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Agile coach: recipes for success #1

Infotel_Agile coaching_Cockburn game
  • Number of places: for 15 participants
  • Preparation time: about 1 hour
  • Level of difficulty: Difficult

Teaching agile specifications

Applications are always supplied with product documentation, the component that lasts longer than anything else. Although the technologies involved can undergo many changes over time, the documentation remains the project’s legacy.

However, in Agile, where specifications must be up to date – therefore reliable and easy to maintain – as well as being understandable to both users and developers, some confusion remains due to uncertainties about their pace, their Agile nature and their format.

This starts from the following observation:

  • Users only know what they really want after they have seen a first version of the software (Humphrey’s Requirements Uncertainty Principle)
  • Needs often change during the software development phase (Hadar Ziv Uncertainty Principle – 1996)
  • Full specification of an interactive system is impossible (Peter Wegner’s Lemma – 1995).

But how quickly can Agile specifications be taught and demonstrated by example? This is the issue in the serious game created by Alistair Cockburn that I will be demonstrating to you today: ARTISTS & SPECIFIERS!

Artists & Specifiers: The recipe

STAGE 1: The ingredients

Set up at least 2 teams of 3 people.

  • Each team is divided into two groups: 1 Artist per team and 2 Specifiers
  • You must have two rooms totally independent from each other
  • Provide A4 sheets of paper, markers, pens and post-its.

A reminder of the rules:

Before putting the artists in a separate room, repeat the following instructions:

  • Artists and Specifiers will not be in the same room;
  • All communications must take place in writing;
  • The Specifiers will have to send the messages from their group via a messenger. The messenger will not be allowed to speak to the Artists;
  • The game will be played in 3 iterations of 6 minutes, followed up by a team review after each iteration;
  • At the end of each exchange, the Artists must produce a drawing corresponding to the drawing shown to the Specifiers.

The aim of the game is for the Specifiers to write a description based on a simple drawing which they give to the Artists who must then reproduce it.

STEP 2: Preparation

As you will have understood, we start this game with a very simple drawing:


Sprint 1

After 6 minutes, ask the Artists to put down their pencil and show the drawing they have made.

A debriefing is now required. During the first Sprint, you will very often find that the Specifiers take 5 minutes and 30 seconds to produce a very well finished page, which does not leave enough time for the Artists to reproduce it successfully.

You should now give some guidelines to the teams before giving them 2 minutes to review what they have just done. In the example below, you can focus on writing the specifications “piece by piece” rather than providing a description that is too detailed.

Sprints 2 and 3 are based on the same procedure, but with an “increased” degree of complexity.


Sprint 2


Sprint 3

Despite the greater complexity of drawing No 3, the teams will naturally move towards “Agile” compliant specifications that meet the constraints outlined in the first part:

  • More communication (using Post-Its between Artists and Specifiers).
  • Specifications delivered “one small bit at a time”: For example, we first describe the triangle, then the circle, etc.



STEP 3: Improvement

ARTISTS & SPECIFIERS consider several aspects of agility, such as the greater efficiency of verbal communication compared with written communication, but also the importance of breaking down work into smaller units, as well as the concept of ongoing improvement and feedback loops.