This is my personal humble feedback on Agile Conference. I do make broad conclusions though, so feel free to provide your vision in comments.
I haven't visited Agile conferences for like 5 years, the last one was in Chicago. It was pretty good. The main innovations were Kanban and UX+Agile. Many sessions were still quite boring to any experienced agile practitioner. Now I'm in Orlando. Conference becomes huge. There are so many people around. But what about sessions? In 3 days I visited exactly one session that was really interesting and useful, it was about Netflix culture at DevOps track. All the others I visited were not useful, boring, kinda OK, way too abstract or completely trivial. Maybe I was just unlucky and missed all the good talks. Maybe, but I picked carefully, to be honest. I talked to some people and received mixed feedback, but in general it looks like conference content is not great. DevOps track looks very good, BTW, and I heard many good words about it.
How do I feel about all these things you ask me? I personally see a serious stagnation and the lack of innovations in agile community. Don't get me wrong. There are bright people with brilliant ideas, but it seems they are in opposition to the main trends. How's that happened?
Agile is about helping businesses to kick ass. To do that, there should be innovations in various directions. We, as an agile community, should invent new ways to help business understand what is valuable and what is not. Invent new development practices and try them in various contexts. Inspect organizations as a whole and invent new ways to detect problems and solve them on a system level. But what we have at the moment?
There are many topics about Scaled Agile frameworks. I visited several sessions and I have an opinion that speakers have no clue how to really scale agility. Proposed frameworks are kinda prescriptive and heavy. They reminded me RUP-days. You really can create a good framework based on RUP, but there were few successful cases.
SAFe looks complicated and it does not address root problems on my opinion. We need real structural transformations, while SAFe implies specific receipts and says that it will work in almost any context. How is that possible? Everything is context-dependent, and that is why many agile transformation initiatives failed and will fail. People just apply a recipe without deep thinking, ignoring context-specific things and expect it to work. It won't work in many cases, and you can't fix it without context-awareness.
SAFe has many good practices inside. It can help companies initially and you will see some tactical success, but I also think that in the long run SAFe is a strategic disaster. It may take 5+ years to feel that, but I don't believe that company will inject a true agile mindset starting with SAFe. It can happen, but it will be exceptional cases mostly. The really bad thing is that companies will not notice the problem. With waterfall the problem is (now) obvious, while with SAFe they will have an illusion that they are truly agile, while they are not.
So at the end of the day I have a perception that majority of speakers present some abstract theoretical frameworks with extremely poor argumentation. Why this might work? In which context? No clue.
I also wonder why we have no talks about Kanban here? Is Kanban agile or not? Agile community have personal troubles with Kanban approaches? C'mon, folks, this separation is childish.
All that sounds like rants without solutions so far. So I have some actionable proposals for the next Agile Conference. Here is my feedback:
- Add a decent mix of various disciplines. We can learn from complexity science, biology, sociology, sport, physics and other disciplines. Try to intrigue people from these disciplines to really mix their practices with our practices and invent something new finally. At least invite them to speak about things they know to stimulate our imagination and analogy thinking. Invite Dave Snowden, finally, to see his controversial view on scaling. There should be more perspectives. We need greater diversity.
- Have more real-life experience reports with real practices that work in some contextes. It will help to learn from each other and spread good practices. I know many good discussions are firing up between people, but why don't do that on sessions as well?
- There should be more science. People over the world do great research about group dynamic, development practices, cooperative games, etc. Invite them to share their researches.
- Invite bright business people to talk about marketing, agile workspace, new hiring practices, strategy, etc. It will finally help merge Agile and business together. Nothing is separate. We should see high-level pictures and learn from them.
- 75 minutes talks? Are you kidding me? Nobody can control attention for more than 45 minutes. Split these talks and make workshops longer, since 75 minutes are not enough for a decent workshop. I'd like to see more TED-like talks, short and precise. Experiment with that at least. Inspect and adapt.
In short, Agile Conference demands more inventions, real-life reports, more science and different format. Conference organization is just perfect, it really is. I can't imagine better. Content, however, is below average, and that is embarrassing for agile-minded community. We can do better.
The final thing is the slogan I saw yesterday. It is just unbearable to me: "Allow agile and waterfall work together" WTF?
I thought we were working on replacing waterfall and change the ways organizations work. Do we, as a community, still think it is a good idea? Or are we starting to agree with a status quo? I believe we are fucking not. There is no limit to perfection.
"Pirates are bold not safe" — These guys are doing something good