The Agile Tribe

Hi! Ho! Hi! Ho! It’s off to Agile conference world we go.

on May 14, 2010

Authors: Craig Smith and Susan Akers

It seems timely to talk about content of conferences now that the “season” seems to be almost upon us. There are many great Agile related topics from a wide and varied group of speakers the world over on offer. A call for papers is like a call to arms but wouldn’t it be nice if more presentations could move away from all the fantastical things that Agile does and share more of what we have learned from our failures. There is a lot to be learned from our failures and isn’t that what Agile is about – “doing so, in a safe to fail environment:”?

As Edward Phelps says:
“The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything. “

You’ve got to take your hat off to Suncorp which while certainly acknowledged Agile leaders in Australia particularly in the financial and banking industry, were not afraid to showcase their pathway along a sometimes rocky Agile road with a case study presented by Jody Podbury (Suncorp) and Lachlan Leasman (Thoughtworks) at last year’s inaugural Agile Australia conference. They focussed on their journey adopting Agile in BAU. They discussed what they tried, then failed at, what they then tried instead, and its current evolution. It was the story of a transition from a directed and managed support group to a self-leading, self-governing and self-correcting team.

The great thing about the Agile community is that many of our worldwide conferences encourage experience reports where real people talk openly about their real Agile issues. And most of the time, talking to any of the attendees in the hallways opens up a wide discussion of corporate successes and failures that would have been hidden behind closed doors just a few years ago.

The problem however, is that most of these real world stories are dwarfed by the large number of self-serving or consultancy selling presentations that seem to dominate most technical conferences. There is so much “good news” noise out there about Agile that finding a gem from amongst the fool’s gold stories put out by the fan boys can mean putting your hard hat on to really go data mining.

Furthermore, presenters often talk about their sessions being open exchanges but most tend to be one way communication streams with minimal questions/comments.

What about the speakers taking some time to get real interaction and ideas from the audience of how they have overcome issues perhaps in an innovative way? We not only learn from our own mistakes but do also learn from others. As an Agile community we are very open to sharing our stories with each other.

Isn’t it now the time, as the rest of the world is starting to catch on to the Agile buzz, that we share our honesty with the wider world in a more collaborative fashion?

A parting thought:

“Flops are part of life’s menu. Everyone makes mistakes. High achievers learn by their mistakes.
By doing that, an error becomes the raw material out of which future successes are forged.
Failure is not a crime.
Failure to learn from failure is.”

– Unknown


2 responses to “Hi! Ho! Hi! Ho! It’s off to Agile conference world we go.

  1. Phil says:

    I think we do talk about ‘failures’ in many ways although not calling them ‘failures’ so openly. You mentioned Jody and Lachlan’s presentation at Agile 2009 but the keynote by Jean Tabaka also talked about dysfunctions and potential problems….these experiences shared are based on failures …though couched in positive language.

    If people want to believe they will…they can find both good and bad aspects in every story…the ones who demand the bad stories are born /breed disbelievers and IMHO nothing will convince them to change or try something new.


  2. James says:

    Yep. There are a couple of interesting arguments for and against talking about negative experience reports at conferences. Going public with projects that went wrong is about making yourself vulnerable, a lot of people arent confident with this especially outside the agile environment. Ironically if you read “Liquid Leadership” by Damian Hughes, he states vulnerability = power!

    Standing up and saying this went wrong still looks bad to some people, to their bosses, to their peers etc.
    Some companies do not want this to be made public for the same reasons, they think their clients will think less of them.

    But true Agile projects are all about the learnings. I do agree that if all anyone hears about is about how great Agile and successful it is – they won’t believe in it because we are making it sound like a silver bullet which we all know it’s not!

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