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Agile Innovation Leaders

Oct 9, 2021

Interview video available on the Agile Innovation Leaders Youtube channel:

Guest Bio:

Dr. Ivar Jacobson is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Ivar Jacobson International. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from KTH Royal Institute of Technology, was awarded the Gustaf Dalén medal from Chalmers in 2003, and made an honorary doctor at San Martin de Porres University, Peru, in 2009. Ivar has a flourishing career in both academia and business. He has authored ten books, published more than a hundred papers and is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences around the world. Ivar is a father of components and component architecture - work that was adopted by Ericsson and resulted in the greatest commercial success story ever in the history of Sweden, and it still is. He is the father of use cases and Objectory, which, after the acquisition of Rational Software in 1995, resulted in the Rational Unified Process, a widely adopted method. He is also one of the three original developers of the Unified Modelling Language. But all this is history. Ivar founded his current company, Ivar Jacobson International, which since 2004 has been focused on using methods and tools in a smart, super light and agile way. This work resulted in Ivar becoming a founder and a leader of a worldwide network, SEMAT, which has the mission to revolutionize software development based on a kernel of software engineering. The kernel has been realized as a formal OMG standard called Essence.


Contact/ Social Media


Resources/ Websites


Interview Highlights:


02:59 – Growing up in Sweden

07:05 – Coming up with concept for component-based software development and architecture

15:14 – On Essence OMG Standard as a unifying platform for methods

24:22 – Special offer announcement (Better Scrum Through Essence course)

29:41 – “Shy Boys Don’t Kiss Beautiful Girls” – Swedish proverb

32:34 – “Doing it smarter…”


Interview Transcript

Ula Ojiaku: 0:04

Hello and welcome to the Agile Innovation Leaders podcast. I’m Ula Ojiaku. On this podcast I speak with world-class leaders and doers about themselves and a variety of topics spanning Agile, Lean Innovation, Business, Leadership and much more – with actionable takeaways for you the listener.

Hello everyone! Welcome to Season 2 of the Agile Innovation Leaders podcast!

I’m honoured to have Dr Ivar Jacobson – Founder, Chairman and CEO of Ivar Jacobson International (IJI - a global consulting and training organisation) as my guest on this episode.

Known as one of the fathers of modern software engineering, he has many accomplishments under his belt including developing the concept of Use Cases and Use Case modelling. In this episode, Dr Jacobson shares his experience growing up in Sweden; how he came up with the concept for components and component architecture whist at Ericsson (which helped Ericsson with its remarkable commercial success) and his current focus on Essence, an Object Management Group (OMG) standard revolutionising the world of Software Development.

Quick sidebar: Ivar Jacobson International Chief Scientist, Ian Spence will be delivering a training on ‘Better Scrum Through Essence’ this November, 2021. Make sure you listen to the very end for details on offers available to AILP listeners. You won’t want to miss this!

Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, my conversation with Dr Ivar Jacobson – enjoy!

Ula Ojiaku: 02:28

Thank you so much Ivar for joining us on the Agile Innovation Leaders’ podcast. It's a great pleasure to have you.

Ivar Jacobson: 02:35

Thank you. Thank you. I'm looking forward to it.

Ula Ojiaku: 02:40

Well, I've been very excited right from when I got your response saying “yes”, the honor is definitely mine. Now, with I know that our audience would be, you know, keen to know, who is Ivar, you know, can you tell us about yourself?

Ivar Jacobson: 02:59

Yes, I can. I was born in a very nice family in a small city, in Sweden, in the very south of Sweden, very close to Denmark.

And, I was an ordinary kid. Nobody in my family had ever studied, so to speak. My father had six years in school, and my mother, maybe one year more. And he was an entrepreneur, quite successful. And, I hated by the way when I was older, the idea that I would be an entrepreneur, but it always a seed in the blood.

So, I was not very good at school, clear. And I remember my mother, when I had passed Junior High School. And I suggested, maybe I should go to high school, I have very low grades. And so, but I can work hard, I said.

And my mother said, it’s good if you can just pass junior high school. You know, you don't have a head for studies. So, I don't know what happened. But I really got the interest and succeeded to get up to high school. But in high school, I was not very good either. I was more interested in sports, I played handball, handball is similar to soccer, but you play with the hands instead of the feet and it's very popular in Europe, probably gets popular in US too, but it takes time. And I was passionate about it. But even if I worked harder than anyone else, I never really became the star. I was okay. But instead, I became a coach and now I found passion.

I really worked hard as a coach, my team became the best team in the city, we had many handball teams, and not only in the city - in the province. And then what I started to know I loved to coach, I loved to feel that I could help people to become better and they became much better. I was a coach both for boys and ladies. So that made me popular.

And so, I was very well treated and had a very hard time to imagine moving away from my small city. I went out High School and then I wanted to stay in the city, to be electrician. But my aunt decided differently - she applied to Chalmers which is an Institute of Technology. And, I actually was accepted as the last student, had so low grades, so last student (to be accepted to study) to Electric engineering.

Ula Ojiaku: 06:28


Ivar Jacobson: 06:29

And yeah, I did quite well. I found it so fascinating - engineering, mathematics and so on, but became very different.

So, I was the first one in my whole big family that ever passed junior high school, high school, and becoming a bachelor of electrical engineering or almost the master. It was unthinkable in my family.

Ula : 07:04


Ivar Jacobson: 07:05

And then I was absolutely sure I should continue to do research. But I was smart enough, to say you need to know what it means to work in the industry. So, I took the most boring work I could imagine at Ericsson, working with old fashioned systems, not digital, it was a electromechanical. And I was sure after one year, I will go back to Chalmers to get the doctor (my doctorate degree).

But after one year, I felt, “this is life!” Projects, people, collaborating, is very different from doing a research at Chalmers. So, it was not in my mind to go back. Instead I learned something absolutely fundamental, that impacted me for the rest of my life, namely, how to build systems. And in hardware, you build with components.

So, after a couple of years, I was actually working with hardware system. And they had, the managers had seen something in Ivar. And so, they actually offered him to become project manager for the most mission critical system, which was based on computing. And that was absolutely unbelievable - I knew nothing at that time about computing. And I didn't, I've never written a code. (At the time) I never really understood how a computer works. But I was now Project Manager, and the reason was, they probably felt like I could manage a project and you don't need so deep knowledge, you're probably more difficult if you know too much. But to me, it was unthinkable to be a project manager without knowing how we work and what it was.

So, I studied very hard every night. And at that time, there were no books, really,

But after three months, I felt well, this was not so hard and now I became difficult. Because I couldn't see that the product we’re building would ever be successful.

Because Ericsson was selling to the whole world. But every country wanted their own market adaptation. And the way we built software - the standard way of building the software at that time, was not easy to change. Modularity was only in the code-oriented data structures.

So, you separate the code and data and this separation meant, if you made a change, it could result in changes anywhere.

Anyway, so that’s how I came up with component-based development, which was the biggest fight I've ever had in my life. It was when I was 28 plus, and, no one did component-based development at that time, as we heard about Bell Labs, the other competitors did it the same way as Ericsson did.

But for some reason, there was one guy ‘up there’ who said, “Ivar is right. Let's do it”. And that resulted after some years in the greatest commercial success story in the history of Sweden. And it still is, it's even more successful than ABBA and Spotify – so you can imagine. I was rewarded, I got after 10 years people said, “oh, God that was so good”. And so, I could study, get the PhD during work hours.

Ula Ojiaku: 11:34


Ivar Jacobson: 11:35

So, I think I leave it a little for you now.

Ula Ojiaku: 11:40

Know this yours is a very fascinating story. So, there were lots I could pick on (to ask more questions) but the first one you said about, you know, playing handball, and despite how hard you worked, you didn't quite make it as a superstar you wanted to be in handball, but you found out that you did great at coaching.

I think there's a parallel to that and coaching in real life as well. A coach doesn't necessarily have to be the expert in the area, but it's really about being able to draw out the best in people. Would you say…

Ivar Jacobson: 12:18

And show a path forward… Actually, girls at that time were playing handball in a way that was very girlish, you know, balls like this and not like shooting it <Ivar gesticulates>. I mean, very softballs. Whereas my girls were trained with my boys. So, I put together guys and girls in the same team and made two teams. And the girls started to play like boys, and that made them superior other teams because they didn't do it. So, I mean, I invented a new method, let's say that.

Ula Ojiaku: 13:00

You definitely are an innovative inspiration. It seemed like everyone in your family knew you were barely getting by in Junior High school, High school.

I'm wondering, what was it that your aunt saw that made her despite all the indications she went and registered you at Chalmers? Did you ask her?

Ivar Jacobson: 13:25

No, I felt, I really didn't think about it. I felt I understood her. I mean, I had showed her that I was not very good at school. So…


But then what really happened was that I was fed up by school in the last semester (of) Junior High and wanted to leave. Then she said to me, “No, no, you should at least go get the junior high school graduation”. Because we celebrated it in Sweden at that time, not anymore but at that time. But now when I relaxed and didn't study, didn't prepare for mathematics or anything like that. Really, I tried. I had private lessons in mathematics. I mean, it's hard to believe I had it. And the reason was that the way I had learned was by learning rules. I mean, not thinking. “This is the rule you use when you see this problem” and that limits you.

So now for the first time, I had no rules to apply. I start to think, and I remember very well, after one exam that the teacher came in with a book and he had all the books in a package and then he put it on the desk and he says, one of you have (has) decided to change his life; Ivar Jacobson - best in class. And you know, I was flabbergasted and not only me, the whole class.

So, and then I understood that was something I could do. So, everything all my grades went up.

Ula Ojiaku: 15:14

That's just amazing.

So, you are currently, you are credited with you know, developing the used cases, components, the RUP rather the Rapid Unified Process, which is, you know, one of the ‘fore bringers’ of Agile Methodologies. And currently you are working or you've been working most recently on Essence, can you tell us a bit more about Essence, what it is and you know, what's the story behind it?

Ivar Jacobson: 15:52

Now we were around year 2000. And then, I was a rock star traveling around the world, talking about the UML and Rational Unified Process. And everyone wanted to have… use these things. They misused both UML and they misused RUP (Rational Unified Process), but they were wanted to have it. It's very similar situation with SAFe today. So anyway, at that time, it was very popular.

But I… now Agile came. And I remember very well when I was at the OOPSLA (Object-oriented Programming, Systems, Languages and Applications) conference, the biggest conference at that time. And I was on a panel of 2000 people in the audience, and I was there with agilisters really great guys - people I'm very good friends with today. And the audience basically booed every time I was about to talk.

Ula Ojiaku: 16:49


Ivar Jacobson: 16:50

Because we're talking about the we enemy, the Empire, the old Empire, that the audience wanted to kill. And I listened very carefully, and then I went home and studied more about XP, it was about XP. And I said, “Okay, this will dramatically change the future”. I tried to convince my company at that time Rational, with the top stars in the company, many famous people. But it took a while; there was nothing new in XP is what I heard. But it was a lot of new (it had lots that were new) particularly about social engineering.

So, and then a couple of years later Rational was acquired by IBM and I had a chance to be with IBM in a very interesting position. But I decided no, IBM is too big for me, I want to do my own business. So, but I also was thinking this is not sustainable. The world is ridiculous. Here you have gurus like me, and we play such an important role. And still, the guru is just a methodology salesperson. You can be an expert on a few things, but you're never an expert on all things you need to do when you develop software, or develop anything for that matter. Hardware systems… and anything. So I wanted to get rid of (this attitude). I felt this is stupid. And I use the word foolish because it's a little nicer. But having gurus that develop methods and ideas in the methods cannot be used in another method without rewriting it.

So, for instance, Scrum has been used in SAFe, but it doesn't fit into SAFe without rewriting it. And that means with the original authors of Scrum are diminished, instead it moves into something else. So, we get no collaboration between these top guys. They don't like one another. And I'm not talking about any particular person, but that's the general problem. Instead, we want the top guys to collaborate and help to work.

So, I came to the conclusion we need to do something dramatically different. Instead of having all these different methods and with nothing in common, nothing in common and that is visible and still a lot is common. It's just hidden, because everyone hides it without the purpose to hide, but it becomes hidden in a particular method.

So, what I said is that every method has a number of ideas - you can call them practices or method precepts. They are in a precept guarded by a guru. Isn't this foolish? At least I think so.

So, in 2005 we decided in my company to do something different and we started to identify a common ground between all methods. What is it that is essential… that we always do always produce, always have in terms of competences, for instance, and so on. And it created, let me call it the kernel. It's very small, it's very powerful. And it works as a platform to describe methods.

So, instead of it (being that) every methodology has its own way of describing everything: its own language, its own terminology, its own isolated island, we created a common ground which has actually become a standard and on top of this standard, people now can describe their own method.

So, Scrum, for instance, has become Scrum Essentials. (It) is described on top of this kernel, which is called Essence. A standard is very important, because… first of all, nothing should be standard without being such that everybody can accept it. If there is any, really controversial stuff, throw it out and keep it at such a small level. So, but big enough to be useful, and as useful for everybody. So, now many companies are using Essence to describe their own methods. We are working with Jeff Sutherland (co-creator of Scrum) - he has  ‘Essentialised’ as we call it, both Scrum, and his Scrum at Scale.

We’re also working with Scott Ambler (co-creator of Disciplined Agile Delivery, DAD) who has essentialised some of his practice. He has so many practices. So, he has to wait till we build a bigger library of practice.

So, we have it today in my company, we have 100 practices, this guide; 50 of them are published and available. But there are many other people around the world, that develop practices. And we can put them in an ecosystem, which we are trying to do. So, people can go there and select the practices. And they (could) say, ‘I want user stories, I want to Scrum, I want test driven development..’, compose, these three practices, and I have my method. And then you can add more and more as you become more and more competent, you scale up, you don't scale down, but you have to do with big frameworks, like RUP and SAFe.

So, the idea is that we in this way by collecting knowledge and making it available at one place or many places - similar places can grow competency instead of having (this) so fragmented. You know, in one single company today, you may have 10 different ways of using use cases for instance.

Ula Ojiaku: 24:07

True, true…

Ivar Jacobson: 24:08

If they don't learn for one. Okay?

Ula Ojiaku: 24:13

Because they work in silos, so everyone is just doing their own thing.

Ivar Jacobson: 24:18

Yeah, they have their own methodology and everything you know. So…

Interlude/ Announcement (Ula Ojiaku) 24:22

Hi again listeners. Quick message before we continue with Ivar Jacobson’s interview. Did you know, according to Scrum Inc., 58% of Scrum implementations fail. Dr Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum says their investigation revealed that, of the 21 components of Scrum, an average Scrum team implements one-third well, one-third poorly and the last one-third not at all! Dr Sutherland also acknowledged that Essence ‘is the key to success…’

As mentioned earlier, Ian Spence, Chief Scientist at IJI will be running a 3-day, live virtual training on ‘Better Scrum Through Essence with Essence Games Master certification’ this November 2021. If you want proven ideas on how to address failed Scrum implementations, this course is for you! I know - because I’d attended the alpha version of the course earlier on in the year.

Register on the website  at least 2 weeks before the training to take advantage of the early bird pricing. As a valued Agile Innovation Leaders podcast listener, you can also get an exclusive 5% off when you use the code AILP5OFF. That’s AILP5OFF. Back to my conversation with Ivar Jacobson…

Ula Ojiaku: 26:32

Wow, well, it does sound like Essence is going to be a game changer. Where do you see it? What's your ideal state for Essence, in terms of adoption?

Ivar Jacobson: 26:44

Okay. So, the roadmap is we now have developed tools that we are using with clients and they’re tools we never had before - the kind of tools we never had in the software engineering discipline before. And we are using web client learning, and we take, we work with one client after the other. We expect to, at the end of the year, have verified and vetted the work. Then the approach is that we make it more widely available. Okay, and we are looking more for volume than for big accounts.

Ula Ojiaku: 27:34

Right, right.

Ivar Jacobson: 27:35

So now we are extremely optimistic. There are as, you know, we have a forum … two forums….

One is a meetup called Essence for Agility, which has now in just a couple of months got 2000 members. And next time, we will get my good friend Grady Booch to speak together with (a) couple of other people about Architecture and Agile Methods.

We also have created a forum in the academic world called Essence Education Forum; where more than 50 university professors are collaborating to create a material for training and so on, and also do projects and basically anything on top of Essence.

So, it's… no I'm very bullish. I've never seen so much progress as now

You know, if I look back on the things I have contributed to, and I can say basically all of them have been by first identifying a problem but no one else has identified. And then sell that problem, so other people think it is a problem. And that's not trivial, that's absolutely the hardest thing and once I have succeeded to sell it, then of course the solution is not so far away.

Ula Ojiaku: 29:14

Wow. Now that is just fascinating. So, it seemed like in selling your idea, it wasn't really about the technical skill, it was more about what's … quote, unquote, you'd call the you know, “soft skills” of selling, marketing. That you had to…”

Ivar Jacobson: 29:27

Yeah, that's it was the most important I mean, you can be the best technical guy had best ideas, but if you cannot sell them, you won't have them.

Ula Ojiaku: 29:41

Okay, now it is kind of ties in with, you know one of your favourite (Swedish) quotes that you shared with me that “Shy boys don't kiss beautiful girls”, do you want to expand on that?

Ivar Jacobson: 29:59

This is a Swedish expression. There is nothing similar that I know in English that you can say that is strong enough, probably similar but not strong enough.

It means basically, that even if you have an idea that is controversial, you have to express it, because it will never … otherwise it will never happen.

I remember a situation when I was in South (of) France and at the conference, for it was a conference for executives. And they I had a company with 10 employees and I was CEO. So, I was an executive. It happened that Bill Gates was also there. And he had a company with 10,000 employees. So, we were colleagues. And I was out jogging and came back after half an hour sweating and maybe smelling too. And I saw crowd standing beside the pool. And in the middle of that crowd was Bill Gates.

Now is the chance. So, I ran up and I don't know, for what reason… if I was… I was not really rude in any way, but they moved around, they opened - the crowd… and I stood face to face with Bill Gates and I did my elevator pitch. And then we talked a little and when he said he welcomed me to Microsoft, he gave me his business card and said you have to come and talk about the engineering in software. So that's an example of that, shy boys may not kiss beautiful girls. So don't be shy.

Ula Ojiaku: 32:09

It reminds me of the saying in English that Fortune favours the brave. So maybe that's the closest saying to that, but it's really about being bold and seizing the moment.

Ivar Jacobson: 32:24

Yeah. That is exactly what it is. And by way it's valid in the other direction too. It's not the only boys you're talking about. It can be anything.

Ula Ojiaku: 32:34

Well said Ivar. Well said. You also have another quote that you like… or that you use a lot in your organization, “Can we do it smarter?” What do you mean by that?

Ivar Jacobson: 32:49

Basically in every situation where you meet difficulties, and you may come up with a solution, that is very straightforward. Most uncontroversial story, solution, but it's really not fantastic. It just is a solution.

In this situation, I ask all.. almost always, “can we do it smarter?” And the interesting thing is but if people start to think like that, can we do it smarter? They often come up with smarter solutions.

And I have my own experience has been exactly that.

Ula Ojiaku: 33:43

Would you tell us about the book you're writing for your son? You said you have a five-year-old son, and you're writing a book for him that's titled “What They Don't Teach You in School?”

Ivar Jacobson: 33:58

Yes, I am a very lucky man. I have a five-year-old son. My name is Ivar in Swedish. And his name is Ivar Theodor, which becomes IT.

And the thing was not on purpose. It just happened. We like to name; my wife liked the name Ivar Theodor. Ivar is a Viking name. Theodor means God's gift. And then you know, I am not 20 years old. So, (to) get the son is really God's gift if I may use these words.

So I want to write the book for him that he can read when, when I don't know where I will be. I'm certain if I will be somewhere else, than on this planet, it will be in heaven, that's for sure. So, he will get the book. And this book is about smart cases.

So, I describe situations in life, when you can do something smart or not so smart. I mean, first of all, there is a huge difference between being intelligent and being smart. I have a lot of friends that are extremely intelligent, analytical, and so on, but I wouldn't say they are smart.

I have written about the 100 pages, it takes quite a lot of time. And it must be funny or entertaining, otherwise, he will not read it.

Ula Ojiaku: 35:44

Now, what books have you found yourself recommending to people, or giving as a gift to people the most and why?

Ivar Jacobson: 35:59

Yes, I think two books I would mention and this is also where I could recommend others. One of the most influential books on my career was about the denotation semantics as it's called. It's a way to mathematically describe, for instance, a language. And, I have used it to describe several languages.

Ula Ojiaku: 36:35

Denotational Semantics. Okay. Do you know … what was the name of the author, please? I can always (look this up) ...

Ivar Jacobson: 36:43

First book I learned was pure mathematics. It was Discrete Mathematics in computer science. And when it comes to Denotational Semantics, I read a book about the Vienna Development Method. The Vienna Development Methods, it was developed by a Dines Bjorner, and Chris, Chris Jones, I think, and a couple of our people at IBM. But then there are later versions on Denotational Semantics that may be that I don't know that. But this is a book I read.

Ula Ojiaku: 37:21

It's been a fascinating conversation Ivar, and I really appreciate your time, where can the audience find you, if they you know, want to learn more, or if they want to contact you?

Ivar Jacobson: 37:34

They can always contact me via email. And they are welcome to do that. And also, I get a lot of emails, so it may take a couple of days. But I always respond, even if I had to work many hours to do it.

But I think attending this Essence for Agility meet up a there will be a lot related to what we have been talking about. And if you're an academic, I would recommend (you) join Essence Education Forum.

Ula Ojiaku: 38:20

Okay. And we will put all the links and you know, the resources you mentioned in this, in the show notes. So just to wrap up, then do you have any final word of advice for the audience? What would you like to leave us with, as we end this conversation?

Ivar Jacobson: 38:42

Yeah, in some way, the books I mentioned, and the quotes about, the shy boys becoming smarter.

But I think what really has helped me has been that if I have an idea, and I believe in it, I don't give up. So, perseverance is probably a very important property. And some people when things were not so good, after introduce components, people will replace perseverance with stubbornness. So, the difference is: if it's good, it's perseverance; if it's bad, it's stubbornness. So, I may be a little stubborn, but I think it's more being persevere.

Ula Ojiaku: 39:48

Depends on who you ask.

Ivar Jacobson: 39:52

Yeah. So don't give up. Push your ideas. And also, I'm very lucky, I think what I'm doing is fun. I don't do anything for money. I do it for fun. But of course, it's very important to have money. So, I do my best to help my company to make a profit so we can invest in doing these things. It's not money for me, it's money for the company.

Ula Ojiaku: 40:29

Thank you for sharing those wise words. Ivar, thank you so much for your time.

Ivar Jacobson: 40:35

Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Ula Ojiaku: 40:38

The pleasure is mine. Thanks again.

That's all we have for now. Thanks for listening. If you liked this show, do subscribe at 

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