Agilia Conference Day 2

I was quite happy about the first day of the Agilia conference as you might already know. And was looking forward for the second one.

I'm not sure what is your experience with keynotes. Quite frequently those are the least interesting talks at any conference. And I'm afraid to report Agilia was not an exception to the rule. The keynote's title was "Attracting talent" however most of the talk was about building office spaces. I was not really convinced this was related to the title in any way... And I found the talk unusually boring. Perhaps I was not the right audience.

However the second one proved to be quite different: Zsolt Kulcsar shared his views about building trust within companies. Mr. Kulcsar, albeit graduated psychologist, works for another small web development company. And this one might be pretty unusual. It was the first time I've heard someone saying the company's top priority is their employees. The talk was focusing on the evolution of the organizations from the tribal gangs ruled by a single despot through modern profit-oriented corporations and post-modern people and innovation driven companies to the organizations resembling a living creature where each member functions as a vital organ. He talked about how their firm tries to capture moods of the employees, lets them get to understand their customers as perfectly as possible and maintains very high level of transparency both internally and also towards the clients. Interesting and even inspiring talk.

Jordi Falguera and Victor Firén talked about the Behaviour Driven Development methodology and demonstrated practically part of the development cycle as they use it in GTech. This was the most technical and practical talk of all the conference. The speakers talked not only about the BDD supporting framework and the tool GTech developed for themselves but also about the practises that worked for them the best: like do things right from the beginning to prevent the technical debt to pile up and become unmanageable later.

Roland Tiefenbrunner spoke about his experiences as a founder of two startups and scrum master in other one. Here's some of the ideas I found interesting or important:

  • Use hypothesis instead of requirements; invest in experiments
  • The customer should pay even for the minimum viable product
  • Get first feedback ASAP
  • Focus on solving the problem, not the solution itself
  • Use cohort analysis and actionable metrics
  • Decide what to build before building it

We're almost at the end: Arne Åhlander's Becoming a successful product owner was a set of good advices to the product owners -- what tools and techniques can help them in their quests. Arne suggested to use a playbook to keep information about the product, stakeholders, roadmap, backlog, but also the product vision and definitions of "ready" and "done". The important part for presenting ideas is their visualization (canvas). The products should make customers happy, therefore it is important to to find out what are the customer's jobs, pains... It is also important to realize what is my "unfair advantage", what do I have the others can't. And making use of it.

The conference's grand finale was Angel Medinilla's Change management presentation. Even though it was not too new for anyone who went through some related soft-skills training (like me): it reiterated the idea that to make a change one has to first convince the others that status quo is unbearable, make them realize the pains the change will relief and move slowly step by step to the goal. Angel is a showman and turned the talk into a wonderfully entertaining event. And it was also a very suitable topic for the last talk.

The Takeaways

One big thing: agile is not a software development method. At least not only. It is an organization method: of anything. Most notably it has become an standard for not only the small and quickly moving start-ups but also for large companies who realize they need to adapt to survive.

I have heard several recurring themes in the talks:

  • Companies are here for the people not the other way round
  • Focus on customer, employees; during the whole conference I don't remember hearing the words "shareholder" or "investor"
  • Repetition and routine are necessary for doing things right; it must be a habit, it must make people uncomfortable breaking it
  • Get to know the people you work with: learn about their goals, motivations, fears; and help them to achieve what they want

And again: much of those may look like clichés any corporate employee hears and sees in their internal company communications way too often. The context of agile organizations however emphasises why is it necessary to keep them on mind. "The people are our greatest asset." Which of the corporations doesn't trump something like this? I would guess only minority of those company employees really feel that way and perceive such statements as propaganda that somewhat belongs to the territory. The agile organization cannot afford such sentiment to grow among the people. The agile methods bring the results at a cost: they put more stress on people -- they have to operate with more frequent deadlines, the requirements and environment change more often, even the teams themselves can re-arrange more often... To sustain the conditions people have to believe the employer, the work, the colleagues... Creating the environment where agile methods have chance to succeed then takes much more than just train few scrum masters.

Open Source?

Of course I had also some opportunity to chat with random people during the breaks and in the evening party. And of course I have asked about things I work on at job, in my spare time... I live in a bubble where FOSS is standard and the weird thing is actually not to use it. Note one: open source is in some environments only becoming accepted. And quite notably: it is happening "from the bottom": the admins, developers, use Linux and FOSS for their own needs and get it in production by selling it upwards. This means losing mindshare might be quite dangerous these days. The desktop matters even though it is never going to be for the masses.

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