What is it?
The European equivalent of the Agile20xx conferences, this year held at the University of Limerick Ireland. With less than 200 delegates (including presenters, paper writers, attendees, and organising committee) it trades off the wide spread of topics you get with 1000+ people for the corridor conversations and many opportunities for networking.

General Observations
With participation significantly down from the previous year, plenty of people talked whether or not it was losing its appeal. For the organising committee, they thought they should rebrand it (to something broader than XP) as they think that turns a lot of people away without realising the topics are much broader. Other corridor conversations uncovered its focus on the more academic world was starting to turn practitioners and industry-experienced people away, something I know some people reacted to based on last year’s experience.

Trends in the agile community
Scandanavia continues to adopt and seemingly lead most European adoption of agile, with representatives from Finland and Norway consulting and leading change in organisations. There didn’t seem to be many representatives from a single country, with the more noticeable trend focused around companies (like Siemen’s Nokia) sending representatives to learn more about agile.

Compared to many other years, it doesn’t seem like the European agile community is leading much innovation in this space. A number of sessions focused more on the softer side of agile including agile coaching, organisational change, and most of the keynotes more focused on case studies more than cutting edge ideas (with the exception of Dave Snowden).

Memorable Keynote on Complexity and Agile
Dave Snowden is an opinionated and thought provoking speaker with both feet in the industry and academic worlds. He argues that without a sound scientific model, you will never get the most benefit out of things and with that, talked about the relevance of complex systems (opposed to ordered or chaotic ones) to agile. I can’t do his talk justice and his company’s website has many more resources about this, including a podcast of his keynote (see Resources link).

To put in briefly, most scientific models base their assumptions on the idea of order or chaos. Order allows you to plan, chaos allows you to predict based on statistical analysis. He argues that most models are actually complex – you cannot plan or predict based on statistics because there is not true cause and effect between items. In a complex system, the agents in the system change in response to other things going on in the system. This is the case where repeating the same thing and expecting a different outcome (in a different context) would be highly likely.

He talks about ways of managing complex and complicated systems instead of what most people focus on (simple and chaotic) using the Cynefin framework. For complex systems, it suggests managing best using a Probe-Sense-Respond. In complicated systems, it’s Sense-Analyse-Respond. How this works in the real world, is about understanding what system you might be dealing with and use the appropriate system. If you’re working in a complex system, it’s worth probing (spiking), sensing (look for positive and negative behaviours) and responding (by encouraging factors that lead to positive behaviours and discouraging factors that lead to negative behaviours).

In many ways, I feel this is one of the ways that we commonly work.

  • Probing = Time boxing work with some monitoring
  • Sensing = Retrospecting and reflecting about things that went well, less well
  • Responding = Adapting the process, or environment to suit

Agile Coaching becoming more important
The Agile Coach role (perhaps what might be mapped best to Iteration Manager for us) is starting to become a recognised role with the need to investigate what it means and help others into it. Liz Sedley and Rachel Davies ran two sessions focused on what it means to be an agile coach and what things the role focuses on.

Feedback on my workshops
After meeting a number of delegates from previous years, I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of them are still successfully using the material from my Test Driving Your S-Wing session I ran two years prior.

I also enjoyed running this year’s workshop called Biohazard: Engineering the Change Virus, focused on understanding change at an individual level rather than at an organisational level. We had plenty of great discussion and lots of story-telling that at least made me feel people understood the material and have a better chance of introducing beneficial change when they go back to their day job.