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Agile 2009 Conference Retrospective

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A month has passed since Agile 2009 has finished and people have had the time to write on their reflections.

Johanna Rothman, conference chair, says: “What stood out for me: the sheer quantity of decisions I had to make and the time involved. As is normal with many projects, the decisions I made early on were not always right (:-))) and caused problems later”.  On what she would do differently:

  • Many of the stage producers worked in pairs – but there wasn’t budget to give the assistant producers an honorarium.
  • “I will choose people in key positions more carefully–some people did not have the time to devote to the job they volunteered to do (a common problem with volunteers). I thought I’d asked enough questions when I asked for commitment, but I did not”
  • “I had too many stages; I’ve already suggested to Jim that he combine stages (if he uses that metaphor). Having fewer simultaneous sessions (over 2008) was a great idea”

Steven “Doc” List, notes that as a Stage Producer much of his time was spent saying hello to his presenters and checking out their sessions for at least a minute or two. Then he tried to see all the 20 ThoughtWorkers who were also presenting. For Doc the heart of the conference was “Then there were the amazing people I got to hang out with, meet, and connect with, like Alistair Cockburn (poetry readings and shamanism this year), Jean Tabaka (I love Jean Tabaka!), my dear friends Julie Chickering and Christine Delprete, Chris Matts and Olav Maassen, Diana Larsen, Esther Derby, Johanna Rothman, Martin Fowler and all the other fabulous … I spent a significant chunk of my time in the Open Jam area, which I have dubbed “The Shmooze Pool”, since that’s what I did there.”

For Karl Scotland, his top three highlights were:

    1. Discussing team maturity and explicit and implicit Kanban WIP limits with Alistair Cockburn.
    2. Splitting hairs on the finer points of Lean (Kanban) and Theory of Constraints (Drum Buffer Rope) with Mike Cottmeyer (apparently it was a highlight for Mike as well)
    3. Debating all sorts of ideas around Kanban with Arlo Belshee and Bonnie Aumann – including drawing on beer mats and using beer glasses and other implements to aid visual representation.

Mike Cottmeyer’s week was “full of late nights... early mornings... lots of meetings... lots of sessions... talking to customers... debating ideas... reconnecting with old friends... and making a few new ones.” If Mike were running the conference next year he would like to see a stage focused on organizational agility and scaling – with the focus on how these ideas have been applied in real companies, with real management hierarchies. “I want to talk about agile ideas in the context in which the ideas were successful and explore how we can do them at scale. ... I'd like to see experience reports from people that are really doing this. I'd like to hear from CEOs and CIOs who have been able to lead sustainable change. I'd like the talks to be vetted in advance by a real person and accompanied by a proceedings paper. I'd like to have breakout sessions and workshops that allow us to explore these Big Agile problems together.”

Along with a large batch of appreciations, Portia Tung had a number of observations. She liked the Ice Breaker and how it helped attendees a chance to mingle, the quality of the food at the banquet and “Watching Ola Ellnestam and Gerard Meszaros in the finals at Programming with the Stars reminded me of what software craftsmanship looks like in action!”. In addition Portia has some ideas to make the conference perfect:

    • Find a way for attendees to familiarise themselves with the programme quickly and easily (it took me at least an hour per day to decide on a session shortlist).
    • Find a way of reminding attendees which sessions they attended to fuel meaningful conversations during the breaks.
    • Create opportunities for the different types of attendees to cross-stage mingle instead of enforcing silos by primary interest.
    • Kick off the conference with a facilitated ice breaker exercise to encourage mingling from the start.
      Intersperse the conference with ice breaker exercises to encourage more mingling throughout the conference.
    • Introduce One-Minute-Presentations by session presenters at the start of every day (or every morning and every afternoon) so that attendees have more information on which to base their session choice.

Like many others George Dinwiddie appreciates the value of seeing people face to face at the conference, making new friends in the community and reconnecting with old friends. In addition he had an interesting approach for getting the best value out of the conference: “I didn’t maximize my time.  There is no optimization for life.  Instead, whether doing something that seemed important or something that seemed trivial, I merely tried to be in the present time, in the present location.  “Be here, now.”  Or, as Lyssa Adkins said in Build Your Team’s Collaboration Muscle, “be in present time.”  I left Slack for myself, rather than fill every moment with The Most Important Thing.  I highly recommend this technique.” In addition George’s blog has become a focus for improving the session selection system.

Adam Goucher wondered why people come to such an expensive conference only to get trashed and miss sessions the next morning? In his mind Eight Guiding Values was the best session of the week and he wishes either it or Brian Marick’s ARxTA talk had been the keynote.

Dave Nicolette’s experience with Agile2009 was very positive, this year he focused on: “sessions dealing with human factors, especially coaching and team dynamics. There were plenty to choose from. The community has become increasingly aware of the importance of the human side of things in the past few years, and there are a lot of people who have insights and techniques to share. In an industry that has tended to treat people as if they were interchangeable machine parts, it's an area that has received short shrift in the past.”

Finally, Naresh Jain wonders “Why big Agile Conferences don’t have anything New?” saying that most things at the conference appeared to be a rehash of the past. He feels the majority of the Agile Community have gone into preaching mode and that the people doing interesting new things feel driven out of the community. Others including George Dinwiddie think that there is still new stuff going on – you just have to look in different place: “For me, I go to very few talks. Instead, I try to meet a lot of people and understand the difficulties they’re facing; go to workshop-type sessions. Next year, I think I want to attend more experience reports and hang out more in Open Jam for the informal discussions.”

For more on Agile 2009 on InfoQ see our Feature. This reporter’s blog also contains a roundup of Agile2009 posts.

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