Notes from Alistair Cockburn’s Talk at the Seattle APLN Meeting

Last night I attended the Seattle Agile Project Leadership Network meeting to see Alistair Cockburn give a talk about all things agile. Thanks go out to David J. Anderson and Dragos for arranging the talk. Here are some quickly scribbled notes:

One person was key to making a project successful, not a methodology… “

Update: In my haste to put the notes online I got this line wrong:

Alistair here … Just one caution about your opening sentence: “One person generally makes a project successful…” I don’t think I said that, and I’m sure I can’t defend that. What I can defend (and probably said) is that I having been studying lately how often it turns out that one person was key to making a project successful. See comment below

One person generally makes a project successful, not a methodology.In his experience, Alistair has found that one person was key to making a project successful… and they are not the “heros” working overtime you hear about from deathmarch stories. They are the people that are great at helping everyone collaborate How can you work on being that person? For the full details see Collaboration: the dance of contribution, in short do more of these things:

  • Lift others — Enable people to see victories, no matter how small

    I think of this as driving everyone towards the pit of success where the agile methodologies are Scrum, Lean, XP and the frameworks are their individual practices such as the Planning Game, Value Stream Mapping and Test Driven Development.

  • Increase safety

    Make it safe for everyone to collaborate. I like to call this, “making it safe to fail.” This reminded me of teaching skiing, one of the first things we do is have everyone fall over right away and then teach them how to get up. We’re making it safe to fail and enabling them to see that falling is only temporary. Similarly, Alistair told several stories about creating a safety zone in meetings by doing a similar exercise — break the conventional meeting protocol by joking, cursing or by generally proposing the ridiculous. He also spoke of how you can changing your social status through “posturing” can enable or disable the shyness or bravado in meetings, putting everyone on an even position to collaborate. He mentioned that the book Impro is good at explaining the posturing aspects of social interaction.

  • Make progress at each step

    Make sure that the team is always moving forward. Provide value in every interaction you make.

The talk also talked briefly about scaling agile, financial metrics (Short answer: complete the feedback loop from customer service to development.), and other topics around introducing agile and working in the mixed waterfall/agile environment.

Need more?

ITConversations has a great interview with Alastair, click here for the interview with Alistair Cockburn. Here is short summary:

In this insightful interview with IT Conversations’ producer Doug Kaye, Alistair explains how he uses games as a model for software projects, and how he discovered that the term “software engineering” was created on a whim in 1968. He also discusses the American and European aversion to copying: the not-invented-here (NIH) syndrome. “If you want to become a senior designer, you don’t get there by finding all the components that are free on the web” even though “that’s very cost effective, the customer likes it, the boss likes that, but you didn’t get promoted.”

One Response to “Notes from Alistair Cockburn’s Talk at the Seattle APLN Meeting”

  1. Alistair here … Just one caution about your opening sentence: “One person generally makes a project successful…” I don’t think I said that, and I’m sure I can’t defend that. What I can defend (and probably said) is that I having been studying lately how often it turns out that one person was key to making a project successful.

    That may seem a small difference to some, but “It’s interesting how often one person is critical” is quite different in it’s implications to “One person generally makes a project successful”, and I’d rather not have people quoting this blog incorrectly on that.

    Also, I’d like to make it clear for those who weren’t in the room that I’m not talking about those “heroes” that so often get aspersion cast upon them for working late hours, etc. I’m really talking about individual people on projects whose presence makes such a large difference in the outcome. Can be personality, can be talent, can be whatever.

    All that having been said, many thanks for taking notes and posting them. cheers,Alistair

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