Agile Jazz in the Post-Industrial Workplace

  • July 12, 2011 · 6:00 PM
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6:00 - 6:30pm - User Experience -- LIVE!  by Abe Crystal
6:30 - 6:50pm - Open networking
6:50 - 7:00pm - Announcements 
7:00 - 8:00pm - Agile Jazz in the Post-Industrial Workplace
 by Michael Pelz-Sherman
8:00 - 8:15pm - Q&A, Open networking (hard stop at 8:15pm)

User Experience -- LIVE!

How do you design software that people actually enjoy using? Software that contributes to their effectiveness, instead of getting in their way? The key is to gather feedback from your customers, and incorporate that feedback into the design and functionality of your product. Sounds obvious, right? But in discussions with developers, business analysts, and other professionals, I've uncovered a number of common beliefs about how to collect feedback from users -- beliefs that are strangely at odds with the practices of user experience professionals! In this presentation, I'll conduct a live demo of a user interview and usability test on a real website. You'll be able to see how these user-centered design techniques are practical and effective methods for improving your product. And we'll discuss how you can adopt a user-centered perspective in your own work.


Abe Crystal, Ph.D., is a principal at MoreBetterLabs [], a small but feisty company dedicated to creating a great user experiences through research and design. MoreBetterLabs is currently developing its first product, ruzuku []. Ruzuku helps passionate experts (such as authors, speakers, and coaches) create premium online courses and learning communities. In addition, MoreBetterLabs works with clients (such as,, Princeton University, and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business), to improve their user experience. We’ve designed mobile apps, online communities, digital libraries, and ecommerce sites. Previously, Abe earned his doctorate in Information Science from UNC-Chapel Hill and worked on the user experience team in IBM’s Rational Software division, where he conducted user research and conceptual design for requirements definition and prototyping software. He co-founded the Triangle Usability Professionals Association, and served as Vice President in 2006, President in 2007, and Chair of the Advisory Council in 2008 and 2009.

Agile Jazz in the Post-Industrial Workplace

will deliver a presentation exploring connections between Jazz Improvisation and post-industrial organizational structure as chiefly exemplified by Agile software development (ASD). It's fairly easy to transform the Agile Manifesto into a statement reflecting the core values of the Jazz and Free improvisation community:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and toolscomposers and conductors
  • Working software great performances over comprehensive documentation accurate reproduction of notated scores
  • Customer collaboration audience participation and surprise over contract negotiation predetermined expectations
  • Responding to change over following a plan

I will examine the common values and systems of organization underlying both communities in order to gain insight into ASD principles through the traditions of Jazz performance practice. I'll also look critically at the metaphor of Jazz Improvisation for post-industrial teams, since the ways in which this metaphor both fails and succeeds are equally interesting.


Michael Pelz-Sherman, PhD has been performing professionally on piano, keyboards, and percussion since 1980, and working full time as a software engineer since 1994.His compositions have been commissioned and performed at the Crested Butte Music Festival, and he is an active member of the International Society of Improvised Music. He holds a BA in Composition from Indiana University, an MA in Computer Music and a PhD in Musicology from UC San Diego.

Michael currently resides in Cary, North Carolina with his wife Dori and their three children, where he performs regularly with his jazz trio MPS Trio, the Quintessence Jazz Orchestra, and blues band A Fifth of Blues. He is employed as a Senior Software Engineer at iContact Corporation in Morrissville.

For more information:

phone:[masked] (h) /[masked] (m)
email: [masked]

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  • A former member
    A former member

    Thoughtful presentation.

    July 16, 2011

  • Michael P.

    Thanks for all the great feedback on my presentation, guys! I'm very glad that so many of you enjoyed it and got something valuable from it. Does anyone know if there's a video recording available? Several folks have asked me about it. Thanks!

    July 14, 2011

  • Alex M.

    The Agile Jazz presentation was well thought out and the live improv jazz was a nice touch.

    July 14, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    Fun - great analogy!

    July 13, 2011

  • Abe C.

    Thanks for having me! And triple bonus points for having live music at an IT event :).

    July 13, 2011

  • Anthony Z.

    I thought it was good, but I would have liked to see more bullet points from the first speaker on IA -- so that it connects the dots to agile methodologies. I've done these basic usability studies before, but I would have liked to had learned any terminology from an agile standpoint that relates to the doing these types of things. If that doesn't necessarily exist, then the point is moot. I can see the parallel, but it was a little vague.

    July 13, 2011

  • Jared

    It's not often you get to hear live music at a tech user group. :) The topic was great, as was the crowd.

    July 13, 2011

  • David S.

    Great meeting. Good presentations, good venue, good vibe from participants. Vibrant, energetic group. Agile-to-Jazz comparisons were interesting. Well worth the time.

    July 13, 2011

  • Susan M.

    Great analogy in seeing the siimilarities and less similar aspects of agile & jazz. This discussion also triggered some ideas for me of where in our organization there might be the potential to "jazz up" the work.

    July 13, 2011

  • A former member
    A former member

    Both presentations were very good. I was able to relate the parallelism between Agile and jazz. Having jazz music with the presentation was great! Thank you.

    July 13, 2011

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