Agle 2007

Next time, I'll be writing more about the sessions I attended, and that will have a rather more up-beat tone, since they were pretty good. This post contains my general observations about the conference, though, and they are not quite so good.

So, a somewhat belated write-up of Agile 2007, since I've been as sick as a dog pretty much since I got back from it.

I'm sure that had something to do with spending a week in a refrigerated dungeon. It wasn't clear, upon arrival, where the conference was going to be; the hotel didn't look big enough. Turns out that the conference centre is in the basement. And the sub-basement. And the floor below that. No natural light, no clocks, no external sounds or environmental cues. This plus jet-lag contributed to a disconnected, floating feeling. That and the mammoth programme.

1100 people attended this year, and it is is seemingly the belief of the conference committee that this requires a very full programme to keep them all busy all the time. Individuals and their interactions, eh? No, no, no, session:coffee:session:lunch:session:coffee:session:awkward evening hi-jinks, that's the way. Apparently, next year is going to be even bigger.

And this programme (and session materials) has to be fixed far, far in advance. Responding to change, eh? There's nothing like eating your own dogfood, and is nothing like eating your own dogfood. Trouble is, to get enough sessions to fill that many slots you have to accept a lot of sessions, which means that the bar is necessarily lower than it might otherwise be.

There is no there there

The biggest problem with the venue was that, being spread over three (four, if you count the main hotel atrium) floors it had no identifiable centre, no focus for circulation, so fewer opportunities for the ad-hoc meetings that make these shows so valuable. The nearest thing to a "crush" was the CWAC ("Conference Within A Conference"), a rather half-hearted OpenSpace-ish sort of affair in the most remote part of the centre. More of a "Conference Tacked On The Side Of A Conference" Apparently, the organizers of the CWAC chose that room themselves on the basis that it was broken up by pillars, of which I can see the sense. But really, the committee should have had the intestinal fortitude and spinal rigidity to say "no, we'll figure something out with the pillars, but the place for for the open space is at the heart of the conference."

General observations: fewer "rock stars"; more vendors; more women; more vendors; more non-programmers; more vendors; good international presence; more vendors.

Cheap at Half the Price

Did I mention the vendors? Some years ago I was speaking at Spa, and amongst other things was asked to join in an evening entertainment whereby a bunch of us had to give a speech both for and against a topic. I drew "extreme programming" (which was still a hot topic at the time ;) and one of the points against it that I made was that while it's all well and good that Beck tells us
Listening, Testing, Coding, Designing. That's all there is to software. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.
but in fact almost everyone in the room was selling something. And furthermore, "no-one", I said, "is going to get rich charging commission on the sale of these things" and I threw the handful of index cards that held my notes for the talk to the ground. Martin Fowler I noticed was nodding vigorously at that point.

Well, these days there are all these folks who very definitely are selling something: great big honking lumps of tool intended to "simplify" the planning, management and execution of Agile projects.

Like Cheese?

So what does that all add up to? I think it adds up to a community that has become "mature". Maturity is one of those concepts that the petit bourgeoisie use to rationalise their fear and loathing of freedom and imagination. This has its up side: a "mature" flavour of Agile is going to be a much easier sell to a large range of large corporate clients (I include government departments under this heading) than the Zen/Hippy flavour, but it doesn't have anything like the capacity to be a radically dynamic force for truth and light in the world. I looked briefly into Mary Poppendieck's session, which sounded very interesting but was completely full and I didn't want to stand for 2 hours. I'm beginning to feel that there's something slightly creepy about the rush to embrace Lean principles in the agile community, because Lean is all about maximising throughput by minimizing waste. Now, most development teams need to improve their production, it's true, but isn't there a bit more to life than that?

Brian Marick was handing out posters listing the items that he feels are missing from the Agile Manifesto, which are: discipline, skill, ease, joy. Presumably, in that order. Doesn't that sound like a good deal?

1 comment:

Brian Marick said...

"Brian Marick was handing out posters listing the items that he feels are missing from the Agile Manifesto, which are: discipline, skill, ease, joy."

I was dumb when I made up the poster and didn't put a link to my XP Day Toronto talk.