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What is going on out there? A Narrative Inquiry project

Joseph Pelrine and I are involved in (or is that “committed to”?) starting up a Narrative Inquiry project with the Agile Alliance under their Agile Narratives programme. This one will be done jointly with Cognitive Edge using the Cynefin approach, here’s their announcement.

I’ve started a Yahoo Group for people who are interested.

What is going on out there?

A proposal for a Narrative Inquiry project within the Agile Narratives Program


How does the Agile Alliance find out what’s important to its members, and highlight interesting new ideas amongst all the noise? The activity of finding out is called Sense Making. This proposal is for an experiment to understand how well one approach to Sense Making works and can be applied to the Agile community.

The Agile world is changing as adoption by individuals and organisations grows rapidly. It used to be possible for individuals more or less to know what was going on, but the community has long been too large for that kind of personal network. How do Agile practitioners, novice and experienced, make sense of current practice in the discipline?

One technique is to use personal stories from the community, managed as semi-structured data, to support quantative analysis and to help understand individuals’ concrete experiences. The Agile Narratives Program has been investigating one approach to this technique. This proposal is to start a complementary project in collaboration with Cognitive Edge using their Cynefin methods and SenseMaker tools.


We will set up a programme to gather and index brief stories from members of the community about their experiences of adopting and working with Agile software development practices.

Bootstrap. We will start with a session, run at the London eXtreme Tuesday Club, to gather “indexing” topics, questions that the storytellers themselves will use to categorise the stories that they contribute. Cognitive Edge will then set up an initial data-gathering site based on those questions. We can prompt for contributions within the XtC and various Agile groups on the internet to seed the contents of the database. We might also be able to use some of the content from the existing Agile Narratives database.

Pilot. We will run a pilot event at XP2008, based on this data, to trial techniques for gathering and analysing further stories, in the context of a public event. Dave Snowden (founder of Cognitive Edge) will be a keynote at that conference, which will help to attract participation. This pilot will test our approach and should provide enough initial data to experiment with quantative analysis.

First run. We will run activities at with Agile2008 to raise awareness of the program and to gather stories from the much larger group, based on the experiences from the Pilot. We might have enough data by then to attract attention with some early findings, or be able to show how the results change over the week.

Ongoing. Once the project is established, we intend to keep it active as a place to contribute and find stories about Agile practice “in the field”, about practitioners’ real experiences. From time to time, we can re-analyse the data to report trends and surprises.

One Comment

  1. Alex Forbes says:

    Are you only looking for failure stories vs. success stories?

    I’m sure with the number of users coming to AccuRev for help with managing multiple traditional and agile processes together (such as Waterfall, Scrum, FDD, Lean, XP, etc.), I’ll be able to find some over the months ahead. I’d like to capture their initial problems and ultimate successes both.


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