It's All Upside Down
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It's All Upside Down

What I've learned about software development and why it seems opposite to everything I was taught

About the Book

In this book I provide true software development stories that may challenge long held thinking. I highlight 26 upside down principles along with upside down principle clarifying thoughts. At the end of each story you will find extended clarifying thoughts in the upside down principle summary sections. I also highlight 18 coaching tips that can help you get your organization "right side up" with respect to performance. 

If you are wondering if a book that highlights coaching tips is for you, it is. I believe everyone in an organization should view themselves as a coach. In order to help coaches everywhere, in Part II of the book I have framed the highlighted principles and coaching tips that have materialized from my stories within a framework I like to use called Essence. I find Essence to be a remarkably straightforward medium for communicating software development practices and fostering collaboration, even among non-technical stakeholders.

If you have not heard of Essence yet, you have probably heard of the foundation from which it evolved, which I explain further in Part II. I explain in the introduction how Essence relates to my stories and coaching tips. If you choose to read Part II, I think you will agree that Essence is quite useful for capturing and describing these lessons, tips and best practices, and I hope you will be able to find ways to make Essence useful in your own work. 

Praise for It’s All Upside Down…

“While reviewing this book, 99% of the time my feedback was either “this is exactly what I advise my clients” or “this is even better than what I’ve been advising”. This book is full of pragmatic, insightful advice from the software process improvement trenches. Thanks Paul!”

Scott Ambler Co-author of Disciplined Agile Delivery

“Sometimes we’re so heads-down focused on following a process or a so-called best practice, we don’t stop to ask if it really makes sense. It’s easy to forget that process maturity depends upon such organizational introspection. ‘It’s All Upside Down’ challenges the reader to do just that. Reading this book is, well, exactly like having a coffee with a coach and bona fide subject matter expert on the practical matters of software development. Paul’s conversational style makes for a comfortable read which you can tackle cover to cover or simply a story or tip at a time – and then reflect on how it informs you with respect to the challenges you confront in your own projects, helping you essentially stand on your head and see a perspective you couldn’t see before – because it’s all upside down.”

Michael Callihan President,

”… Paul gives the reader the right amount of information, at the right time, following a story-telling narrative. Very nice and super informative. I just experienced several months of consulting in 3 hours from the comfort of my chair.”

John Ryskowski President, JFR Consulting, CMMI High Maturity Lead Appraiser

Paul McMahon’s latest book, “It’s All Upside Down”, expresses in words a thought that has been tickling the back of my mind for years; how we traditionally approach development has been acceptable, but there is a better way in many cases on how to practically proceed. Paul nails it with real world scenarios and solutions such that all readers may benefit from.

Jim Convery, The Ascendancy Group, Former Director CMMIDEV and CMMI-SVC Maturity Level 3 Organization

With this book, Paul has made a significant contribution that should be of great value to practicing software engineers and developers alike. It recognizes the reality that such teams of practitioners behave as self-organising, complex adaptive systems, guided by fundamental principles, but applied in situationally appropriate ways. Insyte’s Complex Adaptive Situational Model (CASM) investigates a similar reality and It’s All Upside Down will be used to bring clarity to the software engineering band of feasibility that stretches from the traditional, Controlled Quality approach to the agility of Crafted Quality.

AJB (Barry) Myburgh Founder: Insyte Information Systems

Engineering (Pty) Ltd., Johannesburg, South Africa.

 “There are few things as useful as a variety of perspectives on any given topic. This book does an outstanding job of showing non-traditional perspectives in areas where “herd thinking” and attitudes have excessively narrowed viewpoints. Supported by personal, highly interesting, true stories, the rationale for each of the “upside down” concepts is made clear, and recommendations are made for practical alternative thinking and action. This book should be a companion piece to any traditional-thinking books relating to software management, process improvement, or organizational change. It will reliably balance out, through unintuitive and unexpected additional

perspectives, the mainstream concepts in traditional work, and substantially improve the likely success of your


Richard Bechtold, PhD, President, Abridge Technology Certified CMMI Lead Appraiser 

If you are interested in purchasing a paperback version of the book go to:

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About the Author

Paul E. McMahon
Paul E. McMahon

Paul E. McMahon (, Principal, PEM Systems ( has been an independent consultant since 1997 helping organizations increase agility and performance. Paul's current focus is on coaching teams in practical techniques to solve their own challenges using the Essence framework ( He has taught software engineering at Binghamton University, conducted workshops on engineering processes and management and has published more than 50 articles and multiple books including "Integrating CMMI and Agile Development: Case Studies and Proven Techniques for Faster Performance Improvement," and "15 Fundamentals for Higher Performance in Software Development," and "It's All Upside Down: What I've Learned About Software Development and Why it Seems Opposite to Everything I was Taught." Paul is a co-author of "The Essence of Software Engineering: Applying the SEMAT Kernel." Paul is a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and a Certified Essence Training Provider. His insights reflect 24 years of experience working for companies such as Link Simulation and Lockheed Martin, and 20 years of consulting/coaching experience. Paul has been a leader in the SEMAT initiative since its initial meeting in Zurich in 2010.  

Table of Contents

  • Praise for It’s All Upside Down…
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
    • What is in this book
    • About Essence
    • How to use this book
    • Why I wrote this book
    • About the stories in this book
    • Do we really need to define our processes?
    • Are industry “best practices” best for you?
    • Is process or performance more important to you?
    • Summary Upside Down Principles 1, 2
  • PART I
  • Story One: Do You Really Need Measures to Improve?
    • Summary Upside Down Principles 3, 4
  • Story Two: Do You Want a Repeatable Process or Repeatable Results?
    • Summary Upside Down Principles 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Story Three: Upside Down Path to Fewer Defects
    • Summary Upside Down Principles 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16
  • Story Four: Accidentally Figuring Out a Better Way
    • Summary Upside Down Principles 17, 18, 19, 20
  • Story Five: Software Development in Action
    • Summary Upside Down Principle 21
  • Story Six: Upside Down Ideas on Estimating
    • Summary Upside Down Principle 22
  • Story Seven: Upside Down Ideas on Defects and Requirements
    • Summary Upside Down Principles 23, 24
  • Story Eight: Upside Down Ideas at Facebook
    • Summary Upside Down Principles 25, 26
  • Essence
  • Viewing Principles as Essentialized “Mini-Practices”
  • Final Thought
  • Appendix A: Cross-Reference to Coaching Tips
  • References
  • About the Author
  • Notes

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