A Better Way To Manage Conference Proposals

UPDATE: With acceptance emails going out for Agile2012 this morning, I thought it’d be a good time to re-spin this entry from last year’s run-up to Agile2011. If you substitute 2012 for 2011 and Dallas for Salt Lake City, I reckon everything else I had to say last year applies again this year. I like the process.

Special note for this year’s conference, Agile2012 will have 2 talks on ASIC and FPGA development. My proposal for “TDD And A New Paradigm For Hardware Verification” was accepted. As well, Tobias Leisgang from Texas Instruments had a talk accepted, How to play basketball with a soccer team? Making IC development more agile. You’ll find both on the Emerging Applications of Agile stage.

One hardware talk at Agile2011, two hardware talks for Agile2012… hopefully there’s a pattern developing here!

As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, submitting a proposal to Agile2011 was a last minute idea for me. I figured that since I had a collection of material ready to go, it wouldn’t take me long to put something together. I was almost right.

I’ll start by saying that the submit/review process for Agile2011 was about as transparent as I could have imagined. I’m used to writing an abstract, pulling together an outline, sending both away and then waiting for a yay or a nay a couple months down the road. That’s how SNUG generally works (I’ve presented 5 papers there… last in 2010) and DVCon as well (in 2010, Bryan Morris and I submitted a paper called Agile Techniques For ASIC and FPGA Development… it was rejected).

I’ve never had a problem with that, but the submission process for Agile2011 was different… dare I say better different… but I’ll let people decide for themselves.

The submission process was all handled online. Would be presenters login to write a summary of their talk in 600 characters or less, describe a set of “learning outcomes” (which I believe tells the audience what they should be taking away from the talk and who we think should attend) and finally the “Process/Mechanics” section which I think most people use to capture their outline. You also select a stage (of which there are several) where your proposal best fits. Here’s a description of the stages if you’re interested. I’ll talk more about them another time.

Pretty normal so far, except that all proposals are treated as proposals-in-progress so you can edit them at any time. They are also viewable by other presenters and anyone else who is interested, not just the official reviewers. I liked that. Seeing and discussing proposals before they’re accepted was something I wasn’t used to. I could contact other would be presenters to ask questions. We could also work together to avoid overlap. I’m guessing that makes for a better conference better by helping avoid repetitive material. We’ll see in August if that’s actually the case.

Also interesting was that there were options for session length/type. I believe there are 30min/60min/90min talks. There are also 3hour workshops and tutorials. Last are 10min lightning talks. Having different types of sessions is new to me, especially the workshops. Agile is supposed to be interactive so I’m thinking that the workshops end up being a conference highlight.

The best part though was that anyone could append comments to a proposal. That’s more feedback that I wasn’t used to and really appreciated. On average, each proposal got maybe a half dozen comments. From what I’ve seen and heard, comments were pretty constructive and helped would be presenters tune proposals over a number of weeks (mid-January to late march). All the comments I received motivated me to tweak my proposal. I’m guessing that most people ended up with proposals that were stronger than what they started with… I know mine was… so I’m pretty grateful to the people that commented.

From there, the official reviewers for each stage made their comments on each proposal after which I’m assuming they consulted with each other and the conferences organizers to decide which proposals were accepted.

Not an exact explanation of what happens but close enough.

Between the initial write-up, answering reviewer questions and revising my outline and summary, I spent maybe 4-5 hours on my proposal. Looking through what other people had, there are some that definitely spent more than that. There were also people that had 2 or 3 proposals… not sure where they found the time for it! I’m taking all the effort that people obviously put into their proposals as a sign that the prep time ends up being worth it 🙂

If you’re interested, you can take a look at my proposal for Applying Agile In IC Development… We’re Not That Different After All and the feedback it received (I’m excited that it was accepted to the Agile for Embedded Systems stage). Feel free to let me know what you think of it. You can find more details regarding how proposal are reviewed/accepted/etc in a write-up by Mark Levison on his blog. If you interested in seeing how Agile Alliance has things setup, you can go to http://submit2011.agilealliance.org.

Neil Johnson

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