Top ten “take-aways” from Agile 2012 conference

I attended the Agile 2012 conference at Dallas, Texas earlier this month.

Here are my top 10 “Takeaways” from the Agile 2012 conference. The first three “Take-aways” below are representative of broader scope of agile methods to include the way we do business than the earlier more restricted scope to the way we build software.

  1. Alline Watkins sounded radical in her talk on “User Driven Development”. The most radical thought was building a cross-functional team to include end-user from whom the development team can directly understand his pain points and create hypotheses and test them. This would result in making the role of “product owner” redundant. She also said that sprint planning and estimation meetings are not required. In fact Kanban works better than sprints if your deployment pipeline can deploy small “testable” user stories every 2 to 3 days thus resulting in a quick build-measure-learn cycle.
  2. Mary Poppendieck engaged “Standing room only” audience by laying out a formal four step framework for innovative teams in her workshop titled “Living with black swans”. She gave examples of “game changing” points of inflection like Skype which changed the way we communicate across long distance or Wikipedia which made ruling encyclopedias like Encarta or Britannica obsolete by delivering 10X the value at negligible cost. The audience was divided in teams of 6 each to practice 4 steps. a) Write a press release describing your product idea. This forces you to think hard about the real value promised by the product as you are limited to one page. b)Innovators need to see “immediate connection” between their actions and results. They should learn from the results and they should not be told what to do. If you plot on a four quadrant map whether team members have immediate or delayed visibility and whether they have direct or indirect contact with consumers; it tells you whether the team being built will have “immediate connection” or not.      c)Identify members of the value chain (e.g. retailer, distributor, manufacturer) and draw circles to define each link in the chain. Check if any member of the value chain is negatively impacted by your idea. Ideas like MP3 player failed due to unavailability of music before Apple made iTunes a part of the iPod value chain.     d) Write down the interfaces between members of the value chain defining why they will do what they are expected to do and how they will execute on it if they intend to. Each of these interfaces are potential hypotheses that you will need to test.
  3. Agile/XP’s main contribution to the “Lean Startup” movement is the ability of startups to do “Continuous Delivery” as described by Jez Humble in his book. Jez said the term “code complete” is meaningless if it takes long before its deployed in production and market feedback is received. He also said we are too wary of releasing code to production because we don’t have ways to restore service if it fails. We often measure MTBF while MTRS (Mean time to restore service) is more important. He introduced concepts like A/B tests, blue/ green deployment, feature toggles and dark releases.

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