CALM Alpha – some thoughts

There are a few blog posts already out there about CALM Alpha, but if you haven’t come across it yet then the details are here and here.

Keep Calm and Carry OnFor many people I talked to during the event it hadn’t lived up to their expectations. Not many were clear about what those expectations were though.

For me it was a different kettle of fish.

I went into the conference with no real expectations. I hoped to have good discussions on using complexity theory to inform the techniques and practices I use as a coach. Also, it would’ve been nice to talk to other people about how they merged complexity science and whatever they did.

The disappointing truth

On the second day we were all confronted with a harsh truth: we’re not a very grown-up profession.

During the goldfish bowl, or was if a Kanban Konversation?, the topic drifted towards what Kanban/Scrum were best used for. Was Kanban for complex and Scrum for complicated or vice versa?

To me, it all came across as points scoring. My method is better than yours.

I understand that people have taken positions on the various methods for commercial reasons. I just don’t expect to hear those positions attacked and defended at a community event. If we can’t act like a profession, how can we expect others to treat us as one?

As someone said: it is a non-war.

Periodic tables and techniques

One take away for me was when Joseph Pelrine was talking. He briefly mentioned a “periodic table” of tools, techniques and practices. Something to help practitioners, but informed by theory.

This linked up with an idea I’ve toyed with for nearly two years now.

Could we introduce the software world to narrative analysis and see if we can find context where techniques are useful? Or more importantly, contexts in which the data suggests a technique is harmful to the final outcome.

This is something that I’m starting to look into further.


  1. Bob Marshall says

    May I observe that, from my perspective at least, the Marshall Model sets out four (more-or-less) clearly delineated contexts along the lines you mention above? What works (a given tool, method or working practise) in e.g. the Analytic mindset often fails dismally in e.g. the Synergistic mindset, and vice versa. I’m not sure I’d call it a narrative as such, but I certainly lapse into narrative often enough when explaining it to people. :}

    I have had a number of reports from the field about the value of knowing the context (specifically, using the Marshall Model as a vocabulary and shared mental model), as a means to engage in purposeful and productive dialogue.

    • John McFadyen says

      Hi Bob, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I agree the Marshall Model has a lot to offer as well. It offers understanding of one (maybe more?) aspect of the context a technique can be used in.

      When I talk about narrative analysis I refer to mining people’s experiences and stories for data on the subject, allowing trends and patterns to emerge. So your narrative is welcome, as it always is without the science stuff behind it :)

      The possibility that I am using some techniques in the wrong places bothers me and I’m wondering if this is a way we can inform the community better.

  2. Dave Nicolette says

    “Could we introduce the software world to narrative analysis” and other approaches “and see if we can find context where techniques are useful?”

    I hope so. Bob’s ideas seem promising, as do Joseph’s.

    Religious wars between branded re-packagings of old ideas are not interesting, IMHO.

    “I just don’t expect to hear those positions attacked and defended at a community event.”

    Well, now that you know what to expect, I’m sure the next community event will result in a more constructive outcome.

    • John McFadyen says

      Thanks for taking the time to reply Dave, always nice to know people read what I blog :)

      I agree that Dave, Joseph and a few others have good ideas in the area. I’m currently just starting to explore a few ways we could try to capture this kind of experience and share, usefully, with the larger software community.

      As to brand wars – I’ve seen them before and they’ve never been interesting to me. I just had some hope that the community could hold off for a couple of days while trying to see how we could move everyone forward. Maybe I’m just too optimistic.

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