Agile Estimating – Estimation Approaches
Software Estimates - Managing Expectations via Ranges

The DOI, Made to Slip?

SlipNearly three years on, why is the Declaration Of Interdependence (DOI) still not widely known or referenced?

The chances are that most readers will not be familiar with the DOI, yet it is a great piece of work. The DOI lists principles that, like the Agile Manifesto principles, help point the way for teams working on agile projects. It was created by the founders of the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) to guide agile project management and rally support for an uprising of new project management thinking.

Other than believing some of the wording was a little too clever for its own good and general consumption. I did not fully understand why it had been avoided. Then I read “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath and I realized that it has the stickiness and appeal of a greased electric eel.


Made to Stick” is a great book that practices what it preaches and conveys how to make messages effective in an enjoyable and memorable way. The mental model the authors use for explaining why some stories are unforgettable is the hooks-and-loops idea of Velcro. Imagine our mind has millions of tiny loops to store information, ideas need hooks to latch onto these loops otherwise they will pass through or be dropped and forgotten.


Some stories like urban legends and proverbs have many hooks and so stick in people’s minds very well. They are said to be “sticky ideas”, they endure, spread and are effective. Consider the following classic from the book:

“A friend of a friend of ours is a frequent business traveler. Let's call him Dave. Dave was recently in Atlantic City for an important meeting with clients. Afterward, he had some time to kill before his flight, so he went to a local bar for a drink. He'd just finished one drink when an attractive woman approached and asked if she could buy him another. He was surprised but flattered. Sure, he said. The woman walked to the bar and brought back two more drinks — one for her and one for him. He thanked her and took a sip. And that was the last thing he remembered.

Rather, that was the last thing he remembered until he woke up, disoriented, lying in a hotel bathtub, his body submerged in ice. He looked around frantically, trying to figure out where he was and how he got there. Then he spotted the note: don't move. call 911.

A cell phone rested on a small table beside the bathtub. He picked it up and called 911, his fingers numb and clumsy from the ice. The operator seemed oddly familiar with his situation. She said, "Sir, I want you to reach behind you, slowly and carefully. Is there a tube protruding from your lower back?"

Anxious, he felt around behind him. Sure enough, there was a tube. The operator said, "Sir, don't panic, but one of your kidneys has been harvested. There's a ring of organ thieves operating in this city, and they got to you. Paramedics are on their way. Don't move until they arrive."

Why do stories like this spread like wild-fire and lodge in our brain when real, useful information never gets in, or passes right through? Well, because they are sticky, they contain the hooks our brains are hard-wired to latch onto.  These hooks are:


We will look at these hooks in more detail and the DOI a little while, but first another concept we need to understand is the “Curse of Knowledge”.

Stripped Bare of Hooks by the “Curse of Knowledge
The Curse of Knowledge is name given to the problem that when people are in-the-know about a subject then information and details seem obvious to them and there is no need to restate them. However for people who are not in-the-know, they need these details to grasp and remember the idea.

This, I believe, is the big problem with the DOI, it was created by a group of people who “got-it” and was written in their high-level shorthand, stripped of supporting detail to keep ideas as compact as possible. It makes perfect logical sense that they should create the recommendations like this; they are the most succinct way of conveying important, but complex ideas. However, this insider shorthand code lacks any of the hooks to make them easily understood and memorable.


Can We Fix It? Yes, We Can!
It is easy to pick holes at something, but more challenging (and useful) to try to improve it. So, how do we make the DOI Stickier? First we should understand the definitions of Sticky Hooks and then assess the DOI against them.

Made to Stick Principles
From the “Made to Stick” authors, here are some further explanations of the Sticky principles:

How do we find the essential core of our ideas? A successful defense lawyer says, "If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won't remember any." To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion. We must relentlessly prioritize. Saying something short is not the mission — sound bites are not the ideal. Proverbs are the ideal. We must create ideas that are both simple and profound. Find the core.

How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across? We need to violate people's expectations. We need to be counterintuitive. We can use surprise — an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus — to grab people's attention. But surprise doesn't last. For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity. How do you keep students engaged during the fortyeighth history class of the year? We can engage people's curiosity over a long period of time by systematically "opening gaps" in their knowledge — and then filling those gaps. Motivate the people to pay attention by seizing the power of surprises and highlight a knowledge gap.

How do we make our ideas clear? We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information. This is where so much business communication goes awry. Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions — they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images — ice-filled bathtubs— because our brains are wired to remember concrete data. In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush." Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.

How do we make people believe our ideas? When the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop talks about a public-health issue, most people accept his ideas without skepticism. But in most day-to-day situations we don't enjoy this authority. Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves. When we're trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach. In the sole U.S. presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead, he asked a simple question that allowed voters to test for themselves: "Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago." Boost credibility with vivid details.

How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something. Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions so appeal to self interest.

How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

The Declaration Of Interdependence (DOI)
Here’s the DOI:

1) We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus.
2) We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership.
3) We expect uncertainty and manage for it through iterations, anticipation, and adaptation.
4) We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference.
5) We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness.
6) We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes and practices.


The DOI Stickiness Test

So how does the DOI measure up?
(For brevity I will discuss the collection of DOI statements under each heading, but to be effective each statement should hold up to all the tests.)

The statements are short which is good. However they are not very simple. For instance we have to read the first principle right to the end to find out we are talking about “focus” and then reread to work out what it is we are supposed to be focusing on. The use of jargon (return on investment), insider terms (flow of value, iterations) and questionable English (situationally) further complicate the messages.

The statements do not have a lot of unexpected content to catch our attention. “We expect uncertainty” is probably the best candidate, but hardly “Man bites dog”.

The statements are largely abstract and stripped of practical implementation details. This keeps them short, but makes them harder for people to relate to real world situations.

The DOI was created by respected experts in the industry. Their signatures and those of others supporting the work, add credence to the recommendations. However they lack vivid details that show how they would work, or a Sinatra test (well if it works here it would work anywhere).

The statements start with the word “We” that makes them a little more human and friendly, but are otherwise lacking personal connection or emotion.

They lack stories and so do not allow us to mentally simulate the circumstances in our heads.

An Expanded DOI
1) We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus.
<A stickier version might be…>

1) Amaze your users, keep giving them what they ask for!
Concentrate of developing features the business asks for. This is how we can get the best business benefits and support for the process. When your projects consistently deliver business results they are hard to ignore, cancel or deny requests from.

2) We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership.
<A stickier version might be…>

2) When planning interaction with the business, try to be more like the good neighbor who you see frequently and can easily call on, than the intrusive relative who moves in for a while and then disappears for a year. We want business interaction that is regular and engaging, not a huge upfront requirements gathering phase followed by nothing until delivery. Frequently show how the system is evolving and make it clear the business drives the design by listening and acting on their feedback.

3) We expect uncertainty and manage for it through iterations, anticipation, and adaptation.
<A stickier version might be…>

3) Since software functionality is hard to describe, technology changes quickly and so do business needs, software project typically have lots of unanticipated changes. Rather than trying to create and follow a rigid plan that is likely to break, it is better to plan and develop in short chunks (iterations) and adapt to changing requirements.

Story: The first .NET project I managed involved building an online drug store for a Canadian pharmacy. Selling drugs to the US was a contentious business with regulations and business rules changing very frequently (weekly). The client was trying to overtake rival online pharmacies and so there was an arms-race of special offers, loyalty schemes, and promotions to win customers that changed frequently and, since .NET was still very new it was changing also.

All this change and uncertainty meant that detailed plans and long release cycles just did not work. However, by adopting a very agile approach with daily iterations and weekly releases of the live site, the client was able to respond to changing business circumstances and overtake less agile competitors, gaining considerable market share.

4) We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference.
<A stickier version might be…>

4) We manage property and lead people, if you try to manage people they feel like property.
Projects are completed by living, breathing people, not tools or processes. To get the best out of your team we must treat them as individuals, provide for their needs and support them in the job. Paying people a wage might guarantee that they show up, but how they contribute once they are there is governed by a wide variety of factors. If you want the best results, provide the best environment.

5) We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness.
<A stickier version might be…>


5) Everyone needs to share responsibility for making the project, and the team and as a whole, successful.

6) We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes and practices.
<A stickier version might be…>

Real projects and complex and messy, rarely do all the ideal conditions of agile development present themselves. Instead we have to interpret the situation and make best use of the techniques, people and tools available to us. There is no single cookbook for how to run successful projects; instead we need to adjust to best fit the project ingredients and environment we are presented with.

The Expanded DOI Stickiness Test
So how do these extensions measure up?

The statements are not short anymore, but then neither is the bathtub story. They try to layer the explanation of concepts through a series of simple statements. I try to start with the main point (not “bury the lead”) and then add supporting detail.

There is not a lot of unexpectedness in the expanded text either. The “property and management” quote might be new to some people. The rowing boat analogy might help others, but I struggled to create as much unexpectedness as I would have liked to.

I think the increase in examples and stories help make them more concrete. We can imagine all the changes on the drug store project, and the friendly neighbour vs. the invasive house guest metaphor.

Accounts of real world examples where agile worded in spite of adversity (drug store project) add credibility by the Sinatra principle (“…if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere..”) and by appealing to our common sense.

By introducing self interest (“When your team consistently delivers…”, “To get the best out of your team…”) readers will relate the statements more to how they can be of use to them. This “useful-to-me” feeling should help boost retention.

The online pharmacy story help illustrate some of the principles, but other stories would be good too.



This is my first stab at trying to make the DOI Stickier; while I can see how the original DOI is pretty unsticky, I am still learning how to create sticky messages and look out for stories. My heading “Can We Fix It? Yes, We Can” was not only a grab from the “Bob the Builder” show, but also a call for help. The “We” in “Yes We Can” is a key, I think we can do better and am asking for your input.

How do we improve and illustrate the great ideas from the DOI? Please send me your thoughts, ideas and comments. So, while originally the DOI was “Made to Slip” perhaps it can be “Refactored to Stick” and get the attention it deserves.


Jonathan Rasmusson

Hi Mike,

Brilliant post. I was just working on some similar related work and couldn't agree more with your thoughts here.
I have not read Made to Stick, but I love how you have applied it to the DOI (which I was not even aware of).

Curse of knowledge is something that is also very prevalent and I am glad you pointed it out.

Great posts - I think I am going to go read some more!

Happy New year ;)

Mike Konrad

Great post, Mike.

I came by your post via David Anderson's web blog

I thought the rewrite of principle 3 with the .NET story to be the most effective of the rewrites. Just goes to show how powerful stories can be. I wonder whether stories (first preference) or cartoons (I like the cartoon for the rewrite of principle 5) might be used to strengthen/make more compelling the other principles?

By coincidence, I'm just finishing "Made to Stick" and agree with your praise for the book. Incidentally, I normally challenge myself to summarize the essence of a book as I near its completion and thought the first appendix, "Making Ideas Stick: The Easy Reference Guide" (p 253-257) was an ingenious summary that provided just enough cues for me to reconstruct the essential points of the book. (But it isn't of much value unless you first read the book.)

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