Interview with Alistair Cockburn
Alistair Cockburn is a signatory of the Agile Manifesto, a book author, a keynote speaker at numerous Agile conferences, and most recently, the spokesperson for ICAgile.org, a credentialing body offering several levels of Agile certification. This is a multi-part interview that covers a wide range of topics in the Agile space.
How is it you came to be the person lending credibility to an Agile-certification effort called ICAgile?
I've been trying to create an education roadmap leading to a certification program since about 2005. I tried first with a few other private individuals in 2005-6, and then again with the APLN (http://apln.org) in 2007. When the APLN decided not to pursue the initiative, I thought it was, sadly, a dead topic.
Two things changed that: First, Dr. Ahmed Sidky improved our 2007 design by incorporating arranging multiple levels of achievement, including multiple specialties, adding a final in-person examination, and including in the discussion other (non-agile specialized) organizations in the discussion. Second, recent market research showed that hiring managers and the community are recognizing the need for broader agile certification. In other words, Agile is maturing into the enterprise, so that companies need this type of structure and guidance. Consequently, although I have approached the topic a few times in the past, the community now appears to be ready to gain the value from this type of certification, and we have a design suited to it.
As for me being the person lending credibility to it? I think that's quite obvious: I helped isolate in the 90s what we came to call "agile development", I helped write both the Agile Manifesto and the Declaration of Interdependence, I'm well known in the industry, and I have as core competencies several of the key areas in the roadmap. I know a great deal about the subject, I've studied the question for a long time, and I'm known. That makes me the obvious person to speak up and answer questions.
Personally, I think this design would succeed without me – it is a fairly solid initial design (see http://icagile.com/Why_ICAGILE.pdf for a description of the problem we set out to solve and the basics of the design). With luck we'll be able to make it stronger over time as we live with it and work with partners, corporations, instructors, and students during its first year.
As a not-very-far-aside, although many people are placing a great deal of focus on the "certification" aspect of the initiative, the certificates are possibly the least significant part of the effort (see http://icagile.com/How_To_Use.pdf for an expansion of these ideas). Major corporations are highly interested in the "roadmap" aspect of the work, so they can set career development paths for their various employees, and people retraining themselves to become more employable also see the roadmap aspect as crucial to their futures. Training companies see the ability to show where their courses fit as providing them with a better, and fair, field of competition.
Hiring companies will use the publicly listed learning objectives as a double-check against the presentation of a certificate by an applicant. Diverse certifying bodies are working together to create a common educational map and common learning objectives, possibly cross-recognizing certain certificates.
So, as you see, the "certificates" by themselves, although the parts that are natural to focus on, are not the major contribution of the work. Raising the standards of education in the industry, finding common ground across organizations, helping individuals and organizations with training roadmaps – those are the exciting parts of the work.
Explain the "Merit badge" concept of ICAgile.
We chose the Boy Scouts model as a starting way to describe the educational path. Initially, that was just an easy way to explain it to others – now we're looking more closely at the Boy Scout model itself in detail, since it's been heavily tested for a century (this year is its 100th anniversary!).
The idea is set intermediate milestones in the developmental roadmap: take about three days of classes to get the fundamentals common across agile development, and get a reward for that; take another 4-10 days of classes for any particular specialty, and get a second milestone reward for that; and finally, add some more classes, turn in a portfolio and be watched at work by experts, and get a third milestone reward for that.
Some people are familiar with this model from Boy Scouts: go through a set of merit badges and become the Boy Scouts 1st Class, do some more and become Boy Scout 2nd Class, do some more, plus a project and some other work, and become Eagle Scout.
In our case, each individual learning objective might be thought of as similar to the Boy Scout's merit badge: specialized and rather small on its own, but meaningful in combination of several dozen.
The importance of the milestone model is that it helps people stay motivated across what may be years of education (don't forget that most professionals are lucky to get one course per year), and allows them to show where they are to their employers as they proceed.
This is Part 1 of the Alistair Cockburn interview. Watch for the next segment of this interview, where Alistair discusses his take on some timely and controversial topics facing the Agile community.