Essence with Ivar Jacobson

Join Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson as they chat with Ivar Jacobson about Essence; a standard to develop patterns and pattern libraries that is being used by Scrum, SAFE, Lean and Kanban organisations. We discuss object oriented software engineering, use cases, UML, RUP, Essence and AI assisted method coaching. Join us to hear from one of the founders of the software engineering industry.

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Podcast Transcript

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Shane: Welcome to the No Nonsense Agile Podcast. I’m Shane Gibson. 

Murray: and I am Murray Robinson. 

Ivar: I am Ivar Jacobson.

Murray: Thanks, for coming on today. Why don’t we start by getting you to explain to our audience who you are, and what’s your background? 

Ivar: Yeah, I’m Swedish, but I live in Switzerland and the rest of the world. When I was 28 years old, I became project manager for a mission critical project at Ericsson. 

And, I came up with the idea of building software using components with very strict interfaces. To get to the inside of a component, you had to use messages to get access to data or to an event. It’s the biggest fight I’ve had in my life but, 10 years later it resulted in the greatest commercial success story ever in the history of Sweden. 

You probably recognize the term use case. In 1986, I wrote a paper that was published at OOPSLA . And that is where use cases were introduced. Use cases and user stores are perfect couple, use cases for good, for big picture and user stores for the developers.

And then you must have heard about, UML and RUP. It was 1997 that we took UML as a standard, and RUP was founded in my, own company Objectory in Sweden. Later my company was acquired by Rational, so it became Rational Objectory and then Rational Unified process, surfing on Unified modeling language. Year 2000 RUP had gone too big and it became a failure . It got a really fantastic competitor and that was the agile movement. So RUP was considered anti agile , and then anything with tools was totally out.

But the ideas were very strong and has always been in my mind. One day it’ll come back. And in 2003, I started the work on what now is called Essence. And essence is a common ground for all methods. That’s basically the story. It is more than 50 years in software engineering.

Murray: Did you start off as a software engineer yourself? 

Ivar: No, I was an electrical engineer doing research and I take engineering work at Ericsson.

Murray: So you were an electrical engineer at Ericsson and then you became a project manager for software development projects. 

Ivar: Yeah. And I had absolutely no idea how computer worked when I got that job. I had probably demonstrated some capability as a project manager, but not in software.

Murray: All right, so did you work in a traditional waterfall environment when you were at Erickson way, it was at stages and gates and people working in silos and a lot of hierarchy and bureaucracy and so on. 

Ivar: No other telecom company use component-based development. And the way we worked changed the whole organization, not only the developers, but also how you sell, how you manufacture, how you install, how you operate. That was not really recognized as clearly waterfall. It was more like Winston Royce described it. 

Murray: There was a lot of people doing waterfall who didn’t call it that. At 2010 I was in a big telco in Australia doing waterfall and it’s called a staged gated system Development lifecycle. Anyway, I wanna ask you about RUP. So what was the reason for developing RUP and what was your role in that? 

Ivar: I actually set up Objectory to develop what became RUP. Object factory which became a product name and the company name.

I had seen the success of the product we built at Ericsson, and I wanted to make it 10 times better than what we had. I tried to get Ericsson to take a next step from the method they used and they didn’t want to because they made so much money and they grew like crazy and there was no need to improve, and I couldn’t stand it. I had been given the task to develop a next generation method for Ericsson. I published hundreds of pages of that at the time when people didn’t write papers like that at Erickson. So I got enough, I had to leave and set up my own company that is how we started.

And everywhere in Erickson, they adopted Objectory. The company grew rapidly. Erickson had to buy the company because we working with competitors. . Four years later Rational acquired my company and they wanted to add their own stuff, namely architecture and iterative development. So that’s how RUP was created. It was continued development of Objectory but now leadership of rational people. Very good work was done, but it became too big. 

Murray: Yeah. So I understand that the Agile founders criticized RUP for being a heavy process framework. 

Ivar: It definitely was. I don’t remember now how many pages RUP was in printed form, but it must have been a couple of thousand. We knew that no one reads that. The people inside the company who really brought up was the technical leaders. And then the c t o. If you buy RUP you get an organization that will develop high quality reusable products. But then the people who had to do it were overwhelmed. No one read 3000 pages . 

Murray: And there was software that would help you implement it. 

Ivar: Yeah. This was The Rational Suite it was a fantastic sales pitch. It was easy to sell,

Murray: Yeah. And Dean Leffingwell was the marketing manager for RUP wasn’t he?

Ivar: Some role like that. Not the product development that was Philip Kushton and his team, but the management of how you sell it, and so on. He had it in his hands.

Murray: All right. So then we had the Agile movement. RUP died away. Agile became a big thing. Then there was a whole big issue of scaling around 2010. Then SAFE came along looking very much like RUP except with all of the Agile practices in there. 

Now the reason why Shane and I are interested in talking to you about Essence is because we talk a lot about patterns and pattern libraries and practice libraries rather than bureaucracies. And if you look at most organizations, senior management have a mental model of the organization as being a machine. It’s a taylorist mindset. So you’ve got managers who are defining processes that everybody has to follow, and often the people who have to follow those processes have a lot of problems with them because they’re not good for their situation , or they’re too restrictive or too many dependencies 

So in the agile world, we have decided that we’re not going to have standard process frameworks because it goes very much against the philosophy of agile, of empowered self-managing teams that are continuously improving. But there still seems to be a really important place for practice libraries or patent libraries that people can use.

Spotify have this idea of the golden path, which is to say they have worked together in practice groups to develop good ways of working, but they’re optional. You don’t have to use them. It’s just that if you want to use something, it’s there and you can go and. Use it. So that feels a bit like Essence, that it’s a library of things that you can do, but you don’t have to do them. They’re there for you to look at and choose if you want to. And the thing I quite like about Essence is that it’s a patent for developing patent libraries. Am I getting that right? Is that what Essence is? 

Ivar: Our experience from RAP had taught us big process won’t work even if the ideas are good. It has to be more focused. We need to have a more general way of describing methods to focus on the essentials. And essentials can be described for SCRUM in 20 cards or so. And that’s all the documentation that is really needed to get the team members up to speed. Of course, we need education, but the cards are then at the center of that education.

Murray: So, it’s a standard way of defining, all the different practices. So if I go to Scrum Inc. I can find better Scrum with Essence, which the audience might like to look at. And there’s a set of cards that have been developed to explain what Scrum is. The cards are things like the scrum team, sprint planning, sprint backlog, sprint goal product backlog, et cetera. So it’s the series of simple descriptions of Scrum on cards that you can use for, training and understanding Scrum. I guess the thing about it is that these are all have been developed for all these different frameworks using the same language.

Ivar: Yes. We have developed a tool by which you can describe your practices in a very efficient way. And you can print these cards. You have it in a pocket. It’s easy to pull out. But the most important is that you play serious games with them. We have published together we have Sutherland, a paper where we demonstrate six games, but there are at least 20 more you can play. And that means software developments become much more fun. It’s more active. It’s game playing.

Murray: Let’s just briefly go into what is, the standard language for describing a practice? 

Ivar: Okay. So essence is a common ground. It includes the things that every practice or method should care about. It identifies the essential things to do and the essential things to produce. And it also talks about essential competencies you need to have. These checklists are not based on if you have written that document or if you have done that activity. The checklists are about outcome.

Murray: Let us move on to talk about ai because you were saying before that you are now able to use these essence practices because they’ve been written in a standard way to develop a virtual consultant or a virtual coach for people. Tell me about that. 

Ivar: So we understood we have to get it to become a standard. So it took us five years to drive it through a standardization group, namely Object Management Group. So Essence is a formal standard. It means it doesn’t change easily. I cannot go in and say, now we change it. Someone, a group of people have to a big group of people. There were about a hundred people reviewing and accepting this standard. We took away everything that not everyone agreed upon. So it became very much what everyone could agree upon.

So now with that in place you can use both intelligent agent technique and you can use ChatGPT like techniques to support practices. So now in Lisbon 26 of September, we will demonstrate how SCRUM Essentials using Essence is also teamed up with AI technique. 

Murray: So is this gonna put us out of a job? ’cause it’s gonna be a virtual agile coach and organizations won’t need to hire us anymore. 

Ivar: No, absolutely not. The difference is that you don’t need to do so much boring work. Of course, if you are doing routine work, you are in danger. But the people who love what they, they are doing will find it fantastic.

Shane: This idea of using cards. I’ve seen it quite often and I can see that Jurgen Apello is doing it for unfixed as well. So this concept of small cards with a nice summarized piece of information, where’d that come from? 

Ivar: Yeah, first time I saw it was actually Peter Coad using it around 1990 to describe his object oriented, design. Also Ward Cunningham was involved. But these cards had no semantics. And the difference between, relying on a language and relying just on intuition is dramatic.

Murray: So I think we should go to summaries. What do you think Shane? 

Shane: Yeah. So I like the idea that, one of the lessons you learned from RU was big processes won’t work. We need to focus on the essentials and hence the name essence .

I think this idea of extracting out a language to describe the various practices in the repeatable way is a great idea. 

So I love this concept of build your own ways, of working your own practices, using patterns that make sense for you. And then within that card, what I get is a bunch of checklists that I could use to say, how’s the team going? I really like that. 

So yeah, I think like all things that are abstracted. That abstraction process gives us a problem. There’s all these really useful patterns that given a certain context, they are good reusable solutions that fix a problem in that context. But the context is always so variable that finding the right thing is always the problem. 

And so I’m intrigued by this idea of using an agent. If it helps me get to the right pattern quickly to find the thing that will solve my problem, given my context, then that might be the missing piece for these big libraries of useful things. So that’s my thought off today. Murray, what do you got?

Ivar: The beauty of this approach we have with checklists and so on is that the, checks are method agnostic. So we are totally based on outcome and not about the particular way of doing it. Second, all these checks are placeholders for conversations. So you discuss in the team and maybe you get an agreement of where you are. It’s attempting to create questions.

Murray: Yeah. Okay. So I really like the idea of patterns and pattern libraries or practice libraries where people can go and see all of the practices written in a standard way. I think the problem with safe is that it’s not a pattern library. It’s a big heavy process framework. It’s not really optional and it locks you in. So people who do SAFE stop thinking and they don’t think about what’s going on in the rest of the agile world. I think if we can move away from thinking of an organization as a machine with a set of standard best practices to the idea of an organization as something that’s growing and developing, made up of empowered teams and everybody’s contributing to ways of working, I think that’s better. I’d like to know more about Essence and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to access the library of all the essence things ’cause it’s commercial. But I could see that, I could go into, scrum and see what they’ve been doing with Essence. And I guess maybe you could go into the other ones and do that too. 

The only thing that worries me about it either is that it could be that managers. We’ll see this and go, oh, this is good. We’re gonna do all of this now. All of it, not optional. This is our new heavy process framework. you, must do everything and there’s gonna be an auditing team who’s gonna audit you. And not only that, but we’re gonna do all these things in our staged and gated waterfall development processes where everybody works in silos. But we’re gonna be doing essence now.

What is the best place for people to go to see Essence? 

Ivar: Let me come back to you with that. If you want to read, there is several LinkedIn articles and blogs. But most people don’t want to read so we have also demos. 

Murray: All right. Thanks Iva. Thanks for coming on

Ivar: Okay.

Murray: That was the No Nonsense Agile Podcast from Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson. If you’d like help to create high value digital products and services, contact murray at evolve. co. That’s evolve with a zero. Thanks for listening.

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