McCarthy Teamworx Releases an OS for Humans

Programmers: How would you like to work 20 hours a week and still produce great software on time?

If you think that sounds too good to be true, Jim McCarthy begs to differ. "It’s gotten so that software always sucks and is always late," he says. "The industry now has accepted to some extent that software is late. I felt 2 years ago I knew how to ship software on time any time I wanted. It’s a myth that you can’t."

To help programmers reach this goal, McCarthy’s company, McCarthy Teamworx Corp. (Kirkland, Wash.,, has released OS/T, an operating system for teams.

McCarthy calls OS/T "software that runs in your head." And to Teamworx co-founders Jim and Michele McCarthy, that kind of software is the most important for getting any programming job done.

At the core of OS/T is a suite of interpersonal and personal protocols. McCarthy considers this to be "software" because he defines software as "a repeatable process that, given the same information, yields the same results." For example, the CheckIn protocol helps people express their states of mind every time they begin a meeting, so that the meeting can proceed efficiently and productively.

CheckIn involves going around the room at the beginning of a meeting and asking each person to either pass or to say how they feel, using one of four verbs: sad, mad, glad or afraid. While this may seem uncomfortably personal for most professional settings, McCarthy says it’s just one step to help team members become more honest with each other.

"Everyone is afraid of getting other people pissed off at them. As a result, features get into products to avoid hurting people's feelings. There’s no mechanism for conflict resolution," he says. McCarthy says team members need to accept that conflict is necessary to maintain integrity. "Integrity involves telling the truth, and telling the truth always involves conflict. This smokes it out before it gets into the product."

For his part, McCarthy has a lot of experience with teams. Since he bought his first computer in 1977 and then taught himself to program, McCarthy has worked for Bell Labs (Murray Hill, N.J.), The Whitewater Group (now owned by Symantec Corp., Cupertino, Calif.), where he helped develop one of the first Windows applications, and then Microsoft Corp. itself. During his 4 years at Microsoft, he led the Visual C++ development team.

When he joined Microsoft in 1992, he says, the tools group was at "a bit of a nadir." He decided his job was to give the members of the team permission to empower themselves to write great software. "You can be great on purpose," he says. "It isn’t a stroke of lightning that hits people."

McCarthy says he also became interested in what he calls the phenomenon of shared vision. "It’s the ultimate data compression among a team," he says. "If they are all seeing things the same way they all reach the same conclusions about what needs to be done. All the process in the world can’t duplicate the productivity that can be achieved through shared vision."

While at Microsoft, he also wrote a book, Dynamics of Software Development, which is widely regarded as the handbook for software development techniques. The ideas in Dynamics became the seed for McCarthy Teamworx’ first offering, a set of seminars called Software Development Bootcamps.

"We knew we could show people what it’s been like on the best teams we’ve been on, and we were pretty sure we had a process that could get them there," McCarthy says. So the company began setting up week-long seminars. The primary requirement for attendees is being willing to make commitments to being on time and to being great.

"I don’t think laziness is a genuine phenomenon," McCarthy says. "Most people, when given the opportunity to do something great, will take advantage of that."

McCarthy expects third-party developers to build software around OS/T the same way they would build applications for Windows or Unix. For example, the process could engender new types of project management applications. In keeping with his philosophy of striving for greatness, McCarthy has big plans for OS/T: "My expectation is that is this the beginning of the real software industry."