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Agile Development Conference Delivers the Goods

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The Agile Development Practices conference was held this past June 6-11 in Las Vegas. Hosted inside the Caesar's Palace Conference Center, the event showcased excellent sessions, speakers and content. Several good sessions on testing, a keynote by Johanna Rothman on people and culture, and some fine presentations on Scrum and Kanban made for an excellent conference. Being located in Las Vegas didn't hurt.

Abby Fitchner of Microsoft (the "Hacker Chick Blog") and friend Nate Oster on Wednesday June 10 presented a session on concurrent testing that proved interesting. Testing is a policy that provides some serious short-term pain in return for a fantastic return on investment. Having a longer-term horizon is important to be able to capture that fantastic return.

Fitchner and Oster demonstrated the technique of concurrent testing, a technique to immediately increase quality by having programmers and testers working together, rather than against each other, throughout development iterations. The session included games to demonstrate just how powerfully dysfunctional systems can act against the best efforts of developers and testers, and how agile techniques can help teams escape the cycle of poor quality and late delivery.

Jean Tabaka of RALLY on Thursday June 11 presented the session "The Battle of Scrum vs. Kanban" which had interesting content and an even more interesting format. Attendees participated in part by tweeting comments on Twitter, which were displayed in real time. A fishbowl session (4 chairs up front, people rotating in and out to speak in a panel format) followed a brief discussion of Scrum and Kanban features. First Scrum, then Kanban and finally "Scrum and Kanban contrasted" were each considered in turn.

According to Tabaka,

...the principles and practices [of Kanban and Scrum] are not utterly dissimilar...for instance, both approaches create high project visibility and work in smaller increments than traditional development. And yet, each approach emphasizes its principles that influence which practices and measures guide the team and its organization.

The form and content of this session proved extremely interesting. Many notable agile personalities including Ellen Gottesdiener were in the room participating in this lively session.

Ellen Gottesdiener and Mary Gorman of EBG Consulting on Thursday June 11 presented "Mastering Dependencies in Your Product Backlog". This was a good session about an important topic that teams struggle with-- how to untangle a Product Backlog, such that dependencies are minimized and one or more teams can actually pull and execute on the work. Gottesdiener and Gorman presented techniques and strategies on how to identify story dependencies through pre- and post-conditions, detect data dependencies with interaction matrices, and visualize delivery and development scenarios using minimal marketable feature (MMF) dependency graphs.

One of the more interesting trends in Agile these days is the acknowledgement that cultural context is everything; all the best intentions cannot make Agile take root if the culture is resistant to authorizing Agile teams. Johanna Rothman of Rothman Consulting presented the keynote "It's the People, Always the People" on Thursday June 10. Rothman called out some of the things to specifically look for in a culture. She advocates observing "what can you discuss and not discuss inside the organization", observing what is rewarded, and observing how people treat each other. Acknowledging the "people factor" is a theme in 2010 as this InfoQ article on teams and this other recent article from InfoQ on team composition can attest. Rothman's keynote at Agile Development Practices underscores this theme.

Last but not least, Mike Cottmeyer of Pillar Technology on Wednesday June 9 presented "Scaling Agile Adoption Across the Enterprise". The content included his current ideas on how to successfully promulgate Agile thinking across the enterprise. Cottmeyer's position is that Scrum is a "hard sell" across the enterprise, and that there are other ways to bring Agile to the enterprise, ways that meet with much less resistance and potentially much more traction.

The widespread, almost pandemic level of "Scrum-but" may be confirming his ideas. Cottmeyer has been chipping away at the enterprise-Agile theme for several years. His best thinking now is that it is Kanban (not Scrum) that represents the low-commitment, low-resistance, high-impact way to get some genuine, enterprise-level Agile traction. Time will tell.

The Agile Development Practices conference provided some good content this year. The maturity of the Agile community is now well underway and 2010 appears to be a defining year of transition. The Agile Development Practices conference provided a venue for some interesting and emerging Agile themes.


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