Looking back at Agile 2009

Another conference has come and gone.  I’m home.  I’m exhausted.  I’m glad to have good internet connectivity again, and time to sit alone with my thoughts.

I had a fabulous time.  Through conferences such as this one, I now have dozens of friends from around the world that I rarely get to see.  I really enjoy getting together face to face.  Missa vitussa se poro on. (I hope I’ve spelled that correctly.)  And I spent time with friends that I previously only knew from Twitter and email.  And I met new friends that I’d not known before.  All of that was thrilling.  (I also didn’t get a chance to talk with some friends whom I know attended. Life is like that.)

I attended some great sessions.  I attended some sessions that were less great, but very interesting to me.  I attended some sessions that were great, but less interesting to me.  I didn’t attend any that were terrible.  I suppose there might have been some bad ones.  I heard rumors of such, but I’m not sure whether that’s an indication of the session or the expectations of the person reporting it.  I also didn’t attend sessions.  I didn’t attend some sessions because

  • there was another session I attended instead,
  • the session was full,
  • I thought that I’d done something similar in the past,
  • it was a “talking head” presentation (which I have a prejudice against),
  • I wanted to give some energy to the Live Aid project to support Agile Philanthropy,
  • I wanted to chill out in Open Jam and relax with casual conversation, or
  • I forgot until it was too late.

I didn’t maximize my time.  There is no optimization for life.  Instead, whether doing something that seemed important or something that seemed trivial, I merely tried to be in the present time, in the present location.  “Be here, now.”  Or, as Lyssa Adkins said in Build Your Team’s Collaboration Muscle, “be in present time.”  I left Slack for myself, rather than fill every moment with The Most Important Thing.  I highly recommend this technique.

I could talk about specific sessions and events I found enjoyable or helpful.  I could talk about things that I found annoying.  Certainly not everything was perfect.  It’s a human endeavor, after all.  Instead, I’d like to talk about what can be done to make Agile 2010 even better.

Jim Newkirk, the Conference Chair for Agile 2010, invited me to the conference retrospective.  This was mostly populated with stage producers and stage assistants. I had been merely a stage reviewer, and was initially hesitant.  I was happy to find that I could add a little value to this retrospective, and I found that there was a topic about which I was passionate that was important to many.

There were many concerns about the session selection process for this year’s conference.  I had concerns both from the vantage point of a reviewer on the inside of the process, and from the vantage point as a session author on the outside.  Finding that others had similar concerns, and different concerns about the same process, I volunteered to collect some of those concerns, organize them and summarize them, and report them to Jim for use in planning Agile 2010.  I also want to collect suggestions for improving the session selection process.  Please send your concerns and suggestions to agile2010 -at- gdinwiddie.com or you may leave a comment on this blog posting.

Thanks for your help.

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Comments (58) to “Looking back at Agile 2009”

  1. It seems like there already is a perception problem with producers also being presenters on a stage – I hadn’t heard the comment the surest way to get your proposal accepted is to be a producer\assistant producer.

    As for a an open review system, I don’t know. I would want some more information about it and I would want to know how other big, long running conferences select submissions. Other people have run into this problem before and have come up with solutions. We reinvnent the wheel?

  2. The problem with grouping proposals into stages after the fact ignores the fact that there are so many submissions that it would be difficult for even a team of people to do well.

  3. I have no experience managing a completely open review process – especially for a conference as large at this one. Can it work for a big conference?

    Another possibility is something I saw in a solicitation from another conference – they said that papers “will be subject to a double-blind review process”. I’m not sure just what that entails, but I assume it means the submitter doesn’t know who’s reviewing and reviewers don’t know the submission authors.

    If we had an anonymous system we wouldn’t need a rule saying you can’t submit proposals and be a reviewer. Could that work?

  4. XP Days Benelux has used an open review process, and XP Days London pretty much so. These are much smaller events than the Agile 20xx series, of course.

    Several commenters have mentioned that they have no personal experience in managing an open review process, or that Agile 2009 was actually the most open process they’ve personally seen. There have been expressions of fear that people might “game” an open review process. There have been suggestions to resort to illusion-of-control methods like a double-blind review process to try and prevent any possibility of gaming the system. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

    Those comments indicate that this group of people simply sees no practical way to apply agile thinking to the problem of organizing a large-scale conference. The only way they can see to do it is to revert to non-agile thinking. Okay. It is what it is. The logical conclusion, then, is that we need a different group of people.

    Maybe we should ask the organizers of the aforementioned events to take the lead in organizing Agile 2010. Their events haven’t been as large as Agile 20xx before, but the mechanisms they have used can be adapted to a larger event if people really want it to work. Some of the individuals involved in those events also have experience organizing past Agile 20xx events. Among them, there’s ample expertise in both agile thinking and large event planning.

    I believe it is possible to organize a large event without abandoning agile thinking. The reason I believe that isn’t that I’ve done it before personally. The reason is that I have confidence that an agile approach offers a practical way to solve problems. Besides, we’re only talking about the review process. Other aspects of event planning remain the same.

    Carlton asks, Why reinvent the wheel? The answer is that the agile community is in the business of reinventing the wheel. The whole movement is about changing the way people think about and act upon problems and challenges. If we’re the first to manage a large-scale event in an agile way, that’s a Good Thing; it’s a reason to be excited and enthused about the challenge, not a reason for fear and doubt. If we’re unwilling to live by the values we promote, then we’ve got nothing to talk about at a conference.

  5. @Olav you’ve asked what sessions I’d have liked to see in the Frontier page.

    I have one: more content about System Thinking (yes, I know that there was one presentation on that at the 2009 conference).
    I know that System Thinking is old stuff. But the fact is that I got interesting in Agile after it was hot. So I rarely get to see presentations on it, and I do not get enough pressure from peers to bother reading books on it. So, a presentation would have been valuable to me.

    Possibly contradictory with my call for advanced sessions. No matter.

  6. Eric in my mind there is nothing Frontier about Systems Thinking – in fact after talking to Rachel, Liz, Declan and Mike Sutton at the conference I’ve got a whole lot of reading backlog on the subject. In my mind this is far from edgy these days.

    In addition my long term hope is that we don’t need a Frontier stage at all. I would hope that edgy sessions far from the mainstream are found on every stage. That certainly happened on the Manifesting stage this year where we embraced Neuroscience (Linda and myself), Cognition, Psychology and Agile outside of software.

  7. This is a bit of a late response – not too late I hope.

    First of all, I should be clear that the Agile200x submission system is the best I have used, so the following comments are picking hairs. I’ll also confess to having a bias becuase I had nothing accepted this year!

    1. I thought the comment/review distinction was unclear. As a stage reviewer, I was unsure which to use sometimes. It took me a while before I figured out that reviews were visible to fewer people. So I’d prefer to have a single review type. The Stage committees can use all reviews to make their decisions.
    2. There was some talk that there was less gaming with this years system. I’m not convinced. Its possible any gaming was just less transparent due to the hidden reviews.
    3. I wonder whether early submitters were penalised – their sessions ended up being at the bottom of the list. How can we encourage and reward early submissions? These should be the ones that get most feedback and get the most iteration.
    4. Why was the deadline extended when there were already plenty of sessions? Again, this doesn’t encourage early submissions with lots of iteration. I’d like to see a fixed deadline for submissions, followed by a further fixed period for reviewing and iterating, before stage teams make their decisions.
    5. Should there be a higher bar for submissions? A minimum number of words? This would encourage people to submit well thought through ideas, and discourage people from submitting dozens of bare ideas at the last minute.
    6. It didn’t always seem clear which stage to submit to, and when people submitted to an inappropriate stage, then the process seemed a bit random. As a reviewer, I tended only to look at what had been submitted to the Frontier Stage, and quite likely missed Frontier Friendly topics which had been put on other stages, but didn’t get accepted. Could reviewers suggest alternate stages? Then as a reviewer I could filter for sessions suggested for my stage? Or as a submitter I could have the option not to specify a stage in the hope that it gets picked up by a stage reviewer?
    7. Relate to point 6 – while each stage produced a balanced program, I’m not sure the whole program was balanced. Could there have been more cross stage collaboration to help submissions find the right home?
    8. Having to log in to view submissions might have got in the way? I’d like to be able to view all submissions without having to log in, and only log when/if I want to review something.

    Agile2009 was still a great conference. These points are with the hope of making Agile2010 even better still!

    Karl

  8. […] Looking back at Agile 2009 – George Dinwiddie – The comments include a good discussion about ways to improve session selection. […]

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