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Software for Your Head: Core Protocols for Creating and Maintaining Shared Vision

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Most people have experienced--at least once in their lives--the incomparable thrill of being part of a great team effort. They can remember the unity of purpose they experienced, the powerful passion that inspired them, and the incredible results they achieved. People who have been on a great team can attest that the difference between being on a team with a shared vision and being on a team without one is the difference between joy and misery. In 1996, Jim and Michele McCarthy, after successful careers leading software development teams at Microsoft and elsewhere, set out to discover a set of repeatable group behaviors that would always lead to the formation of a state of shared vision for any team. They hoped for a practical, communicable, and reliable process that could be used to create the best possible teams every time it was applied. They established a hands-on laboratory for the study and teaching of high-performance teamwork. In a controlled simulation environment, their principle research and teaching effort--the McCarthy Software Development BootCamp--challenged dozens of real-world, high-tech teams to produce and deliver a product. Teams were given a product development assignment, and instructed to form a team, envision the product, agree on how to make it, then design, build, and ship it on time. By repeating these simulations time after time, with the new teams building on the learning from previous teams, core practices emerged that were repeatedly successful. These were encoded as patterns and protocols. Software for Your Head is the first publication of the most significant results of the authors' unprecedented five-year investigation into the dynamics of contemporary teams. The information in this book will provide a means for any team to create for itself a compelling state of shared vision.


435 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 2001

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Jim McCarthy

72 books5 followers

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for Randy.
139 reviews32 followers
February 22, 2015
Jim and Michelle have distilled years of experience running and being part of high performance teams into a single book build up from "protocols" which you can use no matter how different two people are in their communications styles.

The most important (corporate america take note) is the check-in/check-out protocols. If you go to a meeting, engage. If you find that there is something else you should be doing rather than just being physically present in a meeting, then you should go do it. Simply check-out and go do the more important task.

I have implemented this in my company and the number of people with their heads in the game has gone up year over year. And when someone doesn't want to be in a meeting, they are not only failing to add anything, they are sucking the energy out of the group.

It sounds like a bunch of hippie crap, but it is not - it is a set of seriously powerful tools that will make you feel like you are on the best team of your life - itself a rare and great feeling.
Profile Image for Karen.
87 reviews4 followers
September 27, 2011
The authors created a Team Building business based on their real world experiences in the software industry. Although a little loosely written, there is good stuff in here, a lot of which has been reaffirmed by other team gurus and software methodologies.

Key takeaways:
1) "If you tolerate it, you insist on it" - in other words, don't put up with nonsense. Demand or dismiss behaviors that don't encourage participation.
2) Alignment, check ins, vision, etc. are all ways to improve communication - that's why they should come before the technical work starts. "Getting down to business" without opening up these communication channels is like working in the dark..... so don't be apologetic, insist on this work being done first and throughout the project.
3) Feedback Protocols: A typical transmitter & receiver "judgement" approach is not particularly helpful. Rank, focus on positive attributes, explaining the rank and talking about the next iteration - next steps to make things even better. An Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach.
4) Emotions at work are good. Being present and checking in mean you are personally engaged. If you're engaged, you can't help but feel emotional. Not expressing these emotions check you out, disengage you, make you less present - which might make your manager's job easier, but is a diservice to the product, the team and the enterprise goal.

The McCarthy's "Boot Camp" includes coaches who help teams move through 4 phases to:
"Design, implement and deliver a course that teaches you everything you need to know to ship great software on time, every time."
Phase 1. Form a Team
Phase 2. Envision a Product
Phase 3. Agree how it should be made
Phase 4. Design & Build It

Profile Image for Derek Neighbors.
236 reviews26 followers
June 7, 2015
It is rare that a book changes your life. This book is one of those books. I learned about the Core Protocols at an Open Space Agile conference in Portland. I brought some of the ideas to the team I was working on at the time. They fell by the wayside and then a few years later I tried them with a new team. They quickly became a key set of guiding principles for communication in my work and in my life in general. This is a must read for anyone working on teams or in a marriage.
Profile Image for Joseph Carrabis.
Author 38 books88 followers
August 30, 2017
I read this as part of my studies in group psychology, group dynamics, interpersonal theory, relationship theory, et cetera. The McCarthys are experts in the field of software development and keen observers, able to recognize and capitalize on what works, and they are not rooted in psychodynamics and psychologic theory. However their lack of skill/knowledge in those disciplines didn't get in the way of an excellent read. One could argue that they wrote a better book because they didn't come from those disciplines, hence didn't have any prejudices regarding what worked and what didn't.
9 reviews2 followers
November 28, 2021
Didn't make it through this one. Weird attempt to turn everything in a special language.
Profile Image for Janet.
74 reviews65 followers
February 21, 2009
Jim McCarthy started a company to teach how to develop shared vision and how to team. The book describes the "protocols" to reprogram ourselves and "merge" ladders of inference to be in alignment. I haven't attended the course, but am sure it is phenomenal. We are all wired to let our beliefs from the past get in the way of the present and McCarthy has an effective shortcut for teams to learn to overcome our human wiring.
96 reviews1 follower
March 19, 2016
Great techniques and tools for team facilitation
Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews

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