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Agile On Top Down Under: Record Numbers at Agile Australia 2012

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Over 850 delegates crammed into the Hilton on the Park Hotel in Melbourne last week for Agile Australia 2012 to share experiences and learn from over 75 of Australia and New Zealand's most experienced Agile practitioners.

The Agile Australia conferences are the highlight on the Australian Agile calendar. Now in it’s fourth year, Agile Australia brings together Australian businesses who are adapting, innovating, collaborating, and delivering better project using the Agile methodology. The Agile approach focuses on iterative development. Little by little, collaborative teams can build solutions for their customers faster and better than before. From large enterprises like CBA, Suncorp, IBM, and Telstra; to leading Australian organisations like SEEK, Atlassian, Aconex, and Sensis, Agile is being adopted to gain better business value. In 2011, Agile Australia was a great success with over 700 attendees, 65 speakers, and two days of real-world Agile experiences. Agile Australia 2012 promises to be as exciting and cutting-edge as ever.

Dr. Fiona Wood, the director of the Western Australian Burns Service and 2005 Australian of the Year, gave an inspirational keynote on her journey through the medical ranks to becoming Western Australia's first female plastic surgeon and collaborating on innovative approaches to burns treatments. One of her many inspirational thoughts was to "learn something from everyday, so that tomorrow is better". The link to Agile was summed up by Janet McLean in a post on her Moving To The Light Side blog:

What she did talk about... could be interpreted as the core values of being Agile and its aim of continual improvement for a team: keep a positive attitude; stay open minded; be brave enough to try new techniques; push the boundaries; strive to always improve; trust and respect others within your team; think - how can we do things better? These might all sound like clichés but when someone like Fiona demonstrates how she has made massive strides in the burns field through such positive thinking, it surely is motivational to us all to try and make a difference in our own, small way each day in the jobs that we do.

Roy Singham, founder and chairman of ThoughtWorks, led the Day 2 keynote with a plea to the community to support software humanitarian efforts such as OpenMRS and remind the community that our social responsibility is to share the lessons learned in Agile with the rest of the world. Australian humanity hack nights have recently kicked off in Sydney and Melbourne with Brisbane and Perth to follow. James Hird, coach of the Essendon Football Club, was a very late substitution to the program and gave an impromptu but well received talk on leadership.

The remainder or the conference program was filled by a number of talks and workshops from practitioners on behalf of some of Australia's largest companies, demonstrating that many of the leading organisations in this part of the world are now well into their adoption of Agile. Speakers from financial institutions such as Suncorp, BankWest, NAB, IAG and BNZ and telecommunications giants Telstra and NBN Co shared their experiences alongside organisations including ThoughtWorks, Solnet, Rally Software, Majitek, REA Group, SEEK, Aconex, eBay and MYOB. Roy Singham calculated that if you compared the relative size of the Australian community to that of the United States, there would need to be close to 12,000 people at an equivalent conference.

Richard McAllister, a Project Manager at BankWest shared his views on the conference:

This is good stuff, everybody is learning and its a great community. People are talking and sharing and it feels very open source and not a closed club. There is a shift, it feels like we are at a tipping point here. People are starting to wake up to Agile.

Jason Yip, a Principal Consultant at ThoughtWorks, organiser of Sydney Lean Coffee and a fellow of the Lean Systems Society had the following thoughts around the conference:

There is surprisingly a lot of people here. Agile has gotten so mainstream, so what next? Most of the conference is still case studies of people doing stuff, it would be great to see a new ideas track next year.

Ed Wong, a Scrum Master and co-organiser of the Melbourne Agile and Scrum User Group and co-organiser of the upcoming LAST conference in Melbourne (a grassroots open conference for Lean, Agile and Systems Thinking practitioners) contrasted the Australian conference to those he has attended in the United Kingdom:

The conference covered a wide range of interesting topics. It was well run and I have been very impressed. Australian companies are still catching up and a little behind those in the UK, but it is much easier in Europe to get exposure It is good to see lots of speakers from Australia and New Zealand without the need to bring in others from across the world, as we have a pool talent here. At the upcoming LAST conference we hope to have the same level of engagement, but with a lot less people we will have more interaction and better conversations with a focus on practitioners rather than beginners.

Ilan Goldstein, director of AxisAgile and author of the upcoming book "Scrum Shortcuts Without Cutting Corners" had the following observations:

The growth is impressive, even more than the number of people, and this is indicative of the broader market. Aussies are innovative and resourceful and this ties in with the Agile spirit of "we're in it together, mate!" Australia is, however, dominated by bigger companies and we would have more variety in our stories if we had more of a startup culture here.

Edwin Dando, CEO and Agile Coach at Clarus and organiser of the Agile New Zealand conference shared his thoughts about the conference and state of Agile in the region:

The conference shows we are doing really well. It shows that we are at a point of maturity in IT, but business is the next step. Our risk is the danger of the large corporates that misunderstand and undo a lot of the good work that has been done by the community. The concern is that they are money driven while the community is values driven.

Erik Petersen, Consulting Technologist at Emprove, remarked that the conference compared well with those he had attended around the world:

This has been a great event with a large dynamic and home grown presentations of a good standard. It was pleasing to see a lot of large organisations sharing their journeys with surprising honesty which demonstrates there is a wide distribution of energy.     

More details about the conference and the program, as well as copies of the presentations, are available from the Agile Australia website.

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