Editor's Note: Ellen Gottesdiener (above) is answering your questions this week at IT Martini on LinkedIn. 

Ellen Gottesdiener: Simple is Not Easy
By Terreece Clarke, July 26th, 2012

As a believer in simplicity, Ellen Gottesdiener faces no shortage of difficult problems when it comes to simplifying software development. Fortunately, she's been able to share her collaborative approach to this problem as the author of Requirements by Collaboration: Workshops for Defining Needs and The Software Requirements Memory Jogger.

"There's more to this stuff than singing Kumbaya," Gottesdiener said. "There's an art and science to collaboration. Way before Agile became a hot topic there has been a need and study of what it takes for meaningful collaboration."

In particular, her experience led her to believe there's a dramatic shortage of skilled facilitators within the Agile community.

"Agilists get excited, but don't [always] have the skills," she said. "Collaboration needs to be engineered. Leaders need to be neutral as facilitators."

Breaking Down the 'Value' of Requirements

Gottesdiener's perspective was elaborated in a March 2011, Agile Record article "Agile Requirements: Not an Oxymoron," where she discussed traditional requirements and Agile:

"On the best Agile projects, requirements practices combine discipline, rigor, and analysis with speed, adaptation, and collaboration. Because software development is a knotty 'wicked problem' with evolving requirements, using iterative and Agile practices is not only common sense but also economically desirable."

Gottesdiener broke it down further - "There ain't no stinkin' requirements," she said. "You have product needs and the closer to release it becomes a want. When you're building it out, then it's a requirement. So really, there are options we want [as facilitators] the partners to collaborate and explore and select the most valuable."

According to Gottesdiener, the role of the facilitator in structured conversations to recast the idea of requirements using value considerations, visual models, examples, etc., and their job to facilitate those structured conversations.

"Value is in the eye of the beholder," Gottesdiener said. "[Facilitators] help them come together and talk about value in a very transparent way and that sets the stage for delivery."

Eating Your Own Dog Food

Gottesdiener delves into the topic of delivery deeper in her third book due out in August: "Discover to Deliver: Agile Product Planning and Analysis, co-written with colleague Mary Gorman.

The book is based on Gottesdiener and Gorman's real-world experiences in the trenches and offers visual language to communicate key concepts, choose your own reading navigation and case study narratives that recreate typical team conversations.

And how does an Agilist write a book on Agile practices? By eating her own dogfood - or as Gottesdiener and Gorman like to say "drinking their own prosecco."

Using Agile practices to develop the book based on real client experiences mean that when Gottesdiener and Gorman learned something new, they went back and tweaked the text. It also meant putting the book up on the wall and bringing in reviewers with a variety of perspectives to join into the discussion.

"[It was] very powerful to look at your product in that way," Gottesdiener said. "It made it [the book] really tight and concise."

Kaban's Rise and Agile as Commonplace

When asked about where she sees the industry going, Gottesdiener talked about a shift in attitude toward approach. People will get unstuck from having to use a particular approach method like Scrum, she said while more teams will look toward Kaban - visual management and lean thinking. She also discussed Agile's move into D-list celebrity status.

"The Agile Manifesto has been around for 10 plus years," Gottesdiener said. "People won't be talking about Agile as a big thing...it will be common practice, common sense. Some of the hype will get removed from Agile practices."

Gottesdiener said while more companies will adapt, there will be some that struggle because change is hard.

IT Martini had to ask - Is it people or organizations that get in the way?

"People in organizations," she said with a laugh. "Cultures can be barriers so that's why they need outside organizations to point those things out. It's not the role, it's the goal."

Developing a 'Neutral' Perspective

Gottesdiener, who always held an interest in tech, obtained her degree in psychology & sociology and was asked to be a part of an entry-level analyst programmer trainee program. It was for future leaders who, by going through the 12 month program development program would come out the other end as project leaders. Later, she was then asked to become a trainer. A later project management position lead to her involvement on a project that used a facilitator.

"I said, 'I gotta do this, this is really cool!' I decided to facilitate my own project and...it was terrible. I wasn't neutral. From that point I made it my business to learn about it [facilitating]," she said.

Throwing herself into learning opportunities and workshops, she learned more than only what it takes to remove biases from oneself.

"I learned a lot about being a servant to the entire group, to be in a neutral place and be authentic. It takes a lot of practice," Gottesdiener said.