Andy Kelk

“It’s 2017, WTF are you doing at an agile conference?”

Why would anyone go to an agile conference in 2017? As someone involved in organising an agile conference or two, that may seem like a pretty existential question. After all, one piece of research showed that two thirds of companies now describe themselves as either “pure agile” or “leaning towards agile.” So why are we still persisting? They know how to do stand ups and put sticky notes on a wall, isn’t our job done?

Spoiler alert: my answer is going to be “no.” However, I do wonder about the name of the conference: what is an agile conference in 2017? I’m just back from Agile Australia and I don’t think I attended a single session that I could describe as a talk about “agile”. If I review the program (titles only) then out of 72 sessions just 10 of them mention “Agile” at all. Let’s compare that to 2009’s programme where 20 out of 29 sessions were explicitly about “Agile”.

Calling the conference an “agile” conference seems to turns off some possible attendees. So what else could we call it?

Effective Product Development Australia 2018

After all, many of the talks were about how to deliver products and services in an effective way. There was a strong focus on measuring outcomes over outputs and putting the customer at the heart of what you do. This resonates with a lot of the attendees but the community is bigger than just people building websites.

Work Culture Australia 2018

A broader theme seems to be about how we create great workplaces and the cultures. For example, day one was book-ended by Esther Derby and Julia Baird both talking about leadership; one of them comes from the agile community, one doesn’t. But we’re not just a community of leaders – many of the attendees are not in leadership positions.

Human Technology Australia 2018

One of the interesting crossover points of the conference is technology and human factors. Day two’s keynotes included Neal Ford talking about technology architecture while later in the day I found myself in back-to-back talks on including Autism in the workplace and a deeply technical talk on running production incident simulations; completely different topics but both right at home in the conference.

At the post-conference drinks, a few of us were discussing one of the controversial sessions from the previous year where Dr Kate Darling gave a mesmerising talk on human-robot interaction. There was some vocal feedback after that asking “why is this relevant to an agile conference?”

Learning Interesting Stuff Australia 2018

Learning about robots may not be what some people signed up for but that’s what keeps me coming back – the unexpected surprises. It reminds me of the guidelines for posting on YCombinator’s Hacker News site:

On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity.

Yes, a lot of the topics will be about technology, about people, about the world of work but if it’s going to gratify one’s intellectual curiosity, surely we should be giving it a place.

Agile Australia 2018

So what is an agile conference in 2017? It’s all of the above – it’s technology, it’s people, it’s experiments, it’s culture, it’s community, it’s architecture, it’s learning. Of course, we’ll be back as Agile Australia (for the 10th time!) next year and we’ll continue to try to surprise and educate you – whether it’s “agile” or not.

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