Agile2009 Trip Report

Last week’s Agile2009 in Chicago was a pleasant surprise in a couple of ways.  First, in a down economy the conference attracted nearly 1400 attendees from around the globe – which is outstanding considering many conferences organizers we’ve talked to are reporting a 30% decline in attendance. According to the organizers 60% of the attendees were first-timers at the conference which is a testament to the quality of the event. And, there was a large international contingent – we met lots of Aussies, Kiwis, Brits and Europeans; in fact it felt like 50% of the Agilists we spoke to were from outside the US – and great to meet them all! 

Agile2009 attendeesSecond, after four days of interacting with other conference goers we noticed two trends that were very different from last year’s conference:

a) The majority of attendees are now actively practicing Agile and have participated in multiple projects.  Last year it seemed many people were attending in order to learn about Agile in preparation for their first project.  This year, our informal (and unscientific) survey showed 53% have been personally involved in over 4 Agile projects.
OutSystems team at Agile2009
b) Sprint duration among participants has dramatically reduced from four weeks last year – to two week sprints this year.  During one of the conference sessions this year “Death by SCRUM Meetings,” a session attendee told us he estimated the majority of the audience who were polled on the average length of their sprints said two weeks.  This prompted the OutSystems team to do an informal survey of the people we talked to, which confirmed the number – two weeks is the norm for sprint durations.

Agile is definitely becoming main stream. Alistair Cockburn’s keynote “I Come to Bury Agile, Not to Praise It” made this point – the days of small co-located teams following the Agile Manifesto are dead and gone.  Today we have very large distributed teams tackling big problems which are changing the face of Agile as it was originally conceived.  The term Agile now encompasses so much more than just doing things faster – Agile is dead, long live agile.

Attendees at Agile2009 sitting at tables

As promised, here’s a summary of some of our favorite sessions and our main take-away’s:

I Come to Bury Agile, Not to Praise It – Alistair Cockburn
Main Take Away: Agile has grown up and no longer in the domain of the few; it has now received the attention of large scale enterprise and evolving faster in terms of maturity.  It is taking on a life of its own.  The speaker noted that he observed this to be true because Agilists are now in the “ri” stage of the “shu-ha-ri” concept.  “ri” being where an individual is now capable of inventing and blending concepts and into new approaches but still within the “Agile” umbrella.  (“shu” – learning a methodology, “ha” – collecting techniques, “ri” – inventing and blending techniques).

Introduction to SCRUM
– Henrik Kniberg
Main Take Away: Scrum seems to be the most popular of the agile methods because of its ability to incorporate any technique or tool in its use. Interesting quote for us agile & tools people “Do not develop an attachment to any one weapon or any school of fighting.” Miyamoto Musashi, 17th Century Samurai.

WANTED: Seeking Single Agile Knowledge Development Tool-set, Brad Appleton, Peter Alfvin

Main Take Away: Companies in very complex environments developing embedded applications, corporate applications and everything in between will continue to struggle with disparate tools.

Agile in the Enterprise Corporation, Panel: Israel Gat, Stephen Williams, Laureen Knudsen, Scott Killen  Main Take Away: Why Agile? It’s about the money!  Do feature budgeting.  Develop and maintain a release model in a business framework.  Get the organization on board within the dynamics of your specific company – collaborate.  Re-organize to Operational and Executive teams that are cross-functional and make their interaction with R&D asynchronous.

Marriott’s Agile Turnaround – Jesse Fewell Main Take Away:”Agile can’t fix bad strategy”

First, Kill All the Metrics – Niel Nickolaisen , Chris Matts
Main Take Away: Reward and punishment results in meaningless metrics and thus not all metrics we use are meaningful.  For a metric to be meaningful, it has to measure process and not people; they need to be aligned with the objectives and strategy of the organization; and should show trends.  Metrics that measure people tend to result in unhealthy competition between team members especially in a self-regulating / high performing team.

Strategies in Replacing Systems in Agile Projects – Niklas Bjornerstedt
Main Take Away: Presentation discussed a number of patterns in replacing systems and recognizing these patterns can help in the process.  Although there are patterns that can be used to help in transitioning users, migrating data, etc.; it still boils down to a case by case basis.

How to evolve a Product Backlog – Ronica Roth, Mark Kilby
Main Take Away: The main discussion centered on following the user work flow to evolve the product backlog.  Along with that, ask questions on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ primarily.  The ‘how’ questions need to focus more on the current processes and not necessarily on the future although it would be good to note that.

Agile Metrics – Dan Rawsthorne
Main Take Away: The talk was directed to organizations that are new to agile.  One of the key points is to level-set on metric-related terminology like what “done” means so that there is no confusion between team and customer.  A suggestion was put forth to create a “doneness criteria” which essentially is a checklist.  Other terms were velocity and capacity that accordingly most folks new to agile get confused on.  The speaker suggested that velocity = capacity until proven otherwise.  Capacity is what you estimate you can do and velocity is what you have proven you can do.


About the author

Mike Jones

Mike is a professed 'hater' of complexity. He has been in the IT industry since the mid 80's where he learned his technical skills at EDS and Texas Instruments. He believes there is a simpler way for IT professionals to deliver business value that requires a pragmatic mix of agile methods and application development tools.


Michel Ozzello

I think these are great summaries of the sessions, and give a good overview of what was discussed.
It’s also great that you added the links to the Agile2009 website, where the PDF of the session is available.

Tiago Severina

For those, like me, who couldn’t attend, as Michel Ozzelo stated, this are great summaries.
Thank you for the trouble!

When one studies the issue at hand, i have to agree with your endings. You understandably show knowledge about this topic and i have much to learn after reading your article.Many greetings and i will come back for any further updates.

Leave Your Comment