Project Management

Alistair Cockburn - Designing Quality of Life

From the The Reluctant Agilist Blog
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Writing the introduction to a podcast interview with Dr. Alistair Cockburn is not a simple thing. He is the co-author of the Agile Manifesto and the author of numerous books on Agile, Use Cases and Object Oriented Programming. There is also his work with Crystal and now with the Heart of Agile. He’s contributed a significant body of material around the topic of how we work. While this interview touches on most of the above, the primary focus of the interview is around a simple question with a complex answer: How can you design a lifestyle that is based on continually examining and enhancing the quality of your life.


The interview is a long one, but is filled with volumes of advice and wisdom on how to build a professional life that supports the level of quality you want to achieve in your personal life. The information will be especially valuable for anyone working on consulting. For those who are pressed for time, I’ve created detailed show notes below so you can jump to a specific portion if you need to and you can find them here: (because they exceed the text limit for a Soundcloud podcast).


If you would like to learn more about Alistair Cockburn, check out

If you’d like to follow Alistair on Twitter, you can find him at

If you’d like to learn more about Heart of Agile, check out

If you’d like to check out the Facebook Live conversation between Alistair and Nic Sementa, try



Show Notes

00:08 Interview Starts

01:10 Topic Introduction - Designing your life with intention to create quality of life

02:27 Overview of the trajectory of Alistair’s professional life and consulting background

02:58 Alistair’s advice for maintaining quality of life as a consultant

03:44 The jobs you can’t take if you want to maintain quality of life (especially if your focus is family)

05:11 How do you become an old married consultant? If consulting is so great, why do people quit?

05:41 Rule #1 Limiting your travel / Manage your budget

06:40 Resigning from the full time travel gig and making sure they can’t make an example of you

09:10 The smart way to look for a new job

09:44 How much you need to have saved to look for a new consulting gig

10:56 Why you need to pace yourself during the job search

11:22 Getting published and planning to be in the rejection business

13:28 Coping with the ego blow of getting your soul rejected

14:24 Applying this advice to getting new clients

15:14 Landing the first consulting gig teaching about Object Oriented Design

16:08 How do you survive the first days as a consultant?

16:53 Driving for lifestyle

17:43 Consciously making choices for the lifestyle you want to achieve

18:22 Asking yourself “Does this enhance the quality of my life or not?” and applying it to all aspects of your life

19:27 Celebrating the things you do choose to do

19:50 The infinite potential workload vs. the finite number of plates you can juggle

21:22 The number of things you can’t get around to is infinite (no matter how much you do)

22:31 Do less to get more joy/quality/everything

22:45 Bookshelves, kids and divorce

23:10 18 years of being a married consultant

23:55 Do five things with job instead of 15 things with less joy - and learning to be conscious of your choices.

24:15 Going to the buffet

25:25 “The amount of food I did not touch was infinite”

25:48 Practicing “I would have everything, but if I just have this, I can have the best of the best

26:00 Budgets - Figuring out how much you need to put food on the table, how much for gravy and how much you need to declare greed and quit for the rest of the year.

28:15 Setting an upper limit for how much you want to make and staging work with financial goals

28:45 Knowing when “anything else in my life is more important than the next job”

29:25 What you need to live - take your base number, multiply by 2.5 and find your greed limit

30:10 When you hit the greed limit, do you actually have to stop (even if you don’t want to)?

31:05 Not operating from fear - if you are getting on the plane… why?

32:00 Teaching yourself to say no, limiting travel and limiting conferences

32:40 When they call, and they want ONLY you, and they offer gobs of money…

34:05 Saying “Yes” when you should say “No”

34:35 Establishing a writing practice

35:10 A question about maintaining routine while traveling

36:00 Alistair’s life/phase changes

36:50 More advice on how to maintain a healthy life/marriage when you are a traveling consultant - set up a rhythm

38:40 Self-care while traveling (Alistair and Nic Sementa on FB live)

39:10 Life in the hotel

39:50 Air BnB so you can cook and maintain a healthy diet while traveling

41:17 Recap on maintaining diet while traveling

41:40 Alistair’s phase change - moving to France to practice his French

42:45 A brand new life in Brisbane playing volleyball for Christmas

44:14 In case you are thinking “My life can’t do that…”

44:57 How to get a job working in Zurich at IBM Research… but taking a chance and applying

47:31 Writing the Agile Manifesto in Snowbird, why it worked and why it was different than many other attempts to try and write something that would change the world

48:43 What made the running of the workshop in Snowbird so good? Generous Listening

49:10 Seventeen Alpha-types who all chose to be quiet and listen

50:18 “I’m Steve Mellor, I’m a spy”

52:46 Recap of Alistair’s tips in the interview so far

  • 50% travel cap
  • 1/2 week travel every week
  • Set max and min income target
  • When you hit max target, anything is more important than the next gig
  • Write some books to fill up the home time
  • 2 conferences a year
  • Drip feed for the clients
  • The only thing that makes things impossible is not being willing to take a chance
  • Generous listening
  • Constantly pursue areas of interest that improve quality of life

55:16 living below the poverty line and being okay with your quality of life

55:43 The three income levels according to Alistair Cockburn and understanding how much you need to feel survive or feel wealthy

59:46 Radical Simplification

60:38 The Heart of Agile, Shu Ha Ri and Kokoro

62:20 Living an improvised lifestyle

62:55 Agile has become over decorated

63:05 Scrum has become Shu level and it was designed at Ri level

63:32 The Heart of Agile - Collaborate, Deliver, Reflect and Improve

64:40 Kokoro - Heart of Essence

65:20 The top of performance is Ri, transitioning to teaching is Kokoro or Radical Simplification

66:25 The new lifestyle - looking for radical simplification in everything

67:08 Maximizing your freedom through simplification

71:34 Do you need someone at Ri or Kokoro to be guided towards simplification?

72:30 Can you transform to Heart of Agile at the organizational level?

73:20 Questioning collaboration across the organization to set a baseline you can use for transformation to Heart of Agile

74:44 If you move the needle on the collaboration, everything improves

75:31 Going back to the basics of being able to deliver incrementally

76:28 You don’t need a specialist, just people who are open

76:42 The next Heart of Agile Conference - Pittsburgh in April 2017

77:47 Wrapping up

Posted on: September 20, 2016 10:09 AM | Permalink

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