Agile Leaders Panel Discussion at Agile and Beyond Conference

The Agile and Beyond Conference was held today at the Henry Ford Conference Center in Dearborn. Marvin Toll and a dedicated group of volunteers, including Tom Kubit (Gene Codes Forensics) and Nayan Hajratwala (Chikli Consulting), and many others worked hard to put on this conference and they did an amazing job.  Mary Poppendieck is one of my favorite speakers, and she keynoted today, talking about the challenges ahead for the software industry. She promised to share her slides, and I will definitely post a link when they are made available.

I was invited to moderate a panel of agile entrepreneurs from our area.  We had a great panel, made up of Carl Erickson, Gary Gentry, Jon Stahl, and Rich Sheridan.  These guys could talk forever, and we had no shortage of questions.  People submitted many questions prior to the event on a google moderator group.  But what really made the panel discussion interesting (for me, at least) was the audience.  This audience was engaged and interested in asking questions.  They were also enthusiastic to share their own stories and challenges, which of course would have made a great open spaces discussion (Tom Kubit was managing open spaces at this conference).  We had people 2 and 3-deep waiting to ask questions throughout the discussion.  I was really pleased with the participation.

I took some notes during the panel discussion …

  • There were a lot of similarities and some differences among the way our panelists manage their companies. Half of the panelists have dedicated project managers on their agile projects, while the other half use team leads who split their time between development, customer management, and reporting.
  • Pretty much everyone agreed that the key to successful projects lies in engaging the business and validating assumptions throughout.
  • There was significant discussion around fixed bid projects and their relationship to agile. Carl Erickson described his process as similar to one that we’ve encountered, that being fixed budget, scope-controlled projects.  I’ll follow up with a blog post about that in more detail soon, because this is a fascinating topic that can’t be adequately described in a paragraph.
  • There was some discussion around cross-team waste, particularly when teams are distributed.
  • The audience participants expressed significant concern around getting their business leaders involved in the (agile) software development process. Earning the respect of the business was deemed critical to success, as was addressing their pain.  And several of the panelists admitted that some organizations are not ready to change, or willing to expose weaknesses in their structure or process.

We didn’t get to all of the questions on the list, but an ongoing dialog, particularly in open spaces, is likely more effective anyhow.  One question that I wanted to ask, was what changes each of the panelists had made in their processes in the past year.  Were they significant? What were they in response to?  How were they met, but customers and employees alike?

I enjoyed the panel discussion and I hope that the audience (and panelists) did as well.  I’m looking forward to what will happen before next year’s conference!