Alistair Cockburn’s Keynote at SPA 2005

Alistair Cockburn gave a 75 minute keynote on the game-playing model of software development.

Software is like Calvinball – you never play the same game with the same rules twice. (Calvinball is apparently based on the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, where the characters improvise on the rules as they play the game. This was actually a question, Alistair agreed it’s a good analogy.)

Buzz-phrase: Project Management Declaration of Inter-Dependence (2005). Similar style to agile manifesto, but a bit more formal.

Developing software is making ideas concrete in an economic context. And it’s difficult: * The problem keeps changing * The solution keeps changing * The language is nothing like a human language, not very expressive etc. * The interpreter is unforgiving

Cooperative game manifesto

Different types of games. Infinite vs. finite. Competitive vs. co-operative. Goal-directed vs. No-fixed-end. Software is finite, goal-directed, co-operative.

Software project: Always preparing for the next game. So there are actually two conflicting games in one. Explains tension about documenting, for example. It benefits the next game, but not the current game.

People are the players in the game. Weak on: Consistency, discipline, following instructions, changing habits. Strong on: Communicating, looking around, copying/modifying. Can use this model, e.g. for documentation:it should get readers mind in a frame where they can look around, but usually don’t need to go beyond that – they can work it out themselves from the code as long as they know what code to look at.

Methodology as swimsuit: People and methodologies come in different shapes and sizes. But methodologies, somehow are often used as if they’re for everyone. Methodologies are just the conventions you operate by, and it makes sense those conventions should change as time goes on.

Flow of memes. Interventions often focus on ways to get memes flowing faster. Simple way is to put people in the same room. Can see the flow as a convection current. It’s like perfume! The closer you go, the more info flows. Also, morale flows in the same way – morale can go down quickly if people in the same room and some people start to feel down.