Agile on the Beach – Day 2

After the first day of Agile on the Beach I had a restful sleep in the excellent student accommodation.  The next morning started with a tasty English breakfast provided by the campus kitchens.

The second day of the event was kicked off with a second keynote speaker, Gabriel Steinhardt, about his take on Marketing Driven Product Management.  The talk started off very well, with an overview and definition of the Product Owner role and where Gabriel sees it fitting into product development – it is indeed true that in many places the role lacks definition.
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Gabriel then spent some time discussing where the role fits in a classic hierarchical company structure, followed by what seemed like advocating for the Software Development Team to be removed as much as possible from clients and even decision making related to the product.  This all felt a bit too “command and control” for my liking – he seemed overly concerned with putting people into boxes.  It was at this point that his talk began to become controversial – in an agile conference with a stream aimed at Developers and another at Teams, his points felt incongruent to the overall feel.  Though, as Alan Kelly stated, a controversial keynote is an excellent way to get people thinking. It’s good to break the effect of the echo chamber now and then, and I appreciated Gabriel’s points about Product Owners, but we’ll have to disagree on the role Developers should play.

After the Keynote I attended Steve Freeman’s talk Fractal TDD. This turned out to be the same talk I had seen presented at Devs in the Ditch. Regardless, as with all forms of learning, repetition is extremely helpful in assimilating new information and I appreciated the recap.
Seb Rose was up next in the Software Craftsmanship track with Good Test, Bad Test.  Seb has six attributes he feels define a good test and he backed these up with examples. A very good talk although I disagree slightly on one or two small things, but these are personal niggles and will need a blog post of their own.
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Lunch was once again a range of sandwiches and a short session by Tanya Krywinska who was appealing to the general community for feedback and suggestions on a range of Games Development degree courses she intends to launch. I felt that some of the audience had forgotten what it was like to be at university as they made statements that the university fees alone should be enough impetuous to fully engage students in group work. I distinctly remember money and fees being a “future problem” that “future me” would resolve (and 10 years later that future is nearly here as my loan dwindles) and group work being something fraught with egos and procrastination.

I suggested regular 1-2-1s to highlight any group issues, although I conceded that this may not be practical. Also, regular demos, as in Scrum, could help maintain focus.
For the rest of the day I decided to leave the Software Craftsmanship track and saw Judith Andersen’s talk. This was probably my favourite talk of the event. Judith explained how, when groups grow, they reach certain numbers which cause a change in the dynamics – increased channels of communication, the formation of cliques, etc.  She included her tactics for tackling and overcoming these problems, which are a function of our human nature, and dispelled some myths. The incorrect assumption that talking about feelings is unprofessional being an extremely important one. I highly recommend watching the video.
Finally, I stayed on the Teams track and saw a talk enticingly entitled The “Just Do It” Approach to Change Management. Unfortunately I could not maintain my attention during this presentation. I don’t know if this is a reflection on me and how tired I felt or the speakers. They had attempted to do a kind of double act where they bounce jokes off each other, which I always feel is so difficult to get right that it mostly ended up feeling awkward.

All in all, it was a good conference. It was small, friendly and with interesting talks. The organisation was good too – many events forget to add a few minutes between presentations and they soon begin to go off schedule as laptops must be setup and attendees move from room to room.
I would also like to than Alan Kelly who badgered me into submitting my presentation – I honestly didn’t think people would consider it worthwhile but I’m happy to have been proven wrong.
I hope to see everyone again next
year on the 5th & 6th September.

Agile on the Beach 2013 – Day 1

This is the first time I’ve attended Agile on the Beach and I feel it was a very successful event.  There were three tracks, Software Craftsmanship, Teams and Business.  I almost exclusively attended the Software Craftsmanship track and a couple from the Teams track.

The event kicked off with a keynote from Dan North.  He explained his view on mastery – a progression from apprentice and journeyman with the defining characteristics of each.  Dan ties his talk together with a story of his own journey to the mastery of a particularly difficult origami fold called the Jackstone – a fold he attempted as a child, but failed to master until decades later.

Jim Barrett had the first slot in the Software Craftsmanship track and he was unfortunately beset by some technical difficulties.  After the initial hiccups he dived into giving an overview of Clojure.  I haven’t done anything in the language before, nor have I tried anything in Lisp which it is based upon and so was interested in learning of its power.  Unfortunately I feel he spent too much time on the syntax.  I personally don’t get much out of watching people code simple snippets on-screen.  I realise this isn’t very constructive feedback.  Maybe it would have worked better as a workshop with a Koans approach or with some direct comparisons between Clojure and Java code to show the advantages and differences.

(negative) feedback

Marcin Floryan was up next with a presentation focussed on feedback and how important it is to collect, review and act upon relevant feedback you can gather about your system.  An enjoyable presentation with a dash of humour.

Lunch was a variety of sandwiches, nothing particularly special, but nothing bad either – vegetarian options were well represented and there was plenty available to ensure you got your fill.  I know I’m commenting on food, which may seem inconsequential compared to the presentation content, but I feel it’s an important part of keeping up the stamina and morale of all attendees and speakers.

After filling our bellies James Lewis had the difficult after lunch slot but he managed to keep us interested with an overview of how systems built as microservices can create highly reactive and flexible ecosystems.  This is essentially how the architecture is designed at 7digital – small, focussed internal HTTP based services supplying functionality for their bounded contexts.  We’ve found it to be highly successful and it was good to see it being presented.

I took the stage next, hiding my nervousness by cajoling the audience into a Mexican Wave, a silly thing to do, but it made the distance between us feel smaller.  I believe my presentation went well and I fielded many questions, some of which I am now finding to be repeated each time I give the presentation and as such I must find ways to incorporate the answers into my slides.  I’ve got answers to some previous questions asked listed on a blog post here.

I’m afraid that I didn’t attend the final session as I was too amped after my talk (apologies to Phil Nash) – I’m still getting accustomed to speaking and I find that it can knock me sideways once the adrenaline wears off.  I hung around in the communal area, grabbed some coffee and wrote up some notes for the day.

The day was finished up with a few Lightening Talks of which the highlight was a method for visualising problems and obstacles, which I believe the person called The Mercado Technique, but I must have heard wrong because I can’t find any sources of this on Google.  If anyone managed to get the proper name, or the name of the person who presented it, please let me know. Update: @AnthonySteele informs me that it is The Mikado Method and @EwanMilne let me know that @facilligent had presented it.

https://twitter.com/Agileonthebeach/status/375701598535954432

The day wrapped up with a Beach Party which included a free pint of the local ale and a hog roast (veg burger option too).  The British weather let us down a little and it was slightly cold and windy, but nevertheless the sunset was beautiful and the conversations were interesting.  A good first day.

Slides and videos from the event are being added here.