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The Agile Alliance Leadership on Agile 2012 and Beyond
Recorded at:

Interview with Phil Brock, Mitch Lacey and Jim Newkirk by Shane Hastie on Jan 31, 2013 |
21:28

Bio Phil Brock is Managing Director of the Agile Alliance responsible for day to day operations. Mitch Lacey was the Conference Chair for the Agile 2012 conference, he led the team who put the conference together and set the theme for the event. Jim Newkirk was the Chair of the Agile Alliance providing overall direction for the organization.

The Agile Alliance organizes the Agile series conference, which bring together all the key people in the Agile space to talk about techniques and technologies, attitudes and policies, research and experience, and the management and development sides of agile software development.

   

2. What is happening with the Agile Alliance and what’s happening with the conference?

Phil: This has been a great conference so far; we’re just into our second day, but we have a greater attendance that we’ve had in any year since 2008 before the great recession; and the feedback that I’ve gotten from the conference has been overwhelmingly positive; so it just seems like we’ve really hit our stride and the conference is getting better every year.

   

3. Fantastic! So how many people have we actually got here?

Phil: We have just shy of 1600 attendees on site, which is a good-sized crowd.

   

4. That’s a good-sized crowd. Okay so what is the Agile Alliance up to at the moment; what things are happening in the Alliance?

Phil: The Agile Alliance is continuing to become a greater presence on a global scale and some of the things that I’m really excited that we’ve been able to deliver to our membership and to our future members hopefully around the planet, we’ve added huge amounts of video content to our website, educational content that has been captured at the last year’s Agile North American conference; we’re working on the same kind of thing for this year; we will have 40 to 50 hours of additional video content streaming around the planet; so that’s been a great addition and I think a great value for the community and a great service for the community.

In addition to that, we have a new archivist and a very active archivist working for the Agile Alliance that’s Laurent Bossavit, in Paris, and he’s added some materials to the site that map Agile practices, phenomenal work; I would highly encourage anybody who sees this to check out the Agile Alliance website and look for those resources.

   

5. So what is the value of that resource for the community?

Phil: Well it’s educational and I think the Agile Alliance website really now is becoming a place where individuals can go to find information on the history and the directions and the connections and interactions between the different branches that comprise Agile.

   

6. And what is the Agile Alliance’s role, what does the Alliance do?

Phil: Well Agile Alliance is an educational and trade group so our mission is to help make the software industry more humane, sustainable and productive; and anything that we do must fulfill that mission; and primarily we’re delivering those services through the conferences that we organize as well as the conferences we support and then that content is being delivered to the world obviously through the internet and our website.

Phil, thank you very for your time today; we really appreciate it and look forward to seeing more coming out of That.

Phil: Thanks for having me.

   

7. Good afternoon, this is Shane Hastie with InfoQ; we’re here at the Agile 2012 conference and we are privileged to have Mitch Lacey; Mitch is the conference chair for this year; so Mitch, thank you for taking time out of a really busy schedule to come and talk to us at InfoQ; how did things go getting to this point?

Mitch: Getting to this point, things actually, you know, they went pretty smooth; a lot of people have asked me, just actually a person from Addison-Wesley about 30 minutes ago said so you must have been running around with your head cut off and I said I try to prevent that and I would rather just pluck the feathers one by one and have a slow death; so over the last two, three months, it’s been two, three, four hours a day of just little things but the crew over at Elastic and the rest of the staff had done a fantastic job getting the program lined up, getting everything done and it’s been fairly smooth; I’m happy about that, that shows we’ve got a good team this year.

   

8. And what has the program ended up being, what is the picture of the conference for those that aren’t here today?

Mitch:Yes, so the picture of the conference, the vision that I had actually about two years ago when I first considered this was advancing the state of the art or advancing the state of the art of Agile, and I met with a bunch of friends last year and we talked about what are the things that we like, what are the things that we dislike and what would we do as a team to move things forward; one of those things was to be able to increase the technical content; there seemed to be a lack of technical content last year and given the fact that the Agile movement was started by a development community and was focused around code, we felt it critical and important to be able to bring that aspect back; so one of the things we did this year was raise the technical content from under 10% to over 15%; you know, it’s going to take some time to build that up more but overall I think that was one goal that we achieved that I’m very happy with.

Additionally, we had, you know, over 800 sessions submitted this year, which was a bit of a challenge because you know frankly there were just some fantastic sessions that we all wanted to see in and when we looked at the space, you know, we did some creative moving around of space here at the Gaylord Texan to be able to try to accommodate as many sessions as we could; this meant some of the rooms were a little smaller hoping to drive more content and you know, it’s played out to be a good gamble actually; I believe as I’ve done spot checks around the sessions they’re all fairly full; now just like an airplane, it’s much nicer when you’re on a three-hour flight to have nobody next to you and the same it is here because you get one-on-one time with the presenter; but it’s something very nice to see when we have a full house.

   

9. How many sessions ended up actually getting into the program?

Mitch: A little over 24%-25%; you know, we had 800 and something submissions and we accepted just over 200, 210, 220 something like that; so 25-ish percent which has been the standard year over year.

   

10. And that’s running – you’re using a metaphor of stages, do you want to explain that a little bit?

Mitch: Yes; so the original idea for a stage came from Rachel Davies; this is a number of years ago when she ran the conference and what it was everybody, every stage producer would treat their stage as an independent show if you will and that’s the basic premise of it; it’s recently transformed more into tracks I would say in the way that the program development was done; starting in 2011 or it could have been 2010 but I distinctly remember it in 2011, we would as stage producers make recommendations to the program committee. Think about it like pieces of a puzzle, and then the program committee, you know, the conference chair and the program chairs would then build that puzzle based on the recommendation provided by the stage producers and that was something that we did this year as well and I would imagine would continue moving forward.

   

11. Sounds good; so some of the highlights, I know there are some interesting keynotes but beyond the keynotes as well what...?

Mitch: Beyond the keynotes, well you were over in the Agile Alliance lounge, I know our viewers are unable to see it, hopefully you can find a picture of it, but we have the WikiSpeed car, the one that won the X prize for 100-mile per gallon vehicle, road street legal vehicle; so that’s something really, really cool to see; I really like that; we did a special coding day with Corey Hanes which is actually taking place today and it’s two, three-hour sessions where you can get your hands dirty; the Agile philanthropy thing this year, while it’s been going on every year, this year slightly different in the fact that people are actually able to write to code for WishListing.org which I think is a fantastic opportunity and as a software development community, I mean this is something that really allows people to get some intrinsic value and help a good cause; other great things that have happened at the conference there’s the fantastic water slide, I don’t know if you’ve been over there yet but nothing like a bunch of geeks going down a water slide so.

   

12. Sounds good and the keynotes, how did you pick them and what are they, the three keynotes?

Mitch: Yes, so the keynotes were pretty interesting because it wasn’t really designed by committee if you will; I looked at what was available, I asked people for their inputs and their opinions; I wanted to be able to really step away from what we’ve done traditionally in the past and find people that are more on the edge of this community; so, you know, we started off the day our first keynote with Prof. Bob Sutton of Stanford University who delivered a fantastic message around scaling up excellence, which you know, was going to be topic of a new book that he has coming out and got great reviews on that and I’m very happy that Bob was able to join us; we have two other keynotes on Friday: we have Dr. Sunita (and I’m going to mispronounce her name so I’m not even going to attempt it) doctor of radiology, runs a radiology firm in India where she is using Agile principles and values to be able to run that organization; we have Joe Justice who heads up WikiSpeed and he’s going to talk about how he’s able to use Agile principles and values to be able to get production cars built; so I mean we have a little surprise for Friday for that keynote and I’m not going to let anybody know about just yet but it should be quite fun if our viewers go watch the keynote videos.

   

13. And those are going to be available on the Agile Alliance website?

Mitch: I sure hope so and I hope they’re available in less than two months.

Shane: Mitch thank you very much for taking your time out of your busy schedule today to talk to InfoQ and good luck with the rest of the conference.

Mitch: Thank you very much and you know InfoQ is a great resource and I really appreciate you guys being here.

   

15. ...in what must be a very busy time; as the chair of the Agile Alliance, what is that organization doing, what’s happening, where is the alliance going?

Jim: Well one of the primary things that we do focus on is the conference and in one sense I could say well it’s just about the conference but what we’re really trying to do is support the community and grow the community; so one of the ways we do that is through the conference but we also have a number of other programs that you are well aware of, the Agile manifesto translation, we do a conference sponsorship program, so we actually do, we sponsor conferences throughout the world in our hopes that you know the mission of our organization is that we want to make software sustainable, (and somehow I always get the words mixed up but) humane, sustainable; we want to make software that way and what we’re trying to do is find people around the world and encourage that: productive, humane and sustainable.

   

16. Productive, humane and sustainable; well given that we’re at the Agile 2012 conference, how is it going?

Jim: Well I think it’s going really well; the conference itself is running very well I believe this year; we’ve either at or near record attendance; some of the sessions have been very well received, I’ve received a lot of feedback; you know, is it perfect, well nothing is ever perfect and we’re looking at ways to make it better in the future; we’ve looked at different types of hotels and so forth and this is the first year we’ve been in the Gaylord Hotels and we really like the idea of keeping the conference and the attendees together; so one of our core, you know, kind of the core values of the conferences is that really it’s about that conversation that exists between the people and we’re trying to keep that element of the conference here and that’s where I would like to keep everything in one space; and the hotel here in Dallas has been very good in achieving that so.

   

17. For you, what are some of the highlights of the conference in terms of sessions, people, activities or events that you’ve...

Jim: Well I attended a keynote the other day and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard Bob Sutton speak so I thought it was a great talk; I’ve obviously read some of his work but here I’m talking kind of talk about scaling and some of the issues associated with scaling; and I always like when I give presentations to find examples outside of our industry because I think it helps broaden our perspective and so he did an excellent job of talking about how other types of organizations have scaled and I think it gives us some food for thought about how we might look at our efforts at scaling and when we think about scaling, I talk about scaling our view of Agile as well as scaling, our ability to support that community worldwide.

   

18. One of the things that always happens at the conference is the member’s meeting, how did that go?

Jim: It went alright; we made some changes; I tend to think of it two ways; in terms of how the board works. The board I think owes it to the members that we figure out ways to run the organization better and we’ve done that a couple of ways this year; we’ve looked at kind of shifting the board’s focus away from a working role more towards policy, more policy and then kind of shifting that working aspect to staff; and that really has I think improved the efficiency of the organization and in the end our goal is really to support the members and it was just getting to the point where an all-volunteer board trying to support the members and the number of members that we have wasn’t the best way to support them; so we’ve looked at that internally; we’ve made some internal structural changes around that but we’ve also – given that we’ve shifted a lot of that work away from the board to the staff - it has allowed the board to think more about advancing our mission; and I look forward to the next board year to really focus on that, which you’ll be helping with.

   

19. I will indeed. One of the things that you did was you moderated the analyst panel on Tuesday evening; how did that go, what came out of there, what are the great minds telling us?

Jim: One of the things we do so we’ve had this analyst panel now for three years and I’ve moderated twice and Todd Little the conference chair last year moderated it and we take questions from the audience and what I try and do is kind of given the question, really try and figure out a flow through them; and a couple of things have come up in a sense which is this term application life cycle management; so I asked the analysts, I said could you define it for me and there are some agreement on what it is, but there are some differences of opinion about what it is; so I always think about terms and I think when we get four different people give us four different answers, we probably have the wrong term; so I think that that that’s something that and the analysts talk a lot about application life cycle management and I think there’s some relation, you know, there’s obviously some relationship to Agile but that was one of the things that stood out in a sense.

They clearly think that Agile is on upswing and certainly a lot of their customers have come back to them and what information about Agile so Agile is definitely in that space; the one area where they might differ in a sense is the sense where the focus is; a couple of the analysts thought you know, keeping the focus on adoption, keeping the kind of constant influx of new people into it was really where we might focus; the differing opinion was (and this is something that resonates with me) which is that maybe the focus necessarily shouldn’t be on adoption but maybe we should be focusing on doing Agile better; so one of the things that I personally am going to look at over the next few years is how do we do this well, because I don’t believe that a just constant influx of people into maybe something that’s watered down in a sense to appeal to large, large numbers of people will yield this productive, humane, and sustainable thing that we all desire.

   

20. So figure out how to do it right?

Jim: Well I hesitate to say right because I’m very pragmatic; so you know, what was right for me today maybe wasn’t right for me before and so that’s why I like to kind of move it from right to well because I really like to think of it as I do it the best that I can what I know today; does that make sense?

   

21. It does indeed, thank you, and at a personal level, you’re heavily involved in XUnit.net, you want to tell us what’s happening there?

Jim: Yes, a couple of things; one is we’ve worked very, very closely with Peter Provost who’s one of the conference chairs here; he’s a program manager at Microsoft and the next version of Visual Studio they built a test runner that allows them to integrate XUnit.net and other unit testing tools directly into visual studio, which puts us on a level playing field with all of the other testing tools as well as it allows us to work inside the ecosystem of Visual Studio; and a lot of the people that use our tool had been asking for something like that; now specifically about the tool, Brad Wilson who I work with directly, we pair programmed, although he very rarely lets me type, but we’ve been working on a new version of XUnit.net to address a lot of the issues that we’ve kind of seen in terms of our adoption and that will be coming out later this year; so some of the things we’re going to focus on is parallel execution, different ways of grouping tests, all just things that we’ve seen personally but in terms of how you manage large blocks of unit tests; this is something that’s I think critically important if you’re going to do test driven development is you better have a good way of managing these types of tests otherwise that effort itself is not sustainable; so people should look forward to that in the coming months.

Shane: Great, Jim, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us today, we really appreciate it and good luck with the next year with the Agile Alliance.

Jim: All right, thanks, Shane.

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