Here is today’s episode of the “Campfire Talks with Herbie”.

Herbie’s Campfire Guest: Tom Gilb

Tom Gilb - A

Name (and Company/Affiliation if desired)

Tom Gilb, Gilb International AS.

Who are you?

Born in ‘Hollywood’, no Kidding Bing Crosby was next door neighbor in Malibu, and I acted in Plays with my mother, directed by Perry Mason/Ironside.

Almost 80 (241240), joined IBM at 17 in Oslo. Punched Card era, Most of life, own consultancy, last 30 years with son Kai. Serving, by request only, (they are smart enough to find me) large multinational corporates. Many case studies in my books.

Written many books and papers, see

Tom Gilb - I

Love to hold courses and talks, love to advise people curious about my methods. Love to research and learn more, daily, while I write about 5 books each, in last 3 Summers.

Father of 5 grownup children and 5 grandchildren. Proud husband of Solveig who I met in London 1958, and simply moved to Norway for the rest of my life. Norwegian and USA citizenships.

I am still crusading for more quantification of quality and value objectives, and started in 1976 with book Software Metrics, which was clearly agile even then.

“A complex system will be most successful, if it is implemented in small steps, and if each step has a clear measure of successful achievement, as well as a “retreat” possibility to a previous successful step, upon failure.” (SM BOOK 1976 p. 214)

Tom Gilb - E

How did you get involved with Agile, Coaching, Organizational Performance? Are you making a living in this sector?

I am the Grandfather! At least most all the Agile Mainfesto signers say so.

I just got this today from Mike Cohn:

Midnight, Wednesday Sept. 9, 2020 Mike Cohn wrote:

Thanks, Tom. I’ll definitely take a look—as you know I’m a huge fan of anything you write. As you know, I went so far as to name my company after a paragraph in your Principles of Software Engineering Management book! For any who haven’t read that book, you should. And the story of naming my company from Tom’s book is here: Origins of the Mountain Goat Name

I was 20, and was responsible for new IBM technology at a customer, I was hired away from IBM, as a consultant, my first consultancy job, to make it happen. So using intuition and common sense, I re-architected it all, we re-ordered the equipment, and I installed the new system, successfully, in about 20 value delivery steps, improving the old (punched card) invoicing system qualities, keeping the old system in place until it disappeared.

That is exactly what I have done ever since. Nobody taught me any method, the IBM taught methods were big bang. Fortunately I was so young that IBM did not send me to their schools to get bad ideas.

I went back to IBM later as Chief Instructor, and taught better stuff. Creating all their 360 courses. I always made a good living, and it helped that I seemed to be the only consultant in the world. There were no IT consultants in 1960, as far as I could see. And independent consultants were viewed as shocking by large corporate clients of mine like Siemens.

My life in Agile, since the Manifesto popularized it, has been a lonely fight to get my Manifesto friends, and others, to get back on the original path, so clearly and heavily stated and exemplified in my books: short cycles, yes, but with primary focus on delivering multiple stakeholder value increments, including Security, Usability and Maintainability qualities (tech debt).

Tom Gilb - G

I unhappily note that my Evo method seems to be the only such method out there. People like Jeff Sutherland agreed with me publicly, and personally were determined to add my ideas to Scrum, but it seems he got overruled by a committee, and I am guessing that they argued: Keep the Scrum Framework pure and simple. It sells well as it is (even though the failure rate is as Jeff says about 20%). People can add Gilb’s methods to our framework.

The world is obviously so stupid as to persist in decades of high IT failure rates (Agile having a less failure rate, see 0.0 in my SEA book for the 95% failure number). Who is stupid? Let me like my Ballet Friend W. E. Deming, blame Management, then the IT people will agree.

I am certain of ultimate victory in getting agile back on the ‘engineering’ track (my 1988 Principles of Software Engineering Management book was never about coding) for the simple reason that all history of complex systems dictates that rigorous engineering, not rigorous programming, is the necessary solution.

I am quite resigned to the fact that even if I live to be 110, then at this rate nothing much will change. Civilization changes very slowly. But that’s OK, the way it is. I’ll be smiling from above (I hope) as the centuries roll by and people adopt my methods. Other philosophers have also had to wait centuries and millenniums for full appreciation. My name might perhaps even be forgotten by then (I do not actually care, I am just worried for humanity), though digitization is better than Dead Scrolls, but engineering for even more complex IT systems is inevitable.

Actually I paint a worse than necessary picture, but referring to the agile culture. My methods have happily been applied on large Scale, for decades at intelligent organizations who are, surprise - just ‘coincidence’ ENGINEERING organizations like Intel, Boeing, HP, Siemens, Philips, Ericsson. And this mostly for software (except Boeing).

Tom Gilb - F

The problem is that the combination of MBA managers, and Certified IT people have no engineering culture, and no interest in really getting better than their abysmal failure rates. At some point they will be replaced, by educated engineers, because software is now no longer the craft (softcrafters) it was. Carpenters no longer decide about skyscrapers.

In one sense, I do not care about the manager/IT weak culture. I could say let them die off as their incompetence is exposed by society. But what worries me is that right now the IT idiots are incompetently and scandalously trying to build serious national and international systems, for example health. And at my age, almost 80, I deeply care about proper health care systems. My life is at stake, and my family’s and my friends.

So I am a very angry old man busy fighting on the internet and elsewhere to make at least health systems work properly. I mean are you in UK and USA impressed with the systems in place this year? In Norway, which is pretty good in many ways, the Covid-tracing-app (privacy law scandal) and One-Journal (‘Akson’) public health systems are right now in very public national scandals. Parliamentary level scandals, the exact people I tried to get to use my methods (‘E-Health’) even at Health Minister (Høie) level) and who were ‘not interested’. I am sure even now fighting the scandal they see no connection between careful stakeholder (EU Privacy Laws) analysis, and critical values (Privacy, Security), not to mention the Akson (one patient journal system ) at 22 Billion (estimated!) and a decade, with supplier corruption charges (PWC).

The Akson health system is typical IT big bang (you can be sure the coders use Scrum or SAFe). Results in 10 years (just to get individual medical data accessible!!!) maybe, maybe not. No responsibility. We had the same scandal without Social Security IT systems (NAV, a few years back, they are still a national scandal today having, knowingly, misinterpreted EU law, and thrown innocent norwegians in jail!)). But the gigantic NAV system, I analyzed and published my conclusion: they had no concept of early frequent agile steps of delivering real social security system value to the stakeholders. Real Agile. And they are at it again, Full speed XP major IT change, and no published concept of value improvement for citizens, step by step.

I would help these silly people for free, but there is no point, nobody is listening, they are too busy fighting the public scandals.

In case you wonder about more detail about my real agile , or ‘agile as it should be’ methods, which were very clearly published in detail (Posem 1988, SM 1976), I have two new FREE books (I hate pay walls for knowledge) for the audience:

Why should you pay more money for worthless agile certifications, when you can get deep and effective agile knowledge for free? My mind boggles at the immaturity on Linkedin as children proudly display their certificates and hint ’hire me’, I will guarantee 20% or 95% IT project failure like others with the same worthless certificates.

I have a good friend, who likes my methods, but does agile certification for a living. I asked him why, innocent me, and he said it makes me a lot of money, and I need the money. So that is what your agile teachers are really thinking.

You might reply, I don’t care. I know it already. But if can fool some stupid company to hire me, because of the worthless certificate, I will. I have a family to feed.

What a sad world we live in, where individuals have no ideals except survival.

I was brought up in a culture where people would gladly die for their ideals, and they did. And the Nazis and Soviets are 95% gone, and we live a good life. Praise be to my elders — stepfather flew 50 missions, father built the B-29, mother took me on Marches (CND London, later in Norway) against atomic weapons (the ones dad’s B-29 delivered to the Japanese).

I have a dream, one day all IT systems will be engineered to deliver great value, for low public expense, and serve society well and save lives and better lives. I see the future coming, though I may not live to see it myself.

Note: I actually heard Martin Luther King speak at my Unitarian Church in Los Angeles when I was about 12, then in Oslo (1964) as he held his Nobel Prize speech. Solveig and I walked out of the University Aula afterwards, to the back. To our surprise Martin and Coretta were at the curbside, quite alone, wondering where everyone else was, awaiting their car. As they got the car, they waved to us, and we waved back. Shortly afterwards he was assassinated. Be careful if I wave at you!

How did you discover TameFlow? And are you or will you use it professionally?

You found me on the internet! I must really study Tameflow, but it is not done yet. You did send me the materials (they have lower priority than writing my SEA book finished, a few days to go)

I assume you must be good guys since you are talking to me!

Give us a typical day in your life! And what makes you happy at the end of that day?

Tom Gilb - D

Before covid or during?

Before I traveled a lot internationally and taught courses, lectured at conferences, and consulted, and went to the Ballet with W. E. Deming.

I met a lot of now famous people in our business (at conferences, before the internet) and out of it.

But the question is: Now?

So, as an endangered species (79 years old) we self isolate. No travel. Just between our apartment and our summer cabin by the lovely Oslo Fjord (where we have hosted quite a few Agile Manifesto signers!)

Tom Gilb - C

Daily rhythm. Up at 10:30 to 12 noon after 7 hours sleep. Open sandwich breakfast with my wife Solveig, and sometimes a son or 2.

1pm to 3pm typically email and internet.

3pm to 5pm start working on a book, maybe go food shopping. Maybe even a late lunch.

About 5pm to 7pm a quick swim in the fjord, avoiding jelly fish using my goggles. I quantify them, 44 thus far this year. The record is 144.

Tom Gilb - J

About once a day I join an internet presentation, and heckle the speakers (can you quantify what you claimed?).

If lucky a short walk through the woods, maybe with wife.

7pm Norwegian news. Later about midnight CNN news to hear the latest Presidential absurdity. You could not make it up!

About 8pm dinner prepared by my lovely wife or maybe a son. Fish soup with shrimps mastered by son Dag, last night, who is also painting the cabin, with grandson Philip right now.

Then from after dinner, to 1:30 am or as late as 3:30 am (must finish a chapter every day) book writing. I wrote 6 books this Summer. I publlsh them incrementally (agile you see) every day, for free (idealist, I was shocked to find a man, who I never heard of, a few days ago who wanted $20 on leanpub for his 1% finished book! You must be joking?).

At about 1am, I treat myself to a Biola (lactose free cultured milk) and chocolatechip cookies (known in my family as ‘Pappa Kjeks’ (Daddies Cookies).

Tom Gilb - B

Today I am looking out as every day, at the magnificent Oslo Fjord.

A nice place to suffer self-isolation.

What’s the most important skills, insight you’ve developed while getting involved with this industry? What were the greatest challenges on your path? And rewards?

The most important skills seem largely in born, common sense, logic, perception of the entire system, reasoning, pretty good memory.

Social skills: idealism (mom, and dad , stepdad, grandparents)

Kindness: not sure, but feels good and works well!

Persistence (parents, political and scientific, engineering heroes) even with the present agile community, and governments and MBA Managers: never give up, change takes time, success is not immediate even for the best causes.


  1. being clear enough about my simple methods (quantify for clarity, stepwise: that’s it).

  2. Wondering why the educational system does not educate better (CS IT Mgt in particular, then politicians for leadership and management). I know: it takes centuries.

  3. Trying to get my wife to use nouns instead of pronouns, so I don’t have to guess the noun. She knows in her head exactly what she said.

What do you want to learn from a community of peers, like the one on the TameFlow Community site? What is your TameFlow Community handle or how else can other TameFlow enthusiasts reach out to you?

I don’t really learn much from our communities, except that I feel they have almost no specific increments of knowledge for me. Sorry if that seems arrogant, but you want the truth?

I do learn, a lot every day from books and the internet, and from a select international group of my best friends (the GilbFest of 21 years, about 50 like minded friends, people like Dave Snowdon, Barry Boehm, Jeff Sutherland, Don Reinertsen, and Corey Ladas are participants, you would know, or you should!). I decide on the theme each year (Education is next year).

Only deep open generous people are welcome, and you have to be a nice warm person, sharing interesting knowledge, even if you had to do original studies to up your game this year to our level. Typically all read great stuff and share their favorite books with us all. What a selection mechanism. Last year we had as guests the people setting the standards for AI, who agreed when I held a counter lecture that they were too ambiguous.

See:XAI Explaining AI, Lecture Slides.

A Serious ‘Multi-dimensional Metrics Attack’ on Poor AI ‘Academic and Standards’ Thinking & Planning. An analysis of published Principles for Managing and Standardizing AI, where about 10 AI Qualities like Safety and Transparency are shown to be quantifiable. This is prelude to rational thinking about the entire subject. GilbFest Talk June 25 2019

The Polish friends (I love the Poles, such deep idealists and practical people) invite me to share crazy thoughts like 2019 WUD Keynote: “DOOMSDAY: Is the world doomed because we cannot express our Sustainability and AI Goals clearly?”, 23 Nov 2019, Updated March 2020 for Meetup Oslo.


I read about 35 a year for decades (I count and log them, of course). This year I almost dropped reading, in favor of writing books, but while writing I am reading at least one scientific research report every day, to give insights as to where the community is. And very much more from various websites. What a fantastic library the internet is (I still hate the academic paywalls) . So measuring in ‘books read’ is perhaps out of date.

That reminds me one of the books I wrote this Summer (nice opening line, right!): KEN: The FREE Knowledge Edu-Neering booklet

I made this Creative Commons free forever, I hope it is useful for at least one young mind. I hope it gets them to realize they can quantify objectives for quality of education and knowledge. YES, same campaign as for Agile culture.

You will notice it is not about IT or management! I sure did have to research education and knowledge on the web. But it educated me one more cycle. I was secretly warming up for my own 2021 GilbFest ‘education’ talk (15 minutes, then rest of the hour discussion with these amazing people).

I could go on, 40 books a year for 60 years = 2,400 chunks of knowledge

How much time do we have?

How do you see your future? And does TameFlow have a role there? And what do you believe about the future of TameFlow?

My future: about 10 to 15 years more of the same: intellectually stimulating back and forth, then…. Who knows?! But my friends are already taking over the ideas, so that is the hope for the future.

Tom Gilb - H

My little sister Linda died (ALS, London) recently. And I have some health warnings, so at this age, we are very conscious of the end game, and its unpredictability. But it is such fun to hang around longer and see the good developments. At the same time it is sad to see how much of humanity is suffering.

Todays news the fire in the Greek Lesbos Refugee Camp, people already worst worst, lucky to escape, to worst. 40% children! Norway will reluctantly ‘take’ 50 of the 15,000 ! Shame, say many of us here. We are fine. Norway has a short memory today, we were occupied and sent to Concentration Camps, and were damned glad anyone would rescue us from them (White Busses, Benadotte, All anti nazi warriors like my parents).

Tameflow? We have to get back to that, when I know more - but if you are helping spread my message to at least one future idealist hero, then that might save some lives. In the next pandemic.

A story, I was being pessimistic about spreading my ideas in a recent BCS lecture (Videos at BCS SPA, you can even hear this interaction: Proper Public Planning Principles, Video (90 min., BCS Lecture, 23 June 2020).

Later I wrote the Governeering book cited earlier to compliment this lecture.

In the middle of the lecture a voice (from London to Norway) spoke up, and said I should not be so pessimistic! She had attended one of my April 2019 BCS London (free) courses. She had already applied the ideas to her own work in the medical world, and even received a rare prize for her Covid advice paper to the government! She is a Cancer Specialist and Director of Education at a Medical Body (she sent me her papers, and we talked by internet for an hour later). The main idea she cited was to not be afraid that everything was not thought of, and publish what you have, in time (to impact the current Covid crisis for Cancer patients). THAT SOUNDS AGILE TO ME!

In the BCS broadcast I said I was worried for my own health because of bad medical systems. She said don’t worry I have friends in high places who can help you (minister level it turns out). I replied (this is on the video!). I then said, that won’t help me, I am isolating in Norway. She said, don’t worry! We have powerful medical friends in Norway too!

You cannot make this up! There is hope even when I do not get the feedback, I have learned.

What question(s)/topics about TameFlow would you like to propose to Steve?

At best I have to get back, maybe you can help me out here! But of course I should read your briefing soon, but it is already 18:20 and I have not written my book today!

If you found the topics in the “Campfire Talks with Herbie” interesting, there is much more to learn about them in the Tame your Work Flow, How Dr. Goldratt of “The Goal” would apply the Theory of Constraints to rethink knowledge-work management book.

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