Alistair Cockburn

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Alistair at Ponyfish Island Melbourne 2013.png

“AdvancedAgile with @TotherAlistair is like walking in as an agile Jedi then some dude with pointy horns pulls a double ended light sabre.” – Todd.

Welcome to the garden of memes. With over 3,000 pages: articles, blog posts, poems, videos, lectures, discussions, discussions: a labyrinth of criss-crossing paths for your enjoyment. Some random, some fun, some serious; some photos, some videos, some poems, some article, some notes to myself. “Get Lost!” as they say. (Oh, p.s., just found for origin of the surname Cockburn)

See also How to use this site (discussion: Re: How to use this site) and Interesting tricks for this site.
on Twitter & Facebook: @TotherAlistair

Dr. Cockburn (pronounced Co-burn, the Scottish way) is an internationally renowned project witchdoctor and IT strategist, best known for

“Alistair Cockburn is not just a methodologist, he is the only methodologist with the clarity of mind to set the standards for the rest of us.” – J. D. Krise (CSM, CSPO, PMP)

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” (Katharine Hepburn)

“When I build a fire under a person, I do not do it merely because of the enjoyment I get out of seeing him fry, but because he is worth the trouble. It is then a compliment, a distinction; let him give thanks and keep quiet. I do not fry the small, the commonplace, the unworthy.” (Mark Twain, 2011 centennial autobiography edition, p221)

Recent interests:

One evening in Nice.jpg Deception is a word (discussion: Re: Deception is a word) (poem) Ri 0.gif My recent (only) Ri (discussion: Re: Shu Ha Ri) tattoo Knowledge acquisition curve.png Disciplined Learning (discussion: Re: Disciplined Learning)
Image176.gif Hexagonal architecture (discussion: Re: Hexagonal architecture) being read and referenced (eg here, here, and here). Alistair in mountains 2013-07.png Me pi as pm magic number.png The magic of pi for project managers (discussion: Re: The magic of pi for project managers)

Only e.e.cummings is mindmap.png The poem “Only e.e.cummings is

Collab cards.jpgImages03/14/1503/14/15 19:36AlistairCreatededit
Collaboration CardsBlog (discussion: Re: Blog)05/17/1003/14/15 19:42AlistairTidiededit
Re: Architecture03/11/1503/14/15 20:09AlistairChangededit
Why I dont like Definition Of Done (discussion: Re: Why I dont like Definition Of Done)Blog (discussion: Re: Blog)11/17/1403/14/15 20:18AlistairTidiededit
Re: Oath of Non-Allegiance05/20/1003/16/15 18:19Dragos DumitriuChangededit
Re: Oath of Non-Allegiance05/20/1003/17/15 04:47Zenifer CheruveettilChangededit
Re: Alistair CockburnBeing07/08/0903/17/15 06:47Arjun Singh RAnaChangededit
Re: A user story is to a use case as a gazelle is to a gazeboBlog (discussion: Re: Blog)11/09/0803/19/15 13:13Andrew CardoniChangededit
Re: Why I still use use cases09/15/0903/20/15 00:18JanChangededit
Level 2 thinking (discussion: Re: Level 2 thinking)Blog (discussion: Re: Blog)03/20/1503/20/15 23:31AlistairCreatededit
Re: Level 2 thinking03/21/1503/21/15 00:53AlistairCreatededit
Re: Level 2 thinking03/21/1503/21/15 08:19ChrisFCarrollChangededit
Re: Use Cases to User Stories course06/05/1303/22/15 17:10steveChangededit
Re: Level 2 thinking03/21/1503/23/15 02:45AlistairTidiededit
Re: Level 2 thinking03/21/1503/24/15 13:19Mary PrattChangededit

An alternate photo of me:

Alistair at Agileee Kiev 2011.png

Alistair photo 2003 PhD small 050.png

A Goal (1) pictorial.jpg
The poem A Goal (1) (discussion: Re: A Goal (1)) in pictorial format.

“Computers must support the way in which people naturally and comfortably work. This is needed both for personal job satisfaction and for corporate survival. I care about whether the team is thriving, and whether the software is being delivered. Keeping the people trained and the process light are key to both.” (written in 1991, still applicable)

Other videos:


Hi, Atalichome — I moved your question to Use case questions (discussion: Re: Use case questions) where I answered it.

Hi, Jarred, I moved your question to Agile contracts (discussion: Re: Agile contracts) where Floyd responded.

I recently read about this new agile methodology (well, again calling Agile a methodology itself may be problematic … anyways) ... its called PLAY BALL!
I read it twice and kind of think it is nothing but a modified version of Scrum and a little hypothetical in terms of 9 innings and all. Wanted to know your view point on the same.
-by Dinesh Madne on 12/24/2009 at 8:26 AM

Have you considered how Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Contraints might be applied to Lean Manufacturing to try and increase the overall throughput of a software development organization? Just curious.
-by David Douglas on 1/29/2010 at 2:55 PM

Yes, indeed — see "Spending" Efficiency to Go Faster (discussion: Re: "Spending" Efficiency to Go Faster), which does just that. cheers – Alistair
-by Alistair on 1/30/2010 at 11:46 AM

What are your undergraduate degrees?
From which institution did you receive your doctorate and what was the subject of your dissertation?
-by Zarfman on 3/9/2010 at 10:12 PM

Hello Dr. Cockburn

My name is Ivonne Flores and I’m a software engineering’s master degree student from Mexico.
I am working on a research in the field of agile methods focusing in the importance of the human factor within the software development process.

The main hypothesis of this research is to determine if software developers in Mexico are indeed prepared to succesfully adopt and take advantage of the benefits of agile methodologies in the process of software development, in spite of our generalized lack of a healthy organizational culture and organizational values.

After reading your article entitled “Agile Software Development: The people factor”, I could understand some of the desired characteristics that an agil’s development team members should bear. Unfortunately, i’m not totally clear at that.

My purpose is to make a comparison between characteristics from Mexican developers against those of the ideal agil development team and get a conclusion.

At this point of my research i have got a profile of the generic mexican developer, who appear to be obedient, cordial, moderate, neat, adaptable, indulgent, respectful and sometimes purposeless.

After all this introduction i am willing to ask you What is the ideal profile for the members of an agile development team?.

I sincerely appreciate the attention and time that you spend at reading and replying this message.
Thank you.


-by Ivonne Flores on 4/26/2010 at 3:27 PM

Hi, Evert, I moved your question to use case questions (discussion: Re: Use case questions). Alistair

Can anyone tell me where to buy a build server traffic light which will be connected to our TeamCity Build server?
Any suggestion and recommendation..
-by Build Traffic light on 9/15/2010 at 10:16 PM

I am a dinosaur of a software engineer that believes that computers are tools for enhancing the human experience.
I am impressed by your site. It is a pleasure to encounter someone in the field that looks at other aspects of life, not just the computing world.
-by oldsailor on 3/16/2011 at 9:17 AM

Hi oldsailor, many thanks for that kind note. obviously we agree on certain key things about computers and about life….

It’s has been quite a while from Case, or even when I interviewed at Evans and Sutherland. I came across your name for some reason and decided to give you a call (no phone number).
I am currently on a contract in LA, and then back to Rhode Island for a day job, while Amy and I try to get our company off of the ground.
So if you are bored, feel free to call my cell phone. You can find me on Linkedin or at
401 225 5297 cell

-by doug claflin on 4/1/2011 at 9:20 PM

Hey, Dude! I can STILL beat you at racquetball! ...snickering he lumbers back into his cave in the Boise foothills…
-by SteveBxBoise on 4/13/2011 at 12:29 AM

Hi, Steve, ... that would presuppose you ever beat me at racquetball :) ...Alistair, feigning early Alzheimers…
-by Alistair on 4/14/2011 at 9:41 PM

Hmmmm…. well… let’s call it a level playing field and try again to see who the victor is? I’m willing to risk it all to have the pleasure of your company on the court… (have you trained your sons in this martial art?)
-by SteveBxBoise on 7/27/2011 at 4:08 PM

Oh, yes, I taught them to feign Alzheimers early on. Although they’re not as good at it as I am.
-by Alistair on 7/29/2011 at 2:47 AM

Hi Alistair
Any thoughts on the Semat project? And are you part of it somehow?
Best wishes
-by René Johnsen on 2/18/2012 at 11:21 AM

Funny you should ask – a colleague just reminded me of that earlier today. Read A Detailed Critique of the SEMAT Initiative (discussion: Re: A Detailed Critique of the SEMAT Initiative)

Thanks for your reply and for the link! It somehow seems to me that your critique – which I find both interesting and necessary – is an inevitable consequence of the ways you on the one hand and the Semat founders on the other hand perceives software engineering methodology. While you seem to embrace centrifugal heterogenous chaos in the field (laissez-faire), they seem to want to play the role of the strict Kapellmeister focusing on the centripetal foundation of everything – the mother of all methods. No wonder you left the project! Hopefully both positions can add to the theory and practice of the field.
-by René Johnsen on 2/18/2012 at 9:03 PM

Thank you for that reply, René. Mary Shaw gave me the lovely distinction between something-engineering and engineering management. I specialize in engineering management, which is clear. The term something-engineering is still ambiguous, but should include the properties of the something being engineered. Bertrand Meyer is interested in the software-engineering (properties of the software). SEMAT is stuck in the middle.
I’ll move these comments to the SEMAT page in a bit. A Detailed Critique of the SEMAT Initiative (discussion: Re: A Detailed Critique of the SEMAT Initiative)
-by Alistair on 2/19/2012 at 12:12 PM

Thanks for all of your patience and hard work both prior to and during the Use Case Class this week.
-by Emmet Jones on 5/17/2012 at 1:16 AM

I am having problems finding where to order the nifty pack of cards. I would like 6 packs, if I can get them. That way I can share with the other people in our team, including Tom Holland.
Thanks, Emmet
-by Emmet Jones on 5/17/2012 at 3:34 PM

I probably have to update that page, Emmet – will post when I have it —— email me at so I can reply to you. thx for being in the class.

Dear Dr. Cockburn,
Please can you let me know your email address for I would like to speak to you with regards to an Agile forum that we are organizing.
Thanks !
-by Suchitra on 10/8/2012 at 3:06 PM

Hi, Suchitra – it is both in my comment immediately above your question and at the very top of this page! I don’t know how to make it more obvious! Looking forward to that email from you. Alistair
-by Alistair on 10/9/2012 at 7:58 AM

Dear Dr. Cockburn,
not everyone is capable of teaching even though they have the craziest phds. my lectures confused me all the time by using irrelevant examples and nonsense lengthy explanations.
But you taught me things with in an hour. Amazing. and Thank you 1000 times for saving my future. :)
hope to grab a beer or two one day. :D
All the best sir.
Thanks again

-by Jr Tuff Leo on 12/15/2012 at 2:10 PM

Hi, Phlip, I copied your question over to Use case questions (discussion: Re: Use case questions)

Hi, Andrew, I copied your question over to Use case questions (discussion: Re: Use case questions), where I answered it. Thanks for asking. Alistair

There is word or set of words that can describe the truth and beauty in your writing. The clarity in which you describe your insights is truly inspiring.

I read over 40 articles of yours today. I come away with five words. Lean forward and lift others.

-by rgostic on 11/1/2013 at 2:55 AM

thx. I am impressed by your stamina:). The purpose of me adding to this labyrinthic mine is for people like you to find things. So thank you, again.

-by Alistair on 11/2/2013 at 9:20 PM

You have made a great job and i find the use case modell very usefull but I’m sorry to say that your hompage is really ugly..

Have a nice on Cockburn!
x Mike

-by Mike on 11/5/2013 at 7:19 AM

haha! thx Mike, you’re not the first to say that :).

-by Alistair on 11/5/2013 at 5:07 PM

Did you ever take class at Ballet West in Salt Lake City?

-by Houston Allred on 3/6/2014 at 9:10 AM

Sure did. Good memory! :). And I recall a Houston Allred, iirc, who played piano and sang at the bar by the railroad station, went there w my sister Vivien and Michael Onstad. Alistair

Did you have a difficult time in high school with a last name like that?

Also thanks for helping us with our CS design final. Your insight into UML Design is highly valued.

-by Kody Laseter on 4/30/2014 at 12:17 PM

Kody : sure did. and in college. and actually ever since. People don’t really grow up, it turns out. And you’re welcome. cheers. Alistair

-by Alistair on 5/1/2014 at 2:30 AM

Mr. Alistair, how are you?

I just wanted to share with you a specific video in a series of videos from a kind of documentary in youtube, that I think you (and why not, many other people too) could find very interesting. You can find it there with the title “The Holographic Universe – 4 of 5 – Quantum Physics”.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and wisdom with us, I really appreciate it. Agile Software Development Book is a great guide in my professional life.

Best Regards!
(Pd. You must be an entp, as I do, and other best practitioners and business developers and philosophers, like Steve Jobs, Richard Feynman, Osho and many others…)

-by Ariel Altamirano on 7/25/2014 at 9:17 PM

Thank you Ariel… you are right I am entp:). well identified :). I will look at the video. I read the book “The Holographic Universe” when in came out long ago :). cheers, Alistair

-by Alistair on 7/26/2014 at 4:51 AM

Bo, esto es una mierda de pagina, sos una basura, a ver si explicas que mierda es tu modelo y no tengo que llerme las 100 paginas de mierda que defecaste.

-by Carlos Mangel on 10/8/2014 at 4:52 PM

Alistar -

I wanted to ask you what you thought about containers (docker for linux and spoon for Windows). I just learned of them yesterday, and since I’ve installed the studio and plugin.

They promise to allow applications to run in their own Virtual Machine context, in a ‘container’ but not requiring the entire kitchen sink, attic, basement, operating system a VM would typically bring.

I know you are very much into software design and planning theory, but the way I see it – containers are a major breakthrough regarding software testing strategies AND how people will be able to skip installation in the future. You can simply set up safe – re-usable containers with various ‘states’ of development that can easily be shared, tested, reviewed.

Am I losing my mind (or have I already lost it ! jk), or is this the greatest thing since sliced bread? what’s your take on containers. I started learning about them reading about Docker for Linux, but I see has a Microsoft solution.

I was watching that video of you in your kitchen and you were talking about developing software in a test/safe environment such that it could easily move over to production, when I read the following from spoon website docs , I immediately thought back to your comments- not sure what you were making, maybe you were washing dishes (everything matters)... Yeah, I think it was washing dishes.

from spoon docs: —begin paste—
With Spoon, testers can:

Run development code in a pre-packaged, isolated environment with software-configurable networking
Rapidly rollback changes and execute tests across a span of application versions and test environments
Test in multiple client, server, and browser environments concurrently on a single physical device
Accelerate test cycles by eliminating the need to install application dependencies and modify configuration

end paste—

So let me know what you WERE cooking, JUST KIDDING, but please do share a thought or two on the potential forthcoming impact containers might bring to how people develop, use and test software in light of these what I’d call lightweight virtual machines.

Maybe the ultimate is something closer to a fully FUNCTIONAL VM that is lightweight and portable that just comes with target software already set up. At THAT point, ‘state’ of the user session becomes PART of the software itself. I’m going to go pull a Mozilla container, enter a web form 1/2 – close it – reload the container and see if my user state info was persisted. Ok I’m digressing fast !

I’m hyper to begin with but I have coffee this morning so sorry for the long winded post.

Tim Miltz

-by Tim Miltz on 11/21/2014 at 2:04 AM

Whoops- apology on name – your name is unique to me – I see it’s Alistair.

By the way I see above I caught glimpse of The Holographic Universe. I got that book after reading The Dreaming Universe by Fred Alan Wolfe – I liked it so much I bought many from his bibliography in the back.

Talbot if I recall is Holographic Universe. From there, I found my way to David Bohm – I really liked Thought as a System. Bohm in so many ways brought back to life the Socratic method of dialogue BUT Bohm opened my eyes into what I’ll call ‘group think’ – I forget the page, maybe 192 ($c0) heh- on ‘proprioception of thought’ in ways I met my wife due to that, she liked my logo on my apartment front door ‘proprioception of thought – go for it’ but it has to do with the frank stark reality that thought is unable to really be objective about thought. I suppose it’s chicken and the egg, or you can’t make the hammer that will make more hammers with a hammer that doesn’t exist to begin with, would be NICE if one had a hammer to start with to prime it all. Hmm – raises questions on to that FIRST thought we have heh- never thought about that until this VERY instant.

Anyway though – Holographic Universe is a terrific one. I also got into Karl(k? ) Pribram – boy – some of his books were pricey- but Prigram believed that memory was holographic in nature. My FAVORITE thing to inherit from Bohm though is that a picture when torn you have isolated fragments – eh- isolated like containers as mentioned above, but when you shatter a holograph, EACH piece is a PART, not a fragment, and holds an image – each slightly distorted – but has an image of the whole. That kind of thinking changed my thinking. In fact ? Procedural imperative programming as I grew up with as a child in 1970’s ? is more like the partitive, and OOP ? or declarative where the forest MUST BE visible and viable ? is seemingly more holographic. Hmm.. Maybe there is yet a NEW paradigm in modelling thought that is more holographic such that OOP looks like fortran 77 procedural.

More coffee for me – lucky you – JUST KIDDING, I’ll refrain from posting until I have something I really want to pick you mind on, just wanted to correct your name there AND comment on Michael Talbot’s Holographic Universe. Looking back, I want MORE than Talbot offered but it’s a great starter in thinking – Bohm got me more into thinking about thinking. I like Cornel West’s line lately “Philosophy is about preparing to die”. MY I DIGRESS fast.

-by Tim Miltz on 11/21/2014 at 2:16 AM


Was the alternate photo of me meant to resemble Conan O’Brien. There is very strong resemblance.

-by Sam on 12/17/2014 at 6:18 PM


Was the alternate photo of me meant to resemble Conan O’Brien. There is very strong resemblance.

-by Sam on 12/17/2014 at 7:42 PM


I’ve noticed references to you in several c2 wiki pages about natural language used in OOP. You may be interested to figure out one of my projects, which attempts to demonstrate my internalized rules for type naming. I think the project reaches a definite set of principles.

Please see

-by Jeffrey on 1/2/2015 at 9:08 AM

Hi, Jeffrey, thanks I’ll look at that. In the meantime, the paper they are referencing is this: Using natural language as a metaphoric base for object-oriented modeling and programming (discussion: Re: Using natural language as a metaphoric base for object-oriented modeling and programming). Cheers, Alistair

Despite your obvious comfort with solving messy problems, are you ever slightly frustrated with the apparent flaws of natural language? As a programmer, I like natural language because it appears as an intuitive way to label complex entities, but its actually quite deceptive.

For example take the type name ‘StringBuffer’, it easily makes sense, but it could mean two things; ‘Buffer’ extends namespace ‘String’, or ‘Buffer of String elements’. I consider this a collision. This problem could be solved by inserting an underscore in the latter case, such as ‘Buffer_String’, rendering the name in a technically-sane fashion while utilizing the good stuff of English.

Unfortunately I cannot apply the underscore-method in practice, other programmer would think that this method is too ‘farfetched’, whatever that really means. But I often feel like programmers integrate natural language too far, that is totally fine for documentation, but not for source code. Is this the kind of interest which makes you a methodologist? I fear for a professional career as programmer if these problems keeps haunting me.

-by Jeffrey on 1/4/2015 at 12:56 PM

anyone can define these terms .
roadmap of product owner
roadmap of project manager
roadmap of Scrum master
roadmap of developer in a task.

-by Arjun Singh RAna on 3/17/2015 at 6:47 AM

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