My Agile on the Beach Diary

My story begins with a four-hour car ride to the West Country on the first day of the new school term; this time last week, that four-hour journey would have taken twice as long!

We arrived on the picturesque Falmouth University campus to find that the car park was as far as possible from the accommodation for the event; the university halls of residence. When Siteset’s Managing Director, Peter Sheppard, told me that he’d booked me a room with an en-suite bathroom, courtesy of the company, I didn’t quite have this in mind.

After a trek through the scarcely populated, subtropical university complex that felt like Jurassic Park meets 28 Days Later, we encountered a friendly concierge buried and struggling with reams of paperwork to check us in and provide us with keys. Surely there’s an app for that.

Image of Chris Oldwood doing standup at Agile on the Beach 2015Peter and I parted ways to our respective digs and on opening the door to my room, complete with futuristic shower room pod, I was transported back eleven years to the beginnings of my University career. Much like those Uni days, I set out for the opening-night social event, only, unlike the first evening of freshers’ week, the Agile on the Beach Pint and Pasty night was a much more tasteful affair. Following a most enjoyable time spent on deck chairs, meeting and networking with likeminded Agile professionals, the evening was topped off with a fantastic stand-up comedy set of one-liners from Chris Oldwood. These Agile and tech-themed puns and quips had the crowd laughing and cringing in equal measure.

Keynote: Dave Farley – Continuous Delivery

On to the conference proper, and Keynote speaker Dave Farley (who literally wrote the book on Continuous Delivery) opened the Thursday event in fascinating style. He introduced the conference to Farley’s three laws:

• People are crap!
• Stuff is more complicated than you think.
• All stuff is interesting (if you look at it in the right way).

Farley used captivating evidence to support his argument including optical illusions, NASA space program case studies, and a peculiar phenomenon whereby he played three undistinguishable sine wave sounds, followed by a human utterance following the same pattern. When he then played the sine wave sounds again, they sounded like they were saying the words that we had heard in the second set of samples; our brains make the connection between the two sounds and, desperate to make sense of the sine wave sound, it now processes them as though the sounds are actually a voice speaking the human words we had heard. Bizarre!

Another insightful point of Farley’s was that, when the traditional waterfall software development model was put forward by Winston W. Royce, it was as an example of a flawed model that does not work. What better way to frame the entire premise of the Agile on the Beach conference!

Watch the video of Dave Farley’s Keynote speech.

Image of an attendee at Agile on the Beach 2015 looking at the event agenda

“Continuous Delivery Introduction” with Dave Farley

I was so intrigued by Farley’s keynote speech that I went straight into his opening slot in the ‘Continuous Delivery’ track of talks to get a better insight into what Continuous Delivery is all about. Farley regularly harks back to his opinion that Science is man’s greatest invention and employing the processes of the scientific method are key to an effective Agile model; coming up with an idea, testing it, reviewing the findings and going at it again. Farley aptly quoted Einstein:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Continuous Delivery is based on the principle of getting an idea into the hands of the customer as quickly, cheaply and reliably as possible, with the feedback from the customer informing the direction of subsequent ideas/refinements; a sound concept that results in productivity levels that must be the Holy Grail for most organisations.

Watch the video of “Continuous Delivery Introduction” with Dave Farley.

“Living Agile – The only way a digital agency can truly work with Agile” with Peter Sheppard

Meanwhile, Siteset’s Managing Director, Peter Sheppard was presenting “Living Agile – The only way a digital agency can truly work with Agile” in the ‘Agile Business’ track, regaling the audience with the case study of how we have tailored Agile and SCRUM to work for us in our multi-client, multi-project agency environment with simultaneous work streams.

Watch the video of “Living Agile – The only way a digital agency can truly work with Agile” with Peter Sheppard.

“The Death of Continuous Integration” with Steve Smith

I stayed put in the ‘Continuous Delivery’ theatre to see “The Death of Continuous Integration” from Steve Smith; a fascinating, first-hand account of the different contemporary software development and deployment models and how compatible they are with the Continuous Integration ideology. The verdict: Release Feature Branching makes Continuous Integration impossible; Trunk Based Development makes Continuous Integration possible; Build Feature Branching makes Continuous Integration improbable given the inevitable bottleneck in the manual review and handover between a reviewer and the developer.

“Scrum… Really?” with Amy Thompson

Amy Thompson’s “Scrum… Really?” talk in the ‘Teams and Leaderships’ track caught my eye next, as, from the description, it seemed to be at odds with our experiences at Siteset of tailoring Agile to build your own organisation’s Agile manifesto. Thompson is very much a proponent of doing SCRUM by the book, with the discipline of observing the guidelines of SCRUM and its ceremonies reaping the rewards. I can certainly see the merit in this, and suspect it is more accurate in the case of an organisation working on their own internal products than in our client-facing, agency world where bending the rules is not only unavoidable, but essential.

Image of Amy Thompson speaking at Agile on the Beach 2015

It was during the Q&A session at the end of this talk that I saw (not for the first time) the true disdain with which the title of Project Manager is held in the Agile community, with the general consensus being that Project Managers are extinct. Whilst I can see where this school of thought is coming from, I think it oversimplifies the role that a Project Manager plays, and puts too much pressure on a Product Owner to take on all traditional Project Management duties. It should not be overlooked that SCRUM is predominantly a product development method, not a project management method; it is too simplistic to suggest that a project is only concerned with a product’s development, and does not consider complex projects with multiple products and processes. SCRUM is a valuable tool to facilitate and optimise product development and delivery, which could (and indeed frequently does) sit within a wider project or programme of work.

“Mob Programming, A Whole Team Approach” with Woody Zuill

I was very excited to see the next talk: “Mob Programming, A Whole Team Approach” from Woody Zuill in the ‘Software Craftmanship’ track. Mob Programming seemed to have a bit of a buzz around it throughout the conference and it looks like an innovative option for a development team to consider in their armoury of techniques for tackling tasks. It is a practice from Extreme Programming which puts a team of developers around a single terminal, taking it in turns to ‘drive’ the keyboard, with all other developers acting as ‘navigators’ collaborating on the solution that is being implemented and dictating what the ‘driver’ needs to type. In Zuill’s workplace, this is exclusively how the development team works, so they incorporate stand-ups, retrospectives, study and team coding dojo sessions into their Mob Programming practice, to foster continuous development and knowledge acquisition throughout the team.

The first full day of the conference culminated in the Beach Party (ironically the only time that ‘Agile on the Beach’ goes near a beach) which was another great networking opportunity in a serene location, complete with paella, alcohol and toasted marshmallows!

Keynote: Jenni Jepsen – The Neuroscience of Agile

Friday morning’s Keynote speaker, Jenni Jepson, had quite an act to follow after Dave Farley’s Keynote on Thursday, but she delivered with aplomb, giving an enlightening talk on the “Neuroscience of Agile”. Jepson went into detail on how the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that gives us control, decision making and focus in working towards a defined goal, but is vulnerable to being shut down by the limbic system, which is concerned with fear and triggers our fight or flight response. In situations of high stress or anxiety, our ability to make sensible decisions and work productively and pro-actively is impaired. Conversely, there is evidence to suggest that the complacency of somebody who is not under stress may not see them performing at their optimum level. Therefore, fostering a positive and healthy working environment with just the right amount of stress encourages a workforce to perform at their best. Agile facilitates this.

Watch the video of Jenni Jepsen’s Keynote speech.

“Taking back BDD” with Konstantin Kudryashov and “10 things you need to know about BDD, Cucumber and Specflow” with Seb Rose

I followed this by watching two talks on Behaviour Driven Development (BDD) in the ‘Software Craftmanship’ theatre. BDD is a discipline and structure for forming specification user stories and acceptance criteria, with scenarios that can be automatically tested. It emphasises the importance of bringing the business, development and testing stakeholders into a conversation to collaboratively build these user stories using a ‘ubiquitous language’, i.e. a shared nomenclature for the product that is being developed. These test scenarios can then be added to and augmented over time, providing you with living documentation.

These talks were my last experience of Agile on the Beach 2015, before embarking on a six-and-a-half hour journey home; that’s more like we expect of a journey from Cornwall to Berkshire!

Image of Luke Edwards, Senior Project Manger of Siteset Digital, at Agile on the Beach 2015

Images from and courtesy of Agile on the Beach

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