Info-Ops

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Info-Ops (2016)

Info-Ops 1 is a book written by Daniel Markham in 2016. Its goal is to help technology creators deliver better technology to users by having better conversations about what they actually want. It achieves that goal by having technology teams view their work as primarily related to common-sense _information management_, not as rituals, forms, or processes to complete.


Backlogs

History

In the mid 2000s, Markham was working as a technical coach for several large clients. As part of that coaching work, he observed that poor teams rarely had good backlogs; when the time came to create acceptance testing, unit testing, or TDD cycles, the way the backlog items were worded was always an impediment.

Working on the assumption that while poor backlogs might not be both necessary and sufficient for poor team performance, they were definitely necessary, he started creating training materials around building better backlogs. First there were brown-bag lunches, then half-day sessions, and finally multi-day workshops. All of this culminated in the book and video series "Backlogs", introduced in 2010.

The main obstacle the previous training had faced was the (mostly unspoken) insistence that every team, program, and organization was different from all of the rest, therefore the principles did not apply to them. A secondary obstacle was was the notion that complex systems required complex tools and processes. Backlogs tried to get around these obstacles by creating a completely arbitrary and absurd fictional story where the hero is tasked with fixing the problems in a giant, secret underground factory that made intelligent robotic chickens of various sizes.

It was a flop.

The problem was that in trying to overcome the obstacles to adoption, it played right into them. Developers who naturally thought they didn't need any help and that such facile advice didn't apply to them weren't going to be swayed by humor and indirection. Markham went at the problem again and sought to fix these errors with the creation of Info-Ops.

An extremely lightweight conversation tagging system is introduced

Themes

An understanding of what happens in formal and informal conversations allows us to provide the maximum amount of value with the minimal amount of work. Specifically:

  • The Western Intellectual Tradition is full of examples of groups of people working together to solve complex problems.
  • We can reliably trace this work and the social context it occurred in to at least as early as Socrates
  • The Socratic Method is a form of dialectic, where point-to-point conversation is mostly used to create a better understanding of terms
  • This type of conversation is opposed to rhetoric, where pub-sub conversation is mostly used to create and defend certain ideas and concepts in the listeners' minds
  • Using the Greeks as our initial examples (but bringing in other examples as necessary), we observe how all dialectical conversation can be categorized using a small number of tags
  • This tagging system is expanded as-needed until we have testable work in front of us. At this point we have a backlog
  • The relationships between the different kinds of tagged information allows us to have better conversations and create better solutions
  • An analysis compiler is presented, EasyAM that takes that tagged information, whether it's just a few lines or hundreds of files
As-needed, a few items are added to the tagging system

Reception

Info-Ops received generally positive reviews from the beta reader group and initial readers. Since then, Markham has drastically raised the price of the book online and refused to do active marketing, stating that there is a natural conflict between trying to help people and trying to sell them things they like. In this conflict, he would rather have fewer readers that he could help than thousands of readers who may love the idea of owning the books but either did not read them or got little value out of them due to a lack of commitment.


Eventually, common technology development ideas are explained by use of these tags

Adaptation

There is a locals.com channel where ideas from the book are presented in video format. Some of this material is subscription-only, but much of it is available for free.

Screenshot of a code review where Info-Ops principles are explained and discussed