Who is Peter Armstrong (@peterarmstrong) ?

Selecting the last person for volume one was really hard. Do we want a big name? Or a newbie? What about one of the original Agile Manifesto authors? Today our backlog contains 217 people. How do you select “the best person” to end the book with?

While working on one of the previous versions of the book, I asked for help from the Leanpub team. And then it struck me. ‘Who Is agile’ has become what it is today thanks to Leanpub. As an author, I’m in love with the lean publishing service that Leanpub offers.

During the last ten years I discussed the process of book writing with many agile authors. Almost all said that writing a book can not be done in an agile way. I did not want to agree with that. Only when I failed to write the Agile Games book was I ready to agree. And then Elisabeth helped me discover Leanpub. Peter is a great example of a Lean Startup Product Owner. As a user, I get so exited about their product that I keep throwing ideas at them. Peter always answers in a nice way and still he keeps the focus of his team real tight. It’s not that he ignores all the ideas. Sometimes someone on the Leanpub mailing list has a genius idea and within a day the feature is implemented. Yet, for most other ideas, Peter gently explains why the feature is not a priority. So far, I have always agreed with him, though I might not like always it.

His blog post about his desk setup, was the direct push to install my own walking desk.














What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

When I was in university, I did a double-major in Computer Science and Psychology, which is itself an odd combination. However, I spent so much time taking various courses that interested me (Philosophy, Japanese, intellectual history, etc) that I was less than one semester of credits away from 2 completely separate degrees! (I took about 6 years worth of classes for my B.Sc. degree.) I think the breadth of what I studied before choosing Computer Science and Psychology has really influenced me. Also, it was cool to be the only Psychology student I knew in the Faculty of Engineering 🙂

If you had not been in IT, what would have become of you?

I probably would have gone into graduate school in cognitive psychology, studying brain function.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

My biggest challenge is choosing to work on the right things, and in reducing product features to their essence before building those. I have so many product ideas at any given time (both for features of products I’m working on, and for totally new products) that it’s really tempting to get distracted, especially since I work with very talented people who can code almost anything. So I need focus.

This is a good thing for me since, frankly, it’s a luxury. It’s the ultimate example of first world problems. However, it is still a problem and a challenge. And unlike many problems, you do not know (and can never know) if you got the right answer. Even if you succeed in something, you could have been more successful in one of the n other things you didn’t do, or didn’t do as well as you could have. Opportunity cost is expensive!

What drives you?

If I think deeply about some seemingly solved, mundane problem, I typically get really unhappy with the current state of the art in it. Two examples of this are book publishing and project management. Both seemed to be solved problems, and yet both are really broken in many ways. And in both areas you’ve seen a bunch of new startups lately, and the problems are still pretty unsolved! (Of course, hopefully Leanpub solves one of them 🙂

So, in terms of what drives me, I’d say that I end up getting strong opinions about some problem, and then wanting to build what I consider to be the right solution for it. And if I think that something is broken for me, and if I think I can see a clean solution, then I get motivated.

What is your biggest achievement?

Leanpub is my biggest achievement, but it’s a shared achievement between me and Leanpub’s cofounder Scott Patten, as well as the others like Ken, Len and Steve who are working or have worked on it.

In terms of my biggest essentially personal achievement, it’s my first book Flexible Rails. I was living in the middle of nowhere, working remotely for a Silicon Valley startup, and I had a young son. And thanks to wife’s support and patience, I managed to find the time to write and self-publish it (iteratively, in a very Leanpub style [before Leanpub existed], shipping 23 versions in about 2 years) before having it traditionally published.

Flexible Rails was the first thing that I did–completely outside of any structured environment like university or being an employee–where I had enough courage of my convictions to build and ship something. In school or as an employee you are given objectives and then you try to meet or exceed them. And over the course of high school, university and then being an employee I got pretty good at that. But it’s a very different challenge to do something completely on your own: not only do you need to come up with the idea and be able to execute it, you also need to maintain the self-belief that what you are doing is worthwhile, and that you will succeed. (Incidentally, this external feedback and motivation is, I think, one of the most important aspects of Leanpub.)

What is the last book you have read?

I think the last book I finished was Trevor Burnham’s CoffeeScript book, which was really good. I’m currently reading Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Berlin Johnson.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

That’s an interesting question. My guess is you get lots of pretentious answers 🙂

I guess since Leanpub is bootstrapped by the consulting work of Ruboss, the question would be “Do you have any advice for someone considering bootstrapping a startup?”

My answer would be that doing product development and doing consulting are very different skills, and to not underestimate how much learning is involved in growing a consulting company. (This was also something that I knew very little about when starting Ruboss!) When picking a rate to bill your time at, do NOT assume you can bill 40 hour weeks, or even 30 hour weeks! It turns out that companies have overhead, and that your billable hours are very different than the number of hours you work.

And then once you know how to handle that challenge somewhat, and run a reasonably successful consulting company, the hardest thing is turning down work at your consulting rate in order to do product work. But the product work is the real reason that your company exists, so you need to solve this problem daily!

Part of my solution to that has been to raise our rates until we had enough time, and to focus on our best clients. However, finding a balance is always tricky, especially since you try to be nice and fair to your clients. Also, you need to manage risk, etc…

Whom do you think I should ask next?

I think you should ask:


Peter is the last person added to the global book Who is agile

if you liked his answer or the serie. Please buy the book.
In the book Peter also answer Michael Dubakov’s question: Can introversty be a good CEO?