Wednesday, June 9, 2010

XP 2010 Trondheim

Normally conferences knock me off my routine
so much I don't blog about them, but this time I'm determined to write about what inspired me before much time slips by. XP Trondheim was amazing for me--it was hard yet energizing, and the best thing I got out of it was a chance to talk, directly, with a lot of people who I've met online in discussion forums, or people whose blogs/books I follow. For example, pictured right you can see me chatting with Diana Larsen (co-author of Agile Retrospectives and chair of the Agile Alliance board), on our way to the conference banquet Tuesday evening (photo credit Hubert Baumeister). This rest of this blog will include general comments about the conference as well as links to my session-specific comments.

As I've mentioned here before, I'd never been to a large conference run by the Agile Alliance, all due to cost--though as the years have gone and I've read the post-conference blogs I've been feeling more and more left out of some great discussions. I've succeeded at bringing some of those discussions to my own back yard, by supporting, organizing and speaking at small (free/low-cost) conferences and meetings, but I was really curious to see what else was to be had at the big events. So this year, when I realized I'd get free entrance if I were a speaker, I submitted proposals and got accepted at Agile France and XP 2010 Trondheim. In addition, as soon as I announced my plans to go, my employer graciously picked up travel expenses (thanks, Smartesting)!

While I've proudly stated that user group meetings (like Agile Philly) and Agile Tour can run conferences at 1/10th the price of the big conferences, I should have admitted it was not a fair comparison. Part of the reason I wanted to go to XP 2010 was to see, for myself, what the difference was, and I have concluded both kinds of conferences are necessary. I think that for many practitioners, attending a big international conference like this costs around one month's salary, and if their employer won't cover this expense, it's not affordable. This pay-to-play dynamic is something I want to fight against. On the other hand, this conference attracted so many attendees and speakers from all over the world that we were able to find people who were experts on any particular agile topic. I was able to ask Esther Derby (when I was at Agile France) what she thought about games and simulations in a stable team environment--and was happy to hear that, like me, she doesn't often play games in teams--they're more for conferences. I was able to ask "clarifying questions" of speakers like Cory Foy on the Craftsmanship session (though he later said I was grilling him) and David Anderson (during his talk on lean--I got stage fright as I asked a question in front of the whole conference body so I don't remember what he said--but I think I asked about how to control for side effects of measuring something like wip limits) and Mary Poppendieck on her views of slack (she hasn't seen it work when it's a fixed percent of the week or it's on a dedicated day) and product ownership (POs should only be conveners, and teams should prioritize their work and take responsibility for success of their product). Still, these interactions were not all--I was also able to connect with practitioners who I already know through the online community. It was always flattering when someone came up and said hi because they recognized my name (happened maybe 10 times), and it was really fun to associate names and faces as I did likewise for people I recognized. We were often able to drill deeper into conversations we'd had before, or talk about new things, like bringing an Agile Tour stop to a city near them ;)

The first day was all about workshops, including the one I did on the Agile Skills Project: "How do I measure up?". I arrived at the conference around 10am, tried to check in to the hotel, but no rooms were available yet. So I picked up my registration packet and went to my first official session, User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton.

There was a 30 minute pause after every session--food and discussion--perfect. Though I always had a hard time breaking the ice (and I felt terribly lonely for much of these networking sessions), I wanted to meet new people and so I just kept saying hi to strangers. By the end of the conference every time I stepped into a room I knew a few people. I'm sure that if I had stuck with a smaller group of people the whole time it would have been easier, and maybe I'd have had stronger connections with those folk--but I think that I can follow up later on every connection I made, so I just kept reaching out to new people.

Main conference sessions were organized in an innovative fashion--they had a primary speaker followed by several 10 minute talks about research and experience reports. Unfortunately, these speakers didn't coordinate their talks in advance, and there was a frustrating amount of overlap. I'd like to see them be more organized and to see sessions that are run in more of a pull fashion--I feel like there wasn't enough discussion. Regardless of the lower bandwidth presentation styles, I really got a lot out of Scott Page's keynote an Diana Larsen's talk on Culture and Organization.

The second day of the conference ended with several hours of open sessions - starting around 6pm. I suggested a couple topics near to my heart--but ended up only running one: the Agile Welcoming Circle. There were two other open spaces sessions I really enjoyed--one was on serious games (I liked the game where we stand in a circle, eyes closed, and count to 20 without speaking over one another, and also the game where we all stand in a line and step forward simultaneously). The other session was called Overcoming Fear at the Workplace. Though I don't necessarily agree that fear is something that should be overcome--I know it is a very important topic--and is well summarized by Ralph Miarka here:

On the last day of the conference, Deborah Hartmann Preuss and I ran a workshop called Speak Like a Native. I was happy with the outcome and hope to run the workshop again soon.

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