1st Conference: Keynote Interview - Alistair Cockburn

Dr Alistair Cockburn is one of the initiators of the agile movement in software development, helping write the Manifesto for Agile Software Development in 2001, the agile PM Declaration of Interdependence in 2005, and co-founding the International Consortium for Agile in 2009.

He is also known for describing Software development as a Cooperative Game, creating the oath of non-allegiance, finally defining Use Cases, and for developing the Crystal family of agile methodologies. When not doing all that, he likes to travel, dance, dive, or sit underwater.

I took an opportunity to ask Alistair a few questions in the lead up to 1st Conference, have a read.

As always, if you have any questions or comments please don't hesitate to reach out to us. My email is Ringo.Thomas@tabar.com.au and I'm always happy to hear from you.

1st Conference is being held on 2-3 March. Registration is available now.

The idea of a Heart of Agile styled conference, is that people are sharing and reflecting. Hence, I would like to see people talk, and get used to discussing, rather than sitting like moviegoers in a theater.

Ringo: Can you tell me about where Heart of Agile came from? What inspired it?

Alistair: Back in 2014, I found myself saying more and more often: “Agile has become overly decorated. Let’s scrape away those decorations for a minute, and get back to the center of agile. The center of agile is … ”

As I searched for what that would be, I wanted to honor a minor tradition of looking at Japanese words (this tradition starting with my adoption of Shu Ha Ri back around 2000 (守 破 離). I found that 心, which when standing on its own, is pronounced “kokoro”, and means “heart” or “spirit”. It is used by Miramoto Musashi in his Book of Five Rings when he wants to talk about the heart/spirit of swordsmanship. In other words, it’s perfect for my uses. The word “heart” also works in English, for heart, soul, center, spirit. Hence, heart as the word to capture this simplicity.

That page has a diagram of how Shu - Ha - Ri become more complex. This is natural and normal, as is all the complexification that has come around agile. But the interesting thing about Kokoro is that it represents a simplification, a radical simplification, to the essence. This is what I wanted.

In the end, I chose just four words to capture the essence or heart of agile: *Collaborate*, *Deliver*, *Reflect*, *Improve*. Each word expands out into its own Shu-Ha-Ri progression of complexity, but just sitting alone, they already tell us what to do, what to focus on, whether working on small teams or in large organizations.

Ringo: Where do you want to take Heart of Agile? Are there particular scenarios you think it could be particularly valuable in or is it a framework you envision people following in their day to day work while delivering projects?

Alistair: Just saying *Collaborate*, *Deliver*, *Reflect*, *Improve* lets people move away from the tyranny and the sub-optimization of being told what to do, when the reality is changing every day. With such simple words, people finally and correctly feel like they have space to invent on their own, adapt, do things not in the books, to be more naturally themselves.

I hope that as people and organizations start to center on these words, new innovation will occur from people trying new things that are not written anywhere (yet). I hope they lose the anguish of not following a prescribed formula that may not apply quite properly to them.

I look forward to organizational evolution efforts that measure progress on how collaboration is improving, how delivery is improving, how reflection is growing, how improving is happening, rather that on the number of people with certificates, or the number of Scrum teams in place.

I look forward to increasing the use of soft skills and adding into our regular vocabulary all the methods and ideas around collaboration and building trust.

So far, the Heart of Agile words are being used in English, French and particularly in Spanish, in Latin America. It is a good start.

Ringo: What do you want people to take out of your keynote? Is there anything people should be thinking about before they come in?

Alistair: I want that opening time period to be a warm-up exercise for attendees to start discussing together. The idea of a Heart of Agile styled conference, is that people are sharing and reflecting. Hence, I would like to see people talk, and get used to discussing, rather than sitting like moviegoers in a theater.

So before coming in, it will be great if people are thinking: "I can't wait to get into a good discussion", instead of, "I can't wait to sit for 6 hours and maybe a speaker will say something I can use." That attendees come fishing for information from other attendees.

Ringo: What should people be thinking about and looking to get out of the other talks and workshops over the two days?

Alistair: Find other people in the conference who have similar theme to discuss, get into discussions about the 4 theme words, and have many ideas to take back, plus new contacts.

Ringo: What’s the best advice you’d give to someone starting out on their Agile journey?

Alistair: Everything was once just a trick invented on the spur of the moment. That means whatever you invent is also applicable. Go ahead and try it out, see what happens.

Ringo: As software professionals, what can we do to help our colleagues in the business to understand the applicability of Agile principals for them?

Alistair: There has been a split between business and IT since I ever got started. I wish there was a good way to erase that. The only thing I can think of is for IT people to listen really hard to the way their business-side colleagues are speaking, and speak back in ways that add value to the business person. More I don't know.

Ringo: Can you tell me a bit more about your relationship with Melbourne as a city? Why do you keep coming back?

Alistair: I first came in Nov 2012 for three months, just on a lark, to see what Christmas looks like with volleyball on the beach. But I went to Melbourne instead of Sydney, so I have never seen volleyball on the beach at Christmas. But I landed in Fitzroy, hipster central, and fell in love with it. I went to Rainbow Serpent, Dancing Ground and Confest, and fell in love with bushdoofing and the entire alt-culture crowd. I feel at home in those places and with those people. The first two years I came, I avoided all agile IT people completely :). Now, working with Tabar, I come back and teach, but always leave weekends free for the bushdoof.