Reflections on Agile2015

With Guest Blogger Shane Hastie.

Earlier last month I was fortunate to be able to join 2300 fellow agilists for the Agile 2015 conference, held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Washington, DC. The Agile conference is the Agile Alliance‘s flagship event every year and this year the event was a huge success. Registrations were closed in July as the conference places were sold out.

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There were 17 tracks covering topics in four areas: People, Process at Scale, Technical and Special. The Special topics covered Government (part of the reason for putting the conference on in the DC area), Stalwarts (invited speakers who are recognised leaders in the agile community in a fishbowl style) and Agile Boot Camp (introduction to basic concepts for people new to agile). The full list of tracks and the track hosts can be found here.

The Agile USA conferences have an open submission process for talk selection, with reviewers providing feedback to submitters and working with them to hone the talk proposals. This year there were over 2000 talk proposals from which the reviewers and track hosts had to whittle them down to 220 sessions over the 15 tracks. This meant the participants were spoilt for choice with a wide range of excellent talks going on in any timeslot.

Feedback on the sessions was generally very positive. The talks were mainly targeted at a practitioner audience who had already adopted agile approaches. In marketing terms agile adoption is now in the late-majority takeup phase. Most organisations who build software have adopted agile for at least some of their projects. Traditional “waterfall” development is clearly out of favour globally with less than 20% of organisations now saying that waterfall is their preferred method for software development (Forrester research).

There were three keynote talks by Luke Hohmann, Jessie Shternshus and James Tamm. The keynotes were recorded and can be viewed on the Agile Alliance Learning Center. The Alliance video recorded about 50 of the sessions and these will be released to the Learning Center over the coming months.

One special event was the Industry Panelist session – this is the 5th year the conference has hosted a panel discussion by industry analysts. The theme was Agile Trends and Future Direction. I wrote a news item about it here.

A very strong theme from all the analysts was the growth of agile outside IT and the emergence of business agility as an important topic going forward. In answer to a question about what was not being addressed that should be:

  • Agile is broader than software development, move beyond software development to areas such as embedded systems, systems and product development. There needs to be a rigor and discipline so these practices can be applied in heavily regulated environments.
  • Challenge and resist the pressure to bring into agile the practices from the non-agile era that are trying to constrain and restrict the collaborative, self-organising ethos of agile. An example is the notion of estimation – we need to estimate and budget but we do not need to identify the “requirements” in order to do so, we have better approaches today. There are too many old ideas which are creeping back and need to go away because they don’t work.
  • The tension between the way the organisation as a whole is being run and the way agile teams are being run. The change needed is at the organisation level and it is important for the economy as a whole as it is stifling the ability to innovate. Agile has the solution – we need to communicate these ideas to the organisation as a whole.
  • Going further than even the organisation, using agile thinking to address global problems – these ideas can be used to address the large and complex problems the world faces. Looking at the global environment as a complex system of systems and using agile ideas to empower people to tackle the big problems.
  • We need to get a better handle on what software value is – software runs the world today and we don’t examine the underlying why of our software products. There is a lot of literature on diffusion of innovation and we need to find ways to incorporate these ideas into the agile lexicon.

There were 55 commercial sponsors and 6 media sponsors at the conference. An interesting change this year was the presence of a number of sponsors using the conference to recruit people – this is the first time that has happened.

In addition to the conference sessions three organisations had video booths set up to record interviews with speakers and attendees – The Agile Alliance Vimeo channel has interviews done by Dave Prior and Solutions IQ used their sponsor booth to record interviews rather than actively promoting their services, these are available from the Solutions IQ resources page.

Craig Smith, Manuel Pais and I recorded 34 interviews for InfoQ which will be released over the period September to December this year. InfoQ coverage of the conference will be published and available on this landing page.

The social highlight of the conference is always the party on the Thursday night, and this year was no exception – the theme was Superheroes and capes and masks abounded. Astute observers may recognise the heroes in this picture:

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As always the Agile 2015 conference was a great event, lots of learning for practitioners at all levels of experience, wonderful networking and community building and an opportunity to share ideas with like-minded people from all around the world.
If you get a chance to attend an Agile USA conference I strongly recommend going. Next year the conference will be in Atlanta, GA from 25-29 July 2016.

Shane Hastie was a speaker at Agile Australia 2015.

These reflections were originally shared here.

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