This Month’s Pattern *

51 My Cousin Vinny

Team members argue—vigorously and without rancor— to appraise and improve their ideas.

Soon after humans started using language, they started arguing. Not every argument since that time has been beneficial; many have been of very dubious advantage to the proponents. Nevertheless, throughout history, well-intentioned people have used argument and debate to validate ideas—often improving them while doing so.

Team members argue over their ideas and proposals all the time. They use argument as a way to explore their ideas and to arrive at a consensus on what to do. If the arguments for an idea are unconvincing, then the idea is unlikely to be adopted. However, should skeptics become convinced during the argument, they almost certainly will become enthusiastic advocates for the idea. If, during the course of the argument, flaws appear in the idea, given time, teammates usually turn to repairing them. While an idea is being debated, the cut and thrust of the argument is almost guaranteed to generate new ones.

The point of arguing is to convince others, and while we are doing so, to convince ourselves. If you want to convince someone else, then of necessity, your ideas must be well formed and articulated. In other words, you have to think about them a little more and consider whether the idea will withstand the spirited—and public—scrutiny it is about to receive. We would all like to come across as knowledgeable whilst arguing, and so take more care to ensure we are presenting a rational, well-crafted idea.

The eponymous hero of this pattern won his court case through clever argument. His presentation of the case and his arguments against those of the prosecution were enough to convince the jury. Similarly, beneficial arguing in projects is not the usual bickering and disputes that go on in most offices—whose football team is the best, Mac versus Windows, and so on. It’s the meaty discussion that advances the system being built. Which design best fits the requirements? What level of security provides the best safety for stored information, yet allows the degree of needed access? And, should preventing accidental misuse by authorized users have a higher priority than preventing intrusion from outside agents since the former is more common? These, like many issues that confront a project team, are multifaceted and need to be aired and argued over if the best end-result is to emerge.

Some arguments are on a grand scale—the proponents are determining the overall look and feel of the product. The marketing people argue for a cool, uncluttered appearance; the usability expert argues for enough visible controls to make common tasks simple to do; the developers argue for pet features and against anything they think will result in an inelegant implementation.

Some arguments are about smaller-scale, but nevertheless important, issues. I sat spellbound through an argument about the best way of reducing the number of instructions in a disk access routine. Bizarrely, the proponents of this argument chose to sit on their desks and talk over the partitions of their adjoining cubicles. —JSR

Team members who argue in their search for better solutions respect each other—it is often safe to say they like each other. Otherwise, they cannot have productive argument. When an argument is flowing, team members know that the discussion and dissection of their idea is not an attack on them; it’s merely an attempt to deliver the best product in an efficient manner. But this kind of safety does not come from benevolent management or well-meaning team leaders. It comes from within: The team members know that argument is not personal, that it is not to establish a pecking order or to showcase a tiresome display of personal knowledge. It comes from knowing that other guy is your cousin Vinny. He is testing your ideas and attempting to advance them—by arguing with you.

Film still from Jonathan Lynn’s 1992 movie, My Cousin Vinny: On the stand, Mona Lisa Vito argues with lawyer Vincent Gambini. From elsewhere in the movie: “Stan, listen to me. You have to see the Gambinis in action. I mean, these people, they love to argue. I mean, they live to argue.”

* Each month we plan to publish here one of the patterns from our Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies — Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior. (Watch this space for a mere 86 months and you'll have read the whole thing.) The book is published by Dorset House Publishing, in the US and Hanser Verlag in Germany. It is available at Amazon and also as a Kindle book.


Hilversum, Mastering Business Analysis
10-Nov-2014 to 11-Nov-2014

James Robertson teaches the popular Mastering Business Analysis. Details from Adept Events in English or Dutch.

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
11-Nov-2014 to 13-Nov-2014

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details and registration, please contact IRM UK.

Wellington, Mastering the Requirements Process part 2
24-Nov-2014 to 25-Nov-2014

Suzanne Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process part 2. Details for this advanced class at Software Education.

Wellington, Mastering the Requirements Process
26-Nov-2014 to 28-Nov-2014

The ever popular Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Software Education.  

Melbourne, Mastering the Requirements Process
1-Dec-2014 to 3-Dec-2014

Suzanne Robertson presents Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact Software Education  for details and registration. 

Sydney, Mastering the Requirements Process
1-Dec-2014 to 3-Dec-2014

DeMarco Keynote at OOP Konferenz 2015 in Munich
27-Jan-2015 to 27-Sep-2014

Tom DeMarco gives the keynote at the OOP Konferenz 2015 in Munich, January 29, 2015.

in depth

James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Writing the Right Agile Stories on YouTube. Download the webinar slides.

Suzanne and James Robertson’s article The Requirements Food Chain explores how the originators and consumers of requirements interact with each other as the requirement matures.

Read Tom DeMarco's article from the July/August edition of IEEE Software: Sigil, BlueGriffon, and the Evolving Software Market.

Suzanne Robertson is one of the Agile Experts who discuss the subject of Scrum versus Kanban. The report is published by the Cutter Consortium and they have kindly made it available to readers of our web site. The lead author, Johanna Rothman, sets forth her argument that one is not necessarily better than the other; they are just different and it's up to the organization to figure out which method is best under which circumstance. In response, seven of Cutter's Agile experts discuss their views on Crossing the Agile Divide.

Tom DeMarco's speculative novel, Andronescu's Paradox is now available from Amazon or Nook.  It will be released in German 1Q2015 by Hanser Verlag. 

"This war isn't going to blow anything up, only turn everything off."

Complete Systems Analysis - the Workbook, the Textbook, the Answers by Suzanne Robertson and James Robertson is now in e-book format. It is available as a Kindle book, from InformIT, or you can download a sample chapter.

Tim Lister was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk.
Lister, Keynote at Agile 2013Tim Lister was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk
was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk - See more at:
was one of the keynote presenters during Agile 2013. Tim’s talk “Forty Years of Trying to Play Well With Others” was a big hit. In this interview Tim shares some of the highlights of his talk - See more at:
Tim Lister, Keynote at Agile 2013

Announcing the publication of the third edition of Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's iconic text, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.  The book is available now from Amazon or directly from Addison Wesley. See press release on Business Wire.

Read Tom DeMarco's essay from the July/August issue of Software Magazine.  It's entitled, Bells, Whistles, Power, and the Requirements Process.

In this podcast James speaks of his experience in the profession of architecture and how it provides inspiration for his work on innovation and creativity. He also discusses the role of the business analyst in agile teams. Listen to the podcast.

There are now seven books by Guild authors available as ebooks, either as Nook Books or as Kindle Books.  

See what all the fuss is about. Tom DeMarco's article in IEEE Software seems to have annoyed practically everyone: "Software Engineering, an idea whose time has come and gone?"

Shane Hastie's interview with the authors and book excerpt: Mastering the Requirements Process on InfoQ.

The preparation course for the IREB "Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering" is now available as video training. Learn at home or any other place. Including questionnaires to prepare you for the multiple choice test.

Mastering the Requirements Process, third edition Getting Requirements Right is now available as a Kindle Book, Nook Book, or in traditional paper.

A Sci-Fi novel from Tom DeMarco: Andronescu’s Paradox.  Could this be the Apocalypse we’ve all been dreading?  Or has the nineteenth century just returned for an encore?  Click to find out.

The Guild's Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies is now available in a Kindle edition.

Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister's perennially popular book Peopleware is now available in a Kindle Edition.

Tom DeMarco provides a video commentary about the Adrenaline Junkies book project. Learn how this Jolt Award-winning book came about.