Alistair Cockburn on the Heart of Agile, Jazz Dialog and Guest Leadership


My conversation with Alistair Cockburn was Agile to the core! We revised our timeline and deliverable with a quick standup and got right into it: After all, Agile principle #2 is to welcome changing requirements, even late in development. To wit, I thought we had an hour, early on the call he asked for 20, tops! (Somehow I kept him on the line for 45, since I'm deft at conversational manipulation. And he was keen to keep it going, too.)

Alistair quite the nomad, teaching Advanced Agile workshops all over the world. When he's not teaching, he might be dancing Tango in Argentina or brushing up on his French in Nice. But sometimes the location is too distracting, so he was holed up in Florida where he found a town that was *just* boring enough to allow him some time to get some work done. He was moving house unexpectedly the day we were slated to chat. I saw on Facebook that his AirBnB had a shag carpet and the humidity and mustiness mixed with a thick carpet was making him sick! I tried to give him an out, but he was adamant we do our conversation, even for only 20 minutes. His motto: Now is better than the future.

One of the pleasures and inspirations of talking with Alistair is that he's a man who really lives his principles: Agile principle #10 is that "Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential". You'll hear how Alistair tries to design his life to make this principle a reality!

As I mentioned two episodes back with Daniel Mezick, around Open Space Agile Transformations, Agile is kicked around a lot in the consulting world, but my sense is that all of those people haven't actually read the Agile Manifesto! Alistair was one of the originators and signatories back in 2001, and it was a response to a broken way of working. But just like any ideology, it's come to be interpreted in alot of ways by a lot of people. It was fun to go back to the source!

Alistair’s Heart of Agile Framework

Alistair’s Heart of Agile Framework

I really enjoyed Alistair disagreeing with my characterization of Agile as a Design for Conversations. But I see it that way: Agile designs for some conversations and  not for others. And in fact, Alistair has a lot in common with Dave Gray, who I interviewed a few months back: Dave wondered about who has the right to design a conversation and if it can be overdesigned! Alistair is a proponent of Guest Leadership...that making space for momentary, voluntary leadership can powerfully transform work and teams.

An early version of Alistair’s “Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game”

An early version of Alistair’s “Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game”

Alistair and I had what he would call a Jazz Dialogue: a conversation with a meta-conversation layered on top! I have listened to this episode a few times and it's a tough one to summarize or encapsulate. One thing that I'm left with is the idea that even the desire for agility or the hunger for no ideology is an ideology. Which leaves me reflecting on the ways that my own internal tendencies leads to my own ways of seeing things as "right". After all, designing a conversation is power and power should be exercised carefully...because I could be wrong!

Show Bullets and Links

Alistair Cockburn on the Web

Agile Manifesto

Crystal Clear

Improvisation in Dance: What's Fixed and What's Flexible?

"I expect people to decline my advice"

The Oath of Non-Allegiance

Precision vs. Looseness

Crystal Clear: The Sloppiest methodology that could possibly work (Martin Fowler)

"Arranging my life for the maximum amount of freedom"

Anchoring Sloppiness in Essential details. (the opposite of an Overdetermined System)

Cultural Invasion: Design as Cultural Imperialism

Assuming that people bring their whole adult self to work:

Agile Practitioners mentioned:

Daniel Mezick

Ken Schwaber

Nic Sementa

Kay Johansen

Guest Leadership

RE: When do people step forward and help: The Good Samaritan Experiment (hint: when they're not in a hurry)

Be the Change you want to See can backfire

Host Leadership

The Art of Hosting

Open Space Technology

Going Meta: Talking about how we talk

Jazz Dialogue

The Heart of Agile

Self Storytelling

Kokoro: The heart

Alistair's Poets: ee cummings and Emily Dickinson and a poem Alistair wrote in honor of ee: