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Agile Japan 2009

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Agile Japan 2009 was held in Tokyo on 22 April 2009. The event drew over 200 participants under the slogan of “developing the next-generation software development leaders.” This was the first full-scale event on Agile held in Japan with support from Agile Alliance.

“Cheaper by the pair” registration encouraged developers to come with their bosses

Recognizing the gap between developers and management about Agile in the Japanese software development industry, we introduced a new “cheaper by the pair” registration fee scheme, the objective of which was to encourage developers to invite their superiors, customers, or subordinates to also attend the event. As a result, over 60% of participants registered for the event in pairs.

Mary Poppendieck keynoted “Leadership”

Ms. Mary Poppendieck (of Poppendieck.LLC), the well-known co-author of “Implementing Lean Software Development from Concept to Cash,” delivered the keynote speech entitled “The Role of Leadership in Software Development.” In line with the theme of the event, “People and Leadership,” Ms. Poppendieck presented the historical account of leadership, touching on “The Principles of Scientific Management,” authored by Fredrick Winslow Taylor, and Charles R. Allen, famous for his work on the Four Step Method of Industrial Training. Allen’s Four Step Method was introduced to Japan in the 1950’s, became known as the TWI (Training Within Industry) Supervisor Training, which evolved into Toyota Production System, the epitome of Japanese manufacturing practices.

Toyota Production System positions the leadership as the “creator of an organization that learns” and requires it to fulfill the roles of:

  • a teacher
  • a guide to encourage members to solve their problems and improve their work autonomously, and
  • a coordinator to ensure that members’ work adds value both to their customers and their organization.

People who are able to link customer needs with technology will be needed in the future software industry.

Mr. Kuroiwa (ex-Toyota manager) ranted “Agile or whatever the name is, Think for yourself”

Mr. Satoshi Kuroiwa delivered the second keynote speech entitled “Application of Toyota Manufacturing and Human Resource Development Practices to Software Development.” Mr. Kuroiwa built his career as an IT training manager of Toyota Motor Corporation, and has participated in numerous IMS, open FA, CALS and other projects led by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. In his speech, he made insightful points about issues in the Japanese software development industry and emphasized the importance of thinking in both technical and business terms, keeping technology open instead of enclosing them, and working together to improve the entire industry.

In the 1980’s, Toyota Production System was introduced to the factory of NUMMI, a joint venture company founded by Toyota and GM. In the factory, more emphasis was put on humanity and human capabilities than on high technology. In addition, job skills that had been classified into 200 categories were reorganized into only two roles --assembly workers and maintenance/service workers--to develop multi-skilled workers. Thanks to these improvements, the factory that had once been closed was successfully revived. Mr. Kuroiwa pointed out that excessive division of skill areas exists in the current software industry, and stated that higher efficiency would be achieved if workers gradually expanded their capabilities instead of sticking on their segmented skills.

He also pointed out that the most important concept was “customer pull”, and that it was essential to manufacture just what customers need. To that end, it was necessary for software developers to clarify the “know-why” instead of the “know-how” in their mind, he said. Finally, he sent a strong message to the audience that we must collaborate and communicate with each other, share the common objective among team members, and create a team of people who continue to make improvements towards the common goal and the optimum whole.

He concluded his speech by emphasizing that “Thinking for yourself in your context” is the heart of Lean, and ranted to the audience that they shouldn’t import anything without questioning why. A lot of software concepts have been imported from abroad and most Japanese software developers just use it without any thought. The problem to solve is always yours and you should think based on your context.

Panel Discussion

Then Mary and Kuroiwa-san did a panel-discussion with Kenji Hiranabe’s moderation. A lot of questions were asked from the audience about TPS, Lean and Agile. Interestingly, Mary talked about TPS and Kuroiwa-san supported Agile !

We love “Lightening Talks” as always.

After the two keynotes and the panel session of Mary Poppendieck, Mr. Kuroiwa, and Kenji Hiranabe, “Lightening Talks”, a series of 5-minute-short and up-tempo presentations took place at the lunch time by a number of speakers.

Case Study-1: Ryohin Keikaku cut their corporate internal system development cost by half

In the Case Study Session, a case from Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd., a method called “Unicage Development”, used for corporate internal system development, was presented in a speech entitled “Speed Solves Everything- Part 1.” “Unicage Development” is a unique development approach composed of simple UNIX command scripts and text files. This simple approach doesn't use any J2EE, any middleware or any database system, to develop non-trivial web-based applications. In a unicage development project, users and developers work closely to sort the business processes for the system development. Therefore, the developers must have their business knowledge, and users must verify their system effectively. They don't have to achieve 100% from the first attempt. A prototype is delivered to users as soon as 70% is achieved, and from there on, the system gradually approaches perfection through a number of revisions and reworks including feedbacks and discussions. Although they don’t call themselves Agile, we see a true agility in their development approach. In the Ryohin Keikaku’s case, the application of the unicage development approach led to a successful reduction of the system cost from 2 to 1.2 billion yen, or from 1.8% to 0.9% of the company’s sales revenue.

More Case Studies and Skill session featuring “Facilitation Graphics”

After a short ice-breaker session “The First Step to Organize a Team” led by Nato Homma, the audience was divided into two parallel group sessions; a Skill Session and a Case Study Session.

The Skill Session comprised three parts: Akira Katoh led “Facilitation Graphics Workshop” to visualize discussion by introducing simple color graphics to whiteboard writing; Eiichi Hanyuda and Tsutomu Yasui facilitated “Hands-on Agile Project Management Workshop” using card games; and Kenji Hiranabe hosted “Project Facilitation Workshop.”

In the Case Study Session, we heard the continuation of the case study from Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd. entitled “Speed Solves Everything - Part 2,” and two brilliant other Case Study presentations; “”25-site” Agile Development with User’s Responsibility” by Recruit Co., Ltd., and “Motivation-driven Development” by Fujitsu Limited, both of which has rich contents and lessons learned.

The last but not the least, Yukio Okajima talked “Team Building to Develop Next-generation Leaders”

The last act of the event was a speech entitled “Team Building to Develop Next-generation Leaders” by Mr. Yukio Okajima of Eiwa System Management, Inc. Mr. Okajima first spoke of an experiment of a fish called Sphyraena, or commonly known as barracuda, which sometimes grows as large as 1.7 meters. When a barracuda was kept in a fish tank divided by a transparent wall built between the fish and its feed, the ferociously hungry fish swam to his feed many times in vain, and bumped into the transparent wall every time it did. After experiencing the pain on his nose so many times, it stopped swimming to his feed, and even after the transparent wall was removed, the fish never try to approach his feed. Presenting this experiment as a metaphor, Mr. Okajima pointed out that such a transparent wall might be typically found between a development team and its manager in Japan.

Mr. Okajima emphasized that team members and their organization should share a common goal and a success model. He encouraged us to remove the transparent wall between the development team and its manager.

Developers need to translate their challenge at Gemba into a message that their manager understands, and persistently explain their ideas to their manager. The manager needs to respond to his developers' commitment and passion, and transfer more authority and responsibility to his developers. Mr. Okajima explained how his company - Eiwa System Management, Inc. - had taken steps to remove the transparent wall. Referring to this example, he asked us if we all agreed that a true team-building process was the process of continuous and autonomous effort toward the common goal of the whole.

Authors’ note

Agile Japan 2009 was successfully implemented and it made a great contribution towards improvement of developer’s working environment. To achieve our mission of spreading the Agile concept, bringing up the next generation of IT leaders and knowledge sharing, we would like to keep in touch with not only Japanese developers but also developers in many parts of the world.

We will organize Agile Japan 2010 next year again and your continued suggestion and comments for us will be highly appreciated.

About the authors

Takafumi NOGUCHI

Editor-in-chief, ManasLink Co., Ltd. Takafumi Noguchi is the editor-in-chief of "EM ZERO". EM ZERO is a Japanese open-style magazine on software and people. This magazine focuses on how software can contribute to social welfare and people's happiness.



CEO of Peak 1 Co., Ltd.; 25 years of experience in message planning and marketing for IT industry. Maeda was responsible for the management of Agile Japan 2009. He believes that, if there are 100 different projects, there should be 100 different ways of thinking and 100 different planning for each, and no limits are to be set to the possibility of each work.



CEO of Change Vision, Inc; 2008 Gordon Pask Award Recipient for contribution to Agile practice. Japanese co-translator of "XP Installed", "Lean Software Development", "Agile Project Management", "The Art of Agile Development" Kenji thinks of software development as a form of communication game, and is always searching for better ways that makes it more productive, collaborative, and fun.

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