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Next week's Agile Alliance conference in Nashville, Tenn., promises to be one of the biggest and best Agile events of the year. There will be more than 200 sessions spanning more than a dozen tracks, including one dedicated to enterprise Agile, a topic that still has a long way to come for many large organizations. To get a feel for the event, we interrupted the busy lives of two of Agile 2013's expert speakers to find out what they're planning, what they'll be saying and what they're looking forward to.
Johanna Rothman is an active speaker, writer and consultant on all sorts of Agile and project management topics. She's written two books on project and portfolio management and has another one in the works. Her favorite part of these large Agile conferences is the Open Jams. "They're a place for people to meet and have less formal -- or potentially more formal -- conversations about topics that arise over the course of the event," Rothman said.
She explained that the sessions usually run about 45 minutes, give or take, and that the sessions are very dependent on attendee participation. "Sometimes we reach a conclusion and sometimes don't, but the conversations are always interesting," she said. "Those are some of my favorite times."
Matt Heusser is another expert speaker at Agile 2013. He boasts such accomplishments as founding the Great Lakes Software Excellence Conference and presenting at Google's own Test Automation Conference, in addition to his accomplishments as a consultant, writer and speaker on software testing and project management topics. Heusser's favorite way to spend time between sessions is to strike up a conversation. "At a typical conference," he said, "I'm talking to people all the time. It's exhausting." He emphasizes that if a conversation is good enough, he'll skip a session to keep it going.
"When I was coming to these events as an employee, I used to think that sitting in classes was 'right,'" Heusser added, "and that if I stood in the hallway talking, I was 'wasting company time.'" He said these feelings eased up considerably when he realized that he could talk out the details of his particular problems in those hallway conversations, "and they were often more valuable to my business than the actual sessions. After that, I stopped worrying about it," Heusser said. And I think he's very much the happier for it.
Rothman agreed, advising attendees, "Don't stay with the same folks all the time; sit with folks you don't know." She thinks that's the key to really squeezing all the extra value out of a large event. "If you sit with folks you know, you probably already know what they have to say. If you sit with new people, you're expanding your network," she said.
The sheer number of sessions to choose from can be boggling for even seasoned conference veterans, let alone first-timers. If you're a first-time attendee you might well benefit from one of the First Timer Orientations on Sunday or Monday. If you're looking for suggestions, Heusser and Rothman each have their own best picks.
"On Monday, Gareth Bowles has a session on self-service build/deploy at Netflix that looks fascinating," recommended Heusser, "and Tuesday, Claire Moss [who will co-present with Heusser] has her own session on 'Big Visible Testing.'" Adding transparency and visibility into the testing process without adding unnecessary overhead is one of Heusser's top concerns of the moment. He's also "hoping to organize a panel discussion Tuesday about #NoEstimates -- which will be an informal source for a publication later. Don't come unless you want to be quoted! "
For those of you looking to bring Agile into the enterprise, Rothman suggests checking out Ian Spence's session on managing large Agile programs and Esther Derby's session on the language of change -- in addition to Rothman's own sessions, of course. She has a bit of advice for those times when your favorite sessions are running at the same time in opposite ends of the event. It starts off with "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe." But on a more serious note, Rothman noted that "sometimes you just have to go with one and hope it's the better one, but it's going to be good because they're all terrific sessions. There won't be a bad one in the bunch."