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Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Why big Agile Conferences don’t have anything New?

At the Agile 2009 conference, Martin Fowler, Ron Jeffries, Chet Hendrickson, Mary Poppendieck and I had a very interesting discussion about “why some of us felt that there was nothing new at the Agile 2009 conference”. (or even if there were interesting topics, the signal to noise ratio was too small to find it).

Martin’s hypothesis (paraphrased):

Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, the core of the software development problem with regards to process was hashed out and most of the principles & techniques were flushed out via the Agile Manifesto and other techniques. (which of course was the easy bit). What is happening now is, most companies are trying to implement those ideas on their projects inside their organizations. Implementing those ideas is rather tricky and needs a lot of creative tweaking at project level. Its difficult to pull out any generic topics from these implementation and present it to a broad audience @ Agile 200x confs. Hence it feels like there is nothing new.

After which Martin asked Ron, if he has seen anything new on the mailing lists. Ron resonated with Martin. Everyone else seemed to agree.

Overall I’m convinced that this hypothesis makes sense. However I feel:

  • Even though implementing Agile techniques on projects needs lot of creative tweaking, we can still find patterns and meta-approaches to implementing/adopting agile. For Ex: Applying Theory of Constraints and Just-in-Time practices to coaching agile teams.
  • Personally I don’t find agile implementation @ large enterprises interesting. But I do see a lot of innovation happening in start-ups and small product companies. They are doing things which agilists might consider taboo. If we look at some of the Web 2.0 product companies, they are solving a lot of interesting problems like deploying to production multiple times a day, embracing fully distributed teams, etc.
  • Integrating UX and Operations team into the development team is still an open issue. Few companies have done some interesting work in this space.
  • And so on…

I feel majority of the Agile community has got into a “preaching mode” and very few people are actually building their own products (eating their own dog food.) This attitude attracts a certain kind of people to the conference and I’m quite skeptical to find innovative new ideas in this crowd. With so much noise its also very easy to miss some weak signals which have potential.

I do know a few people who are doing some really interesting stuff (they are turned off by the Agile brand and generally don’t hang around in these circles). Personally I want us, as a community, to be more inclusive of these people.

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