Crystal Clear is a methodology that summarises 10 years of research into successful software teams.  Which things really matter?  Which things most influence the project outcome?

The Crystal Clear book, by Alistair Cockburn, is now available.  The preface gives an excellent overview and this sample chapter is also available on line.  (You’ll have to buy the book to read the rest 🙂


Crystal Clear is an agile methodology for projects with small teams, less than about 10 people in size.

Team size is important, because if you have a small team it’s easiest to adopt a methodology that already fits.  It is more difficult to start with a larger one and prune it back.

Why Crystal Clear?

Several aspects of Crystal Clear impress me:

  • It’s based on observations of many successful teams.  You can read the surprisingly entertaining story of Alistair’s observations here. This background gives Crystal a sounder base than most competing methodologies, which typically trace their roots back to a smaller number of projects. For example, XP was “born” on the C3 project.
  • It has a different slant on things.  We’ve come to expect a certain “mechanical” feel to processes, “Do A, B and C, and the result will be D, where D is great software!”.  We’ve come to expect methodologies to contain details such as diagramming notations and workflows.  And yet, somehow, that’s not what matters most.  Crystal Clear describes the things that really do matter, the things that make the most difference to the success or failure of a project.
  • It supports fixed price contracts.  Whether you love them or hate them, you probably use them.  Crystal Clear is flexible enough to suit.
  • It’s not “all or nothing”.  Crystal Clear will be useful to the people who adopt it, but it will also be useful to people who don’t adopt it.  At least, not all of it. Teams using RUP, XP or other methodologies can “borrow” useful techniques from Crystal Clear.  Likewise, if you are doing Crystal Clear, you can borrow good bits from other methodologies.
  • It gives you useful guidance on how to adopt the methodology, and how to tailor it to your organisation.  I find this a stark contrast with RUP, which says “tailor me”, but doesn’t seem to give enough guidance on exactly how to do so.
  • It “feels right”, because it has a lot in common with the successful projects I’ve worked on in the past.  This is not surprising, considering it’s based on observations of successful projects!
  • Crystal Clear is just a book (and a growing community of users).  If you want to adopt Crystal Clear, it will only cost you the price of a book, plus a little of your time (days, rather than months).

More Information

While the book is the best resource, you may also like to see:



While no methodology is a magic formula for success, if you’re involved in small-team software development, you should read this book.  Crystal Clear is not mutually exclusive with other methodologies, so you’ll find its insights valuable no matter how your team is organised.

Amazon’s page for the book is here.