Book Review – Crystal Clear


Book Review Image - Crystal Clear

I read  Crystal Clear: A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams by Alistair Cockburn. I was not too sure what this book would provide for me in the way of relevant learning.

I am intrigued that this work came out of years of experience by Alistair. This quote from the book “Crystal Clear does not aspire to be a “best” methodology; it aspires to be “sufficient,” in order that your team will shape it to itself and then actually use it.” gave me hope. I work on a small team and I wonder about which practices will best suit our situation. I also wonder how our team can use tools and processes then reflect on their usefulness to decide if we will continue their implementation.

In Chapter 2 entitled Applied (The Seven Properties) the book discussed Frequent Delivery, Reflective Improvement, and Osmotic Communication. They all made sense to me and aligned somewhat to my own beliefs. When I started reading the fourth property, Personal Safety, certain parts seemed fine, while others set off warning bells. I believe that the purpose of any team is to progress. This is achieved through trust, respect and unity.

Cockburn says “Once personal safety and amicability are established, a useful, playful dynamic may emerge. People may wage competition with each other. They may argue loudly, even to the verge of fighting, without taking it personally. In the case where someone does take it personally, they sort it out and set things straight again.” This statement concerns me. Cockburn addresses trust by saying that people will not take it personally. Respect is lost because they “… May argue loudly, even to the verge of fighting”. I would be unable to say that I respect someone if I yell at them or even raise my voice. Now unity is completely destroyed. For some reason our society and many societies around the world not only condone competition, it is seen as a way to judge attributes of excellence in an individual. This is not a good sign for our progress towards unity in human civilization.

I agree that being polite and not stating one’s opinion is harmful for trust. However, it is preferable to use consultation instead of competition. Imagine that a team is encouraged to compete with itself to achieve better results. Would there not be feelings of resentment or heightened levels of stress?

Now imagine a team that is encouraged to consult and raise the team together without focusing on individual success.

  • Would not this team feel excited to be around each other?
  • Would they become fast friends and grow as a unit?
  • Would family members of the team be enthusiastic to be included in picnics and socials?

I find it interesting that this book has helped to see the confusion that is happening all around the world in terms of progress, success, and human development.

What learning have you gained from working on small teams? Have any of you read this book? If so, did you gain any insights that would help my team to develop? Any comments or learning from this book?

Reposted from Agile Advice (2008 article by Paul Heidema)

Warm regards,

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