Agile2014 was an exciting week of new ideas, catching up with old friends and making a few new friends. For Agile2011 and Agile2012 I wrote up a daily report right from the conference and posted during the week. With more stuff on my plate this year, I found I just didn’t have the time so instead I’ve got 1 big end of conference report. Here it is…
A Good Year For Agile Hardware Development
The reason I had a lot on my plate this year was because in addition to delivering my talk, TDD and a New Paradigm for Hardware Development, I also brought a live agile hardware/software co-development demo. The talk went well. As usual, I was back in the corner of the conference center. The attendance, though, at around 35 people was much better than I’m used to. We had questions all the way through and people really seemed engaged.
The highlight for me, though, was that the demo didn’t crash :).
I worked my way through running unit tests, tweaking unit tests and implementation to mimic a couple different design changes, then demonstrating the changes on target in front of everyone with no hiccups. That was a major relief.
The picture on the left is a shot of my blue cart with the laptop, monitor and Zedboard on it. For most of the week, I parked it in the open jam area so everyone coming, going and mingling would have a chance to see it in action. I’ll admit to feeling like a bit of a tool pushing it around but seeing as how I’m already an odd ball I quickly got use to it. I managed to park and run it all week without any major issues. Soheil Salehian deserves a lot of credit for that considering all the work he put into it.
Thanks to Adam Geras agreeing to a testrun before the conference, we came up with some other “documentation” posters to describe what we were doing with a kanban board that had the example stories I’d work on in the demo. It was a good visual to include and helped with the explanation of what was happening.
Aside from my talk and demo, there was much more talk of agile hardware at the conference with more coverage on twitter. I can confidently say that this year I felt the transition from “that’s cool” chatter to serious discussion. It’s been more than 5 years for me and agile hardware and as of last week it finally feels like we’ve officially reached the beginning of something big. Thanks to everyone that offered encouragement throughout the week and did their best to raise awareness. It helps. A lot.
Technical Craftsmanship Talks
Another highlight for me was the quality of the technical talks at this year’s agile conference. I know the reduced emphasis on the technical side of product development has bothered many folks so this renewed emphasis specifically with the addition of the craftsmanship track this year and last it seems has been well received.
As far as talks, I’ll start with my big winner. It was Mob Programming from Woody Zuill. Not much I can say about this other than the team Woody works with writes code all together, as a team (aka: mob). Yes… you read that right. People write code in 15 minute intervals while others are right there doing useful things like real time code review, finding information, discussing implementation, helping, learning, growing, etc. It’s kind of pairing but with more people. Incredible to say the least. Here’s a day-in-the-life youtube video of Woody and his team in action. You should watch it. I’ve heard a lot about mob programming but never dug any deeper so I’m glad to have sat in on this session. Best of the conference.
Another technical talk from monday afternoon was The 3D Pair Programming Extravaganza from Tim Ottinger and Bryan Beecham. It was definitely an extravaganza! There was music, a top 10 list and pair programming skits acted out by people from the audience. It was entertaining for sure but entertaining with purpose. They showed benefits with ideas for how people can overcome some of the challenges associated with pairing. I have a picture of these guys in action but it didn’t turn out.
The ball rolled into tuesday morning with another technical talk from Jason Kerney and Llewellyn Falco called Tackling Legacy Code. This was another live demo to share tactics called peeling and slicing legacy code. This was extremely practical for consultants, contractors and outsiders because their tactics applied to the kinds of situations where you don’t always (or ever) have the time you need to really understand what’s going on. You need to fix a bug, that’s it, and the techniques they demonstrated will help me do that. And for the record, this demo was far more advanced than mine. You could tell these guys weren’t as concerned that it was going to blow up :). It was well done.
Speaking of practical, Daniel Markham’s talk Distributed Team Technology for Co-Located Teams gave some ideas of tools that can help distributed teams. As a guy that works remotely, I liked Daniel’s ideas for team demos using Google Hangouts (I’m going to try this out soon). As well, he suggested trelo as a kanban tool for distributed teams.
The technical talk that sums it all for me is James Grenning’s You Can’t Be Great Without Technical Excellence. Good attendance for this talk which I think it promising for the agile community. I’ve said lots of good things about James in the past and will summarize his talk by saying it’s one you should see if you ever have the chance. We’re technical people building and creating great new technology so the skills we have – the technical skills we have – can’t slide.
More Great Talks
One talk from the Enterprise Agile track that I made sure to attend was Mental Leaps at Ericsson 3G from Håkan Forss and Erik Schön. Normally, the enterprise talks aren’t my cup of tea given that I’m usually a loner verification engineer down in the bowls of a development team. But having delivered 2 talks at an Ericsson Lean/Agile conference in Beijing last year and having had a glimpse of Ericsson’s dedication to agile, this talk was definitely on my list. Some common themes were limiting work-in-progress, delivering work in small batches and doing small experiments instead of going for the big improvement. The big takeaway for me was the reinforcement that even large systems companies can make tremendous gains through adoption of agile and lean practices. Of course given the product lines, adoption may not always be straightforward. But if organizations start on solid footing (i.e. the software teams) and put in the effort, the benefits will spread.
One of my favorite agile people is Elisabeth Hendrickson and she had a talk this year called Agile Quality and Risk Management. Elisabeth talked about her new role with Pivotal and how they assure quality without the typical QA bureaucracy. One exciting statistic she quoted was that through TDD, the team she works with gets to ~95% code coverage with no effort beyond the typical TDD cycle. She also talked about a single stream of development (i.e. no branching) and operating without a bug database. Just imagine a world without bug databases, fellow hardware developer :).
Another one of my favorite people is Nancy Van Schooenderwoert who had a talk with Steve Holyer called Know When to Hold’em, Know When to Fold’em…. The format was more workshop than talk which is more common at this conference than others I attend. The idea here is that organizations can suffer from addictions in the same way that people can suffer from addictions. Nancy and Steve had a game that we played in groups where each group started with an addiction. From there, you identify the immediate reward for the “addict” along with the long term pain incurred and ways the addiction perpetuates. This is a neat model and the exercise gets you thinking about what motivates different actions taken by teams and organizations. The addiction our group focused on was calling meetings. Sound familiar?
I’ll finish up with the keynotes. There were 2 this year, Monday morning was Journey to Cloud Cadence from Sam Guckenheimer and Wednesday morning was Diana Larson with Best Job Ever. I chose to sit back and listen instead of takes notes so I’m a little light on coverage. But I’m guessing recordings will be posted on the agile alliance site so I’d recommend tuning into both when they’re posted.
Everyone loves Diana. I’ll throw that out first. I met her last year at Intel’s agile/lean conference in Hillsboro and she is geniune. In case the title of the talk isn’t obvious, Diana has the lofty goal of helping people find the best job ever. Diana’s talk was quite inspirational. She told stories of her mother that loved her job and father who didn’t, why she does what she does and why she thinks people should love their work.
Sam Guckenheimer’s talk was also quite good, another one that you’ll want to look for on the agile alliance site if a recording is posted. There’s more to it obviously, but from Sam’s talk, I remember 2 things:
- there was a major decrease in the number of defects his team produced and carried from release to release as they became a more mature agile team. I don’t remember the numbers but I think it was a 10-to-1 decrease.
- then there was the video he showed about Microsoft’s WYSP program. If you haven’t seen it, you need to watch it. Hillarious.
That’s all for this year. Third time for me at the conference and it was spectacular again. If you’re a hardware developer and have questions about the conference or are wondering if it’s something you’d enjoy attending next year, feel free to post questions in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.