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Thoughts on #Agile2009

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Thoughts on #Agile2009

I’ve been sitting here for the past few hours… in my favorite coffee shop… thinking through this past week… contemplating my upcoming week… and trying to decide how to get back into the groove of writing. My intent coming here was to share some thoughts on the conference. Right now, I just don’t have the energy. The week was full of late nights… early mornings… lots of meetings… lots of sessions… talking to customers… debating ideas… reconnecting with old friends… and making a few new ones.

It was awesome meeting some of you guys that follow me here and on Twitter. It’s always a hoot when a tiny little 64×64 picture… one that speaks in 140 character bursts… turns into a real… living… breathing… human being you can go drinking with ;-)

Part of my challenge writing about the conference is that I’m still not really clear on how I feel about it. There were so many great sessions… so many excellent topics… so many excellent speakers… but how many of their ideas can actually be implemented when people go back to their real worlds? It is great to get pumped up at a conference… but how long will that enthusiasm last when we take these ideas back and meet crushing resistance?

If I were king for a day… I’d like to see an entire stage next year dedicated to organizational agility and scaling. We need to start talking about how these ideas get applied in real companies… with real management hierarchies… with real PMO’s… with real planning cycles. I want to talk about agile ideas in the context in which the ideas were successful and explore how we can do them at scale. Alistair pointed out during his keynote that agile was designed for small teams working with discretionary funds… but that is seldom where we find it applied.

I’d like to see experience reports from people that are really doing this. I’d like to hear from CEOs and CIOs who have been able to lead sustainable change. I’d like the talks to be vetted in advance by a real person and accompanied by a proceedings paper. I’d like to have breakout sessions and workshops that allow us to explore these Big Agile problems together. It just seems that we don’t really have this worked out yet.

We all bring pieces of the puzzle. How do we pull it all together?

Aside from that… some of my bright spots happened outside the session rooms. I personally want to thank Kent McDonald for his 3 minute overview of Feature Injection and Karl Scotland for the great discussion on Kanban and Drum-Buffer-Rope over way too many drinks. I really enjoyed Alistair’s opening keynote and Jared’s closing keynote. Both were very entertaining.

Thanks to Dennis Stevens for the 20/20 presentation on Capability Analysis. Thanks to DZone for the interview and all those that attended my session on the Agile PMP. Thanks to all the folks that came by the VersionOne booth… it was great talking to you. Thanks to the Agile PMI crew, especially Michele Sliger for putting up with me Sunday night. Last but not least… thanks to Eric Guitar Davis and the Troublemakers… you guys totally kick ass!

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Comments (7)

  1. Scott Duncan

    I like your idea about talks on industry scaling experiences. I have been through this with other conferences in the past. Larger orgs don't have their lawyers let C-level folks always give the true story, though.

    A major CMM Level 5 story (and follow-ups) were tauted at SEPGs for a few years. Lots of things left out that had a major impact, including letting go of folks (at middle mgt levels and elsewhere) who resisted too much. An article in IEEE SW by the VP brought in to make it happen gave hints at this, but could not be clear.

    I'd be glad to see the scaling topic exist though. Just don't get hopes up too high for talks with real meat on making it happen. Also, one learns from failures and I have yet to see standing C-levels come and talk about serious problems (even if overcome).

    I know there have been talks about agile adoptions by some major managers, but I've dug into some and the story isn't as sweet as the presentations sound. Problem is that the non-sweet parts were often the keys.

    I had a proposal this year to talk about this topic (names changed to protect the innocent) with the goal of talking about a lot of things that did not work out though the approach taken seemed reasonable to managers and staff. It would have allowed the audience to respond in a "what would you have done" fashion at key points in the stories. Then I'd reveal what good and bad decisions were made.

  2. Mike Cottmeyer

    You make excellent points.

    At the end of the day, I would be happy with consultants doing the talks… even if they keep the names hidden. I get frustrated talking about small team practices when most people struggle to even be part of a small, dedicated, cross-functional teams.

    People are trying to figure this stuff, and we as leaders in the community need to give good practical pragmatic advice!

  3. Jake Calabrese, CBAP, PMP

    Mike, Good points. I find this to be a very common issue when training and speaking – "can I provide something people can actually use when they get back to the real world". I am taking a break from finishing up a presentation related to elicitation challenges. A key goal is to provide a take away that can be used to affect change.

    It is quite easy to develop boundaries around your topic and talk about 1 team, 1 product, a bucket of money, a bunch of folks who all love each other and can communicate well… but then you introduce a real world situation and it all falls apart. Alistair's comment is interesting.

  4. timander

    Mike, I had a great time at the conference. I'm a little concerned that you wrote:

    "…ideas can actually be implemented when people go back to their real worlds? It is great to get pumped up at a conference… but how long will that enthusiasm last when we take these ideas back and meet crushing resistance?"

    "I'd like to see experience reports from people that are really doing this."

    I wish you would have come to at least one of our experience reports. These are not ideas for something we would like to try, they are success stories. Our XR papers are a nice supplement, but it would have been nice to tell you about our stories in person. Here are the experience reports we presented at Agile 2009:

    And we have good management support, not a crushing resistance. I suppose you could call that a sustainable model, but I prefer to think of it as an evolving model.

  5. Mike Cottmeyer

    Thanks for the comment Tim… making things practical and addressing the context of the audience is key. Sounds like you are on the right track.

  6. Mike Cottmeyer

    Thanks for the comment Tim… and thanks for the links. I realized that I ran a risk making my comments… I was not able to attend every session.

    I checked out your abstracts to see what I missed. I don't generally go to technical talks… I'm more a project management type. While I understand the importance of good engineering and technical practices… if a talk gets too technical I'm not all that interested.

    What I am concerned about is building teams by eliminating resource thinking and focusing on team throughput. I am interested in org design, constraints, project and portfolio management, value streams.

    If you have a case study on that involves real organizational transformation… not just on the engineering side, but on the resource planning and execution side… I'd love to see it. If it was there and I missed it… then that is my loss.

    I'd still love to see a track dedicated to these issues from a leadership and org design perspective.


    I suspect the engineering folks are better able to scale than the project managers.


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