Submissions and Reviews in the Agile2011
Agile2011 is the biggest event on the Agile Calendar. I have been many times and would heartily recommend it to anyone who has not been before. Its just a whole week of fun and meeting some fantastic people.
Now is the time when the bright and beautiful of the Agile Community present the sessions they would like run at Agile2011. On 8th February, the submission system is closed. The Stage Producers and their teams then craft the best programme they can for the conference in Salt Lake City.
The Agile2011 organisers provide excellent advice (here) for people that I suspect most people have missed. This links to three great posts by Mitch Lacey. If you are serious about getting accepted, I suggest you read these pages to avoid some obvious gotchas.
An army of volunteers review the sessions and guide presenters to improve their sessions. They then help the Stage Producers make their decisions. None of these people are paid. They give their time because they are passionate about Agile and they want the best conference they can. In previous years I was one of a crazy group (Dave Nicolette, Brandon Carlson, Angela Martin and others) who reviewed hundreds of sessions. This year I'm just helping out on one stage and looking at a couple of other stages of interest. I've scanned a few stages and here is some advice based on those previous years.
Notes for Submitters
- Read the Stage Description, not just the title. If a reviewer suggests it is the wrong stage, consider moving or asking the Stage Producer for guidance. Doing nothing or ignoring the comment is not an option as the reviewers assist in the decision process.
- When you have chosen your stage,read all of the sessions on your chosen stage. This will give you a feel for what good and not so good submissions look like. In addition, look at some of the sessions that were selected last year. Look at some of the regular presenters at Agile20xx… Jean Tabeka, Lisa Cripin, Liz Keogh, Steve "Doc" List and see what they submit. A good way to get a feel for the submissions is to write some public reviews. As you write the reviews, you will start to see more detailed differences between the sessions. You will appreciate which you like and which you do not. It is no accident that many of the reviewers get their sessions accepted. Not because it’s a payback but because the review process teaches them how to write good submissions. If you are serious about presenting, consider writing reviews for other submissions.
- Detail, detail, detail. You may know what you want to talk about but your reviewer will not. Explain any terms that may not be mainstream. "XP" needs no explanation but "Fitness Landscape" would. Saying you want to talk about your experience of Lean for an hour will not cut it. Write a sentence or two about each interesting point or experience . If running a tutorial or workshop, give a timeline for the activities. My personal favourite is withholding the "Secret Sauce" because you do not want to ruin the surprise. Tell the reviewers in detail what the "secret sauce" is. They need to know in order to decide about the session. The submission is not the description that goes in the conference brochure so you do not need to worry about ruining the experience for attendees.
- Give details of where the session may have been run previously. Agile20xx is a big conference with people from all around the world. It is not necessarily the best place to run a session for the first time or for you to do your Agile debut.
- Find a mentor. Andy Pols was my mentor. We worked together to refine our ideas. He introduced me to the right people. He told me about interesting books and articles that I should read. The easiest way to find a mentor to collaborate with is to join a local Agile Group or find someone you like at a conference.
- Submit early. Give the reviewers a chance to comment on your session and then incorporate their feedback. If you submit early enough, you may get several rounds of review comments to improve your session. Do not be surprised if you get abuse from the reviewers if you submit several sessions on the last day. The reviewers take their responsibility seriously and they want to give good feedback. Submitting on the last day means they potentially lose a good session because there is no time for the reviewers to respond. Look at the conversation in the comments here.
- Don't give up hope. I think I finally got accepted on my third or fourth attempt. The open submission system with early feedback really helped a lot. There are lots of other great smaller Agile conferences that are looking for new voices and new material. Go to them and practice before stepping up to the global stage.
Notes to Reviewers ( Casual ones as well as Official ones )
- The purpose of the review process is to select the best possible programme for Agile2011. The review process is not about rejecting or accepting sessions. The accept/reject is a by product of the process.
- The best reviewers give constructive feedback to bring the best out of the submission. They seek the interesting story behind the submission. Once again, Andy Pols encouraged me to do this. Something he learned from Alistair Cockburn when the eXtreme Tuesday Club ran the Agile Development Conference in 2004. People submitting for the first time will often overlook the gems and offer what they think is interesting.
- Do not make assumptions. If you do not know, ask the submitter. This is Agile. Its all about feedback!
- Be kind. Submitting to Agile2011 is a big deal, even for well known individuals. I have seen some pretty brutal reviews. The argument "Well it would not bother me" does not hold. People react to critism in different ways. Do not write anything you would not be prepared to write in public.
- Do not review just one session on a stage because it happens to be someone you like or know. It looks really bad to me. A couple of years back one session received a number of rave reviews from people at the same company as the submitter. They did not review any other sessions so I personally ignored them. They may have been right but it looked like they were trying to game the system.
After the submissions close, the Stage Producers and their teams go into feverish activity to pick the best possible programme.
After the programme is published, the countdown starts to the 10th Birthday Party of the Agile Community. Buy a ticket now! Oh. And book your hotel early as it is allways better to be in the conference Hotel. You can normally cancel until quite late which means you have a free real option ;-)
About the Author
Chris Matts is programme manager with a strong background in business analysis and development. He uses real options and agile project management techniques (Lean, Theory of Constraints, Business Value) to optimise the delivery of business value whilst effectively managing project risks. He has a Masters degree in Mathematical Trading and Finance and a Masters Degree in Microelectronics and Software Engineering. Currently, Chris is a project manager at UBS.