In The Reflective Practitioner, Schön follows the working habits of architects and engineers. In that book, we see people making predictions as to what their situation will support; then they do some of their work and watch what the situation actually produces, and from that, they alter their understanding. They update their understanding of the problem and the proposed solution according to the changed situation and their new learning. This “reflective conversation with the situation” is just what the Wright brothers did in designing their airfoil.
Craft implies skill in working in a medium, mental or physical. There are many materials in an engineering project and therefore many skills or crafts to become adept at. Some people need people management skills, others need mathematical skills, others need visual design skills, and so on.
Each skill and material brings its own specialized vocabulary. Ceramicists “wedge” clay and study the shrink rate of different glazes compared to clays. Civil engineers work with the tensile strength, fatigue rates, and thermal expansion of their materials. Writers look for flow and development in their texts. Programmers look at cohesion and coupling, testability, clarity of expression, and computational complexity in their algorithms. Testers work with test coverage and probabilities of occurrences. User interface (UI) designers work with cognitive-motor task switching times, recognition times, color scales, and user work patterns. Project managers work with people and are concerned with what builds or tears down trust, community, and initiative.
In each case, craft practice requires practitioners to have a reflective conversation with the material, using the specialized vocabulary. They work with the constraints offered by the materials, the vocabulary, and the project.It is this deliberate, reflective, intentional improvement that we're trying to support with the Agile Skills Project. Do you have something you'd like to contribute? What can we create together? Sign up for the Agile Developer Skills (http://groups.google.com/group/agile-developer-skills) group, and let's talk!