Reflections on Agile 2007 and next steps for Agile practitioners

September 8, 2007 — Posted by Al Shalloway

Well, Agile 2007 is behind us and I found it very interesting for many reasons. I will list some of my impressions here - but no doubt, won't get them all out.

I still find Agile 2007 the best networking conference of the year. I am pretty busy throughout the day and unfortunately have little time to attend as many talks as I would like. However, I get the pulse of the community by seeing what other companies and individual consultants are doing and by talking with attendees on a one-on-one manner.

Agile has clearly become mainstream. More companies were exhibiting and more people seemed interested in talking to us than last year. There were several companies looking for Enterprise solutions as well, although few were available. It was also clear I was not the only one who was dubious that Scrum by itself does not scale well (see our Resources page to see a webinar on Scaling Scrum with Lean and Design Patterns - note you will have to login/register). I was glad to see Ken Schwaber recommend Dean Leffingwell's book Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises when asked for an Enterprise book recommendation.

Most of the speakers and attendees were focused on the process aspect of agile. This is nothing new. I suspect this myopic view (ignoring code quality and business issues) will eventually be addressed when the advantages of going to an agile process alone (without paying attention to Test-Driven Development or Lean) plateaus out. Fortunately, we are not the only company giving a broader view than the myriad of agile consultants who focus on Scrum alone. I was grateful to see a lot more interest in Lean than I had seen before - a good sign, of course.

I heard several attendees wish there was more about how to do agile at the enterprise level. Ironically, I believe this new interest in taking agile methods to the enterprise is going to lead to a consolidation and shakeout of the industry. There are many good individual consultants out there (or groups of 2-3) that are doing wonderful work. For companies looking to go agile they may find it difficult to find a collection of independent consultants who can provide a consistent view of things. When one considers that companies are starting to recognize the need to combine Lean and Test-Driven Development with Scrum, this problem will be even more manifest. But I'll leave these speculations to another blog.

I was really impressed with Luke Hohmann and his Innovation Games. Nice to see someone else stepping out of the mainstream agile box. I highly recommend his innovative way to discover what customers want.

On a somewhat distressing note I heard an attendee say one of his associates said design patterns are harmful. I say distressing because I would hope by now people understood that patterns are more of a way of thinking. Unfortunately, patterns are sometimes an example of a little knowledge being harmful. Years ago many people took a cursory glance at patterns and decided they were solutions to recurring problems in a context. Yes, this is the definition Christopher Alexander gives them, but then at the end of his book he tells you that's not really what they are. Anyway, people took this "definition" and looked to see how to apply the implementations of the patterns or even the designs of the patterns. This is not productive. For more on this and if you believe patterns may be harmful, I strongly recommend reading my article - Can Patterns Be Harmful? (warning - you'll have to register to read it), or of course even better, Jim Trott and my book Design Patterns Explained: A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design.

The most interesting session to me was the panel on certification. It seems the attendees were somewhat split on whether certification should be happening or not. The panel, with the exception of Mike Cohn, seemed to be against it, but also felt that certification was going to happen one way or another. Several panelists mentioned that a set of competencies needed to be a part of certification. Mike adamantly disagreed with that - defending the Scrum Alliance's lack of any listing of what ScrumMaster certification means (except as he himself joked - staying awake for two days). He said that what Scrum is is changing, and therefore can't be codified with a list of competencies. Throughout the session he commented about the problem was that when you put Certified with Master people assumed it meant things it didn't (I guess he forget he was part of the group that did this). He also stated how the Scrum Alliance now stated that being a CSM didn't mean you were actually qualified to do something.

Questions were "asked" by writing them on a piece of paper and some were selected. However, at one point a panelist asked Scott Duncan (who has chaired a committee for the IEEE about what Agile is) to comment about something. I loved Scott's reply that the panelist's attitude that certification and was somewhat static was not true. In the medical profession, for example, these point to the current literature. They are a way of keeping people up to date on what is happening and where to learn things.

Overall, I was somewhat distressed by the lack of leadership in this area. However, I will admit this strengthened my sense that our certification program has value beyond the certification but also in setting a bar on the standard practices of Scrum. It's true that you can't really certify someone's effectiveness with a test. But the current bar that is admittedly on the ground needs to be raised. I think that it is also important to explicitly state the best practices of Agile and Scrum which our certification programs do.

Now that I am actually writing my impressions down, I realize that I need to write several significant entries that relate to my impressions. I'll try to write at least one of these a week. They are:

  • Where Scrum fits in the Agile picture (and why are so many people trying to apply it everywhere?)
  • The need for standard work in Agile practices. Why self-directed teams are not enough.

If any of you are at SD Best in Boston, come by our booth and say you read our blog and I'll see if I can wrangle you a T-shirt.

Alan Shalloway

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.


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Al Shalloway
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