation of established norms and ethics of behavior on the Internet.

While the group archive is publicly searchable, it does not mean that other media channels should be able to profit from its use freely.

The kanbandev discussion list like many others on usenet/Google and Yahoo! represents the discussion within a community. Members have to take explicit action to join that community, and the discussion is intended as "self-help" within that community.

Your actions prey on the goodwill that exists within that community. Your actions undermine the social capital within the community. To underscore that I know this to be true, I had dinner last night in London with 3 other people who are all members of the kanbandev list. All 3 admitted that InfoQ's actions has made them think twice about what they are willing to say and how involved they are willing to be in the community discussion. InfoQ has made them fearful that their words will be skewed and broadcast to a much a wider audience at cost to them while all the benefit accrues to the owners of C4Media.

This makes me feel that to truly encourage innovation in the Kanban community I need to take the best quality discussion "underground" and away from the reach of sites like yours. This is clearly not good for the wider community and industry as a whole.

The bottom line is that your behavior perhaps motivated by community interest, but nonetheless something which produces commercial gain, is having an unexpected systemic side-effect. That side-effect undermines the whole system but the cost is paid by the Kanbandev community and not by InfoQ or C4Media. For you it is a local optima, and for me, my community suffers at your expense.

Floyd has made it clear to me in private communication that he is unrepentant and that he does not respect established codes of ethics on usenet forums that content cannot be reproduced outside of the community that generated it without asking permission.

It seems therefore that InfoQ intends to continue this predatory and parasitic behavior and the communities preyed upon are powerless to stop it.

What we must wait and see is just how damaging this becomes over time!


Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by David Anderson

So the excuse for shoddy journalism is that you don't pay your authors the amounts that real journalists would ask and therefore they should be held to a lower standard?

Do you post that your material is of poor quality, has not been validated by any of the sources quoted, and cannot be guaranteed to be a fair and balanced representation of the origin of the material?

The fact is that your readership does have some trust in your brand and does believe what they read on it and will generally not take the trouble to research the sources and form their own judgment.

Meanwhile, through lack of standards and quality assurance, you undermine the reputations of those whose words you misuse.

At some point, do you feel this might undermine your brand? and long term, damage your business. How much word of mouth does it take from people like me, Ron Jeffries and others suggesting that InfoQ content is poorly researched and without journalistic standards or quality controls, before it does start to affect perception of your brand and starts to hurt your business?

We are not asking for much here, Floyd! We are asking that rather than rush copy to print, you put in place some quality assurance procedures that insure better quality. A cheap and easy way to do this would be to seek permission from sources quoted. Those sources would then have the opportunity to provide feedback on content and insure that it is fair and accurate.

This would not cost you money, it only costs you time to market. The question is whether time delay before posting a story is worth it to insure quality and the reputation of your site? This naturally is a business decision for you and your partners and I respect your right to use your own judgment and make your own decisions about your own business.


Re: InfoQ is not a journalism site by Floyd Marinescu

David, your comments really hurt and I feel are undeserved. If it's your intent that your discussion group be private then the right thing to do is make the group private so that messages cannot be linked to or seen by non members. That's pretty ordinary and not "underground".

I can assure you that the behavior you're looking for (careful permission b4 quoting and such) would then be the normal / expected behavior for InfoQ or anyone else to observe when quoting if your group were private, since we carefully attribute every quote on InfoQ with a link to the source quote, and if the group were private then such links would not be possible and we would not be able write an article like this.

Otherwise, everything you guys have posted on a public forum is considered "fair use" and assumed as public as a discussion in an open conference panel or tv show or public square or blog and thus it's just not realistic to and completely unfair to be so harsh against people whose main intent are to help keep the community informed.

There are many previously uncommunicated expectations being portrayed as commonly held norms in this thread (by both sides); but the fact is that your forum is administered in a manner that invites public linking so why not make reality match expectations.

Respectfully, Floyd

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