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Whither Tuckman?

There’s a common model people seem to believe in implicitly, known as the Tuckman model, named for psychologist Bruce Tuckman, who published the idea in 1965. The idea is that all teams go through several distinct stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. You can probably guess what those stages are like based on their names. The model has been a mainstay of agile coaches for many years.

But I’ve had doubts about the Tuckman model for a long time. My personal experience has been that once people get used to working in a collaborative way, they can move to new teams without any friction.
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Collaboration

Contemporary software development methods emphasize collaborative work over solo work. I remember this idea gaining momentum from as far back as the 1990s, when Extreme Programming was becoming known, including one of its core practices, Pair Programming.

In retrospect, I can recall many instances when people collaborated in an ad hoc way to solve specific problems, going back to the beginning of my IT career in 1977. I’ve read articles and heard stories about the value of collaborative work in engineering going back at least to the 1950s. There was even a deliberate experiment in 1975, carried out by the US Army, on the value of “two-person teams” in software development (the article does not appear to be online anymore, but there is an excerpt in this old blog post: Does pair programming work?).

In all these cases, from formal studies to informal “war stories” told over coffee or beer, direct collaboration provided immediate and palpable benefits to the people involved. That has been my experience, as well. And yet, it seems as if solo work continues to be the norm.

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