From ziobrando to EventStorming

Alberto Brandolini in action at DDD Europe 2016 showing one of his world-famous slides

Q&A with Alberto Brandolini

Avanscoperta’s founder Alberto Brandolini is the inventor of EventStorming, the author of the book “Introducing EventStorming”, and much more…

Enjoy!

Avanscoperta: Alberto Brandolini is a coach, a trainer, a businessman, a speaker, an author, but most importantly, he’s ziobrando. We’re very curious now… who was the first one to call you ziobrando?

Alberto Brandolini: Lamberto, the guy who used to sit next to me in secondary school. Then, when I was in high school, comics were very popular, and Marty Mystere (the Good Old Marty) just helped reinforce the whole thing. The nickname kind of got out of use during the university years. When it came to create my digital identity online, meaning the first username, a blog… ziobrando was the name of choice.

@ziobrando’s drawings and hand-writing play a key role in his talks and workshops

It wasn’t the most clever choice at first because all blogs used to list their sources and names in alphabetical order, so I always ended up at the bottom of the list.

Oh yes, and then there was the time everyone was like “you named yourself Zio Brando so that you can be the Italian version of Uncle Bob” (“zio” meaning both “uncle” and “buddy” in Italian), but you must know that back in 1982, when the nickname was invented, I had no clue about who Uncle Bob was! Since Twitter, all things fell into place nicely again.

Avanscoperta: It was 2006, the year you signed the Agile Manifesto. Can you tell us the before and after of this signature?

Alberto Brandolini: Well, actually it took me a while to understand I could sign the Manifesto and that it was something of my concern, but then is was 2001 when I started my first enterprise project with Kent Beck’s “eXtreme Programming Explained” on my desk. It was a project in the banking field and it was then when we started experimenting some techniques: the first JUnit tests (they were embarassing, believe me!), Continuous Integration, and so on.

They worked. Results were coming in. So we didn’t stop.

I got “hit” the second time when I discovered Alistair Cockburn’s “Agile Software development: the Cooperative Game”, where topics such as communication and information radiators were explained, and there I started understanding that I could (and I had to) question all old procedures and habits.

A couple of books and projects later, the signature of the Manifesto became a mere formality, just like being married after you’ve lived together with your partner for a few years.

As the old saying goes, “It’s never too late!”

After the signature, things did not change much. But gradually Agile was becoming more important in all the things I was doing: I found out I was not “the only one who read the book in Italy” and that I could rely on a community that I did not know at first. I approached this community prudently, but then I realized how awesome this was, something I still think.

And the same happened at the European level.

You see, maybe the difference from the beginning is that now I feel part of this community. Let me put this right: I am fucking proud of being part of it.

Avanscoperta: What is status of the world of software development in 2016, and where would we like it to be?

Alberto Brandolini: There’s no such a thing as a “place to be”. It’d be good if there was a line, with something like a Nirvana towards the bottom and a spot saying “we’re at 75%”.

Too easy. The world of software development is a shapeless mass where you can find professionals who model space and time around themselves in order to produce something amazing, and companies whose practices border slavery and that treat their developers like numbers or replaceable resources. These companies deliver terrible, faulty services and products which make their users’ life a nightmare.

One is led to believe that all these differences and the extension of the range of things included in this shapeless mass has not been fully understood yet. The rules of the game are not the same for everyone: you cannot behave like you’re doing agile in a company where turnover never stops. Or where software development is subject to financial constrictions that don’t take into account the peculiarity of the ecosystem.

What I’m witnessing is a community where people start understanding that the rules of the game are different, that developing software is something “the management” has not fully understood yet, and that this cannot be successful if you ignore the peculiarity of your ecosystem. And this community is growing, and it’s obtaining results. But there’s still so many people who are not at the forefront yet, and they keep on living the contradiction between what is working well on a small, local scale, and the old, traditional management rules which they’re not able to question yet.

Dave Grohl’s always been a great inspiration for Alberto… did you know @ziobrando plays drums?

Where would we like to be? Sometimes one believes this fight is a David-Goliath one. For each professional who starts doing things in the right way, there’s an endless number of graduates who are approaching the job market whose heads are full of bad ideas. We had the luxury to wait for this situation to change when this type of paradigm shift used to happen in the past.

Quoting Planck: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” In our field the paradigms shift faster than the generations, but “convincing” hasn’t become easier yet.

Avanscoperta: Understanding the system with EventStorming. Where do we start, how does it work and why is it useful?

Alberto Brandolini: We start by having an unlimited modeling surface at our disposal. The famous “paper roll” serves this purpose. I cannot possibly model a complex problem within a limited space.

Who would have thought orange sticky notes would have ever become so important?

With a big surface, we can model cooperatively. In order for this to happen we need to find a common language allowing everyone to take part in the conversation. A UML (Unified Modeling Language) is not fit for purpose, Events work much better.

At this stage we can visualize a complex flux in a collaborative way and with the contribution of all experts involved. The events help us keep the story and the temporal flux consistent, putting the contradictions of all participants’ points of view under the spot. And… this is useful both for those who need to develop software for a portion of or for the whole business process (because discovering such contradictions well in advance has enormous costs/benefits advantages) and for those who are deeply involved in such processes and know very well a defined portion of the process but not the whole picture.

In fact we’re using EventStorming as a tool to design both complex IT systems and the whole services chain with the aim of value generation, comprehension of the ecosystem and so on.

Avanscoperta: What’s the genesis of the word EventStorming? And also, do you write it as one or two words? :)

Alberto Brandolini: At the beginning I had no strong opinion on this. The first word I used was Event-Based Modeling, which just doesn’t sound right. Then I found out Vaughn Vernon (the author of “Implementing Domain-Driven Design”) had been using the same term to talk about something else, so I had to find a new name.

A lot of inspiration came from GameStorming (which was inspired by brainstorming itself), so calling it EventStorming was the most natural choice.

Without space. Works much better on Twitter! 😉

Avanscoperta: Do you believe it is possible to apply EventStorming in different industries and contexts?

Alberto Brandolini: Totally. We’ve designed startups from scratch, or we questioned company policies.

We used it to validate a business model and hypothesis of value generation of a company, regardless of a software component being in place. Sometimes we use it as a tool for some retrospectives. I’ve tried to use the same approach when negotiating with my daughter during our “wars of independence”. And it does work.

Avanscoperta: Your book “Introducing EventStorming — An act of Deliberate Collecting Learning” was published in January 2016. Who’s your target reader and what should s/he expect from your book?

Alberto Brandolini: I’m trying to understand it. My target reader is my reader :o)

I’m quite surprised by the number of people who bought the book betting on the fact I would have been able to put the word “end” to it if I’m honest, so… I couldn’t ask for more! Now I’m being guided by them, with their questions and observations.

EventStorming was born in the software world, but its utility goes well beyond this realm.

The self-explaining “picture that explains everything”

The first readers come from that community. Many of them wear a lot of hats though: they’re very often free thinkers and they’re just “trapped” in a software developer’s body. My challenge is making sure each one of them finds something useful that can help them solve a problem and do their work in the best possible way.

In fact I try to explain that developing software is not what we think, there’s a type of recurring problems which cannot be solved in the old way but they can be faced with less conventional tools and instruments. EventStorming is one of them.

Avanscoperta: Ok, I read the book, and then?

Alberto Brandolini: Then you go to the stationery shop, and buy a lot of orange sticky notes. But you won’t find them in the area of Faenza, I bought them all :)

Orange is the new… wait, where did we hear it already? :)

PS. Find out more on the next editions of the EventStorming Workshop!

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