Agile 2017: A Review and Retrospective

Agile 2017 Banner
Agile 2017 Banner

Agile 2017 just finished up last week and I thought enough time had passed to provide a good review and rumination on the conference. The tl;dr version of this post is that I thought the conference was good – a LOT of sessions, some great conversations, and some awesome opportunities to expand the agile practice.

The Keynotes

Turn the Ship Around Cover
Turn the Ship Around Cover

There were two keynotes I was able to attend – the opening and closing ones. David Marquet, of Turn the Ship Around fame, gave the opening keynote and it was as good as I expected. He has done a lot of work since leaving the US Navy to help organizations turn their “ships around”. He used Poll Everywhere to provide real-time polling during the keynote, which I hadn’t seen before. It was eminently cool to see how everyone was reacting to the content.

The closing keynote was from Denise Jacobs about silencing our inner critics. One of the Audacious Salon sessions (discussed below) was about the Impostor Syndrome or the belief that you aren’t as good as you think you are. This is in contrast to Dunning-Kruger effect, something some very famous people have been susceptible to for millennia. Her session really encouraged attendees to face their inner critics through a series of exercises. It was a great way to end the main sessions.

The Sessions

There were so many tracks and sessions it would have been impossible – and unhealthy! – to try to attend everything. There were a couple of sessions that really stood out for me, though.

  • Distributed Teams Session with Sam Laing and Karen Greaves
    Sam and Karen discussed a variety of ways to work with distributed teams. Since Sam and Karen live in South Africa, they’re pretty used to having to work with non-local teams. The best thing about the session was that the groups themselves came up with a variety of solutions to some of the most difficult problems. And nothing can beat the Conference Call in Real Life shown in the session…
  • The Ultimate Agile Mix Tape with Tommy Norman
    Tommy has a lot of experience working with agile and lean methodologies. His session focused on the ways that those methodologies work together and against one another. Tommy did a great job of leading the group through those challenges.
  • HR Performance Management with Dan Sloan
    Dan followed my session at Agile 2017 with a session that focused on the HR portion of agile transformations. I loved the case studies he provided for making substantive changes in organizations. Despite the depth of my involvement in these transformations, I learned a lot from Dan’s session.
Tommy Norman Agile 2017
Tommy Norman Agile 2017

The biggest thing at Agile 2017 was the Audacious Salon. Each session was designed to tackle some of the biggest problems and blaze new trails. If you attend an Agile conference, make time to go to at least one of these sessions.

Agile 2017 Conversations

The most important element of going to one of these conferences is to meet and talk with the people making changes and blazing the trails we’ll be following for years. I was thankful to chat with quite a few people. In the end, I found these random conversations, sometimes in between sessions, the most important parts of the conference.

The Google Document

Much like the Reynolds Pamphlet (with a hat top to Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton), the Google Document really got a lot of attention at the conference. With an agile conference where the goal is to be respectful of diversity, it was difficult to not discuss it. And there were some deep and surprising conversations on the document. The mid-week keynote from Jez Humble spent a portion of the time bringing up and discussing the topic.

In general, I think there are a lot of people who would like to have justification for how they feel. I’ve never felt that women or minorities don’t have a place in tech. Many of the most amazing engineers – and managers – I’ve worked with have been women and minorities. And I think that the social ecosystem at play here is far more complicated than genetics can explain.

Whether or not Google’s diversity programs are helping is not something I can speak to, but I do think there are a lot of reasons why things are the way they are. Diversity programs can help even the playing field, but there’s the potential to have a lot of landmines.

Closing Thoughts

The conference was a great opportunity to meet some of the people moving the field forward. Seeing those people present their ideas and having the random conversation with them are some of the highlights of my week in Orlando. And the work being done in the Audacious Salon is always cutting edge and bold.

I strongly recommend sharing your experiences by submitting to speak at a conference or even just attend one. It’s probably the most important step you can take in your agile journey since you started down the path. If you need or want help, reach out to me – I’m more than willing to help out. I’ve been fortunate to speak at a few conferences and am thankful for the opportunities to share what I know and meet some amazing thinkers. Getting involved in your local agile group and talking with like minded folks will definitely keep your fires burning strong.

Feliz entrenamiento, mis amigos! (Happy coaching, my friends!)

Bill DeVoe