Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Agile2008 (and Glasto 2008)

Under the inspired guidance of Rachel Davies, Agile2008 modelled itself on Glastonbury Festival. I found myself performing at both, which came as a bit of a surprise.

Aside: I'll leave the muck and general debauchery of Glasto to your imaginations - suffice it to say that I was entirely sober, stayed at my Mum's, and was on-stage with my wife*. With 25 stages and 150000 revellers spread across a Somerset valley, Glastonbury's scale is as staggering now as it was when I first went in 1987 (no wife, no sleep, not sober). It turns out I'm no less impressionable at 40 than I was at 19. I loved it.

With 1500 people, Agile2008 was a couple of orders of magnitude smaller than Glastonbury. Like Glastonbury, it was as fascinating as it was overwhelming. Attendance was about as big as a relatively-technical hotel conference gets, but the truly staggering element was the 25 concurrent tracks. Being a power-law thing, this of course did not mean 60 people in each session, but hundreds in a few, and a small handful of patient listeners in most others. It meant that nobody saw more than a tiny fraction of the material on offer. However, the keynotes** were attended by a vast majority of participants, and served to align the subjects of conversation. With this, and the attention given to breakout areas, triggers for discussion, and informal entertainment/events there was a clear feeling of community. 

Performing or not (unless you're headlining), these events are at least as much about going and being with the crowd as they are about seeing the stars. You're as likely to love an act you stumble upon as an act you've waited years to see. I'm perversely proud of wandering away from the mighty (and very favourite) Massive Attack at the height (depth?) of their Other Stage thunder and into the elderly groove of the wonderful (and utterly new to me) Ethiopiques. I'm happy to have voted with my feet in Ron Jeffries / Chet Hendrickson's surprisingly artificial Natural Laws of Software Development and just as happy to have made the temporary acquaintance of that embittered sage, Brian Foote. I crossed paths with Toby Mayer half-a-dozen times, each time coming away with insight and inspiration.

The most interesting element for me was the degree to which the (formal) practices of Agility were not only reinvented by each team, but to a significant extent rejected. Two talks highlighted this particularly well:

Bob Martin's keynote gave the most visceral example, as he asked everyone in the room to put their hands up if they were involved with an agile project, then read a list of common practices and asked people to put their hands down as he listed practices which they did *not* do. By the time he had got about five items down his list, 1500 hands in the air had reduced to just one group, and a couple of dozen isolated hands across the hall. His next point; 'keep your hands up if all your tests are automated' took out the group (oddly enough, a gang of testers from Menlo Innovations) and only very few individuals remained in the game.

Scott Ambler's talk (which packed the 'Questioning Agile' stage/room) put real numbers on this phenomenon with a survey from Dr Dobbs in February. You can read his conclusions ("Agile in Practice: What Is Actually Going On Out There?") on his site, but better yet see a video of the talk (from about 5 feet from where I was squashed in) on InfoQ. You might be interested to know that he's made his data available for analysis. I've been looking through it from a testing point of view for a financial client, and his conclusion seems supported: "The easier practices, particularly those around project management, seem to have a higher adoption rate than the more difficult practices (such as TDD) ... For all the talk about TDD that we see in the agile community, it’s nowhere near as popular as doing a bit of up-front modeling, which we rarely hear anything positive about.". Indeed, I'd be tempted to say that the numbers indicate that practices related to testing are typically among the less-likely to be used. None the less, 80% of respondents felt they had better quality and happier customers. 

For those of you who are interested, my own talk (also on the Questioning Agile stage) went well (rather better than the Guardian Stage at Glasto), captured a good audience and generated some fruitful discussions. I took my slightly-jetlaggy part in the pre-conference "functional test tools" workshop (a physical extension of the ongoing discussion on yahoo group aa-ftt) which was worthwhile, but not terribly conclusive.

An excellent event - great for new perspectives, for new people, and for fun. I'd certainly go to Glastonbury again - and with any luck, Agile20xx.

~ o ~

* she leads, and I sing in, the London Bulgarian Choir. The lovely British Sea Power lent us part of their acoustic spot in the Guardian tent, and the girls sang with them for songs on the John Peel stage and the Left Field stage.

** James Surowiecki on diversity/wisdom of crowds, Alan Cooper on engineering user experience and iterative/incremental methods, Bob Martin on a 5th line to the Agile Manifesto ("we value craftsmanship over crap" - although I think there are efforts to make this more boardroom-friendly)

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