Book review – Agile software development : the cooperative game (2nd edition)

agilesdevcoopgame3This 504 pages book by Alistair Cockburn triggered my curiosity by its table of contents.
These are some of the titles:

  • The impossibility of Communication
  • Shu-Ha-Ri
  • Software and Poetry
  • Them’s funky people

You might wonder, what the h*ll is he talking about? Is this about software development? I can assure you, it is.

Just reading the table of contents promised me that this was not going to be another methodology description. At the time, I was looking for a book that goes deeper into the values and principles of agile software development. I recognized this change in state of mind by reading in the book about Shu-Ha-Ri.

These are 3 levels of practice known in the world of Aikido (translated as learn, detach and transcend)
This is how I personally map them onto the process of learning about agile software development:

  • Shu : interested in learning about the process foundations and techniques. Stuff you can apply in practice immediately
  • Ha : looking for the bigger picture, trying to understand the values and principles
  • Ri : challenging and questioning the values, principles and practices

I like to think of myself coming into the Ri level, but hope to still be in the Ha level. I like the feeling of getting new insights and gradually seeing the bigger picture. This still happens regularly to me. I imagine the Ri level as a stagnation of those insights, still learning, but without any major exciters.

The book has a strong emphasis on collaboration as revealed in its title …the cooperative game. You can sense that he strongly values shared workspaces, colocation, visual management,… I couldn’t agree more.

Light but sufficient
This is an interesting concept. Trying to find the point of barely sufficient methodology on a project and finding it again when it moves.
Don’t we often assume that each piece in our project methodology has value? Maybe some don’t, so why not experimenting by removing them until we reach the point of almost insufficient.  In the end we will have a much more lightweight process.

Every project is unique, there is no one methodology that fits all. Important to keep in mind when starting up a new project.

To summarize, this book contains a wide variety of topics, too much to describe in a blog post. It certainly is not a book you want to read when just starting to learn about agile. When you’re past the Shu level, this is excellent material to broaden your perspective. I strongly recommend it.


Related posts
Visual Management – Information radiators
Book review : Agile software development ecosystems

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.


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