Monday, October 27, 2008

Crystal Monday morning at OOPSLA 2008

Hello,
As always with OOPSLA, once it starts it is very hard to keep anything updated since we get so busy. Monday was an interesting day.

I had to pleasure to attend to Alistair Cockburn's tutorial called Crystal Clear Methodology. As I expected it was very interesting. Alistair's work is well known and I am surely not the best person to talk about it but I will try anyway. Although I already heard about the Shu-Ha-Ri levels of knowledge (that are not that far from Apprentice-Novice-Expert-Master from the Dreyfus model), it is always better the have them explained from someone that know them very well.
The idea is that the Shu level of knowledge is the one where you want to learn the basis. It basically means you want a recipe that can help you get the thing done without having to give it much thoughts. This is how you learn most of the things in life: reading, writing, riding a bike, cooking, programming and those sort of things.
Once you are comfortable at reproducing those steps, you want to have a better understanding about why the best practioners in the fields do it differently from time to time. You then pass to the Ha level. In this level, you get to collect all sorts of techniques in the field you are learning. This is when you learn the exceptions, the cases, the workarounds and stuff like that. If you take the learning to ride a bike example, this is when you can take those auxiliary wheels off and do those nice curves all by yourself. You might also learn how to straight your bike and have it running on just one wheel.
When you get to master those several techniques, you get to understand how or when to use one technique or another. At this level, you are reaching the Ri. From then on, you can pick techniques according to the context. Your answers to any question become "It depends..." and very slight changes in the environment can make you change radically the way you do things. At this level, you might even inovate with new solutions that you never really thought about, they just feel right.

If you are familiar with the Dreyfus model of knowledge, you can see very clearly that those are very closely related ideas. It is interesting to perceive how the transitions in this model are more fluid or, let's say, more oriental opposing to the transitions in the Dreyfus model being more occidental. More on those differences to come on the next posts.

The rest of Alistair's tutorial showed how XP (first edition) and Scrum are excelent Shu descriptions of Agile methods although the author are clearly at the Ri level themselves. XP (second edition) and the Crystal family, on the other hand, are, according to Alistair, better suited at the Ha level since they present a set of possible solutions according to a given environment. I personally don't think the Ri level can be learned with a book which makes me believe that we can't go much further than Crystal in the matter of describing Agile methods if Alistair is right.

There was much more content on Alistair's talk but you can learn most of it from his books.

That was it for Monday morning. More posts comming with the rest.

See you all!

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