Quick trip report from XP/Agile Universe

I just got back from the 4th annual XP/Agile Universe conference, held this year in Calgary. I was only able to attend the first 2 days due to other obligations, but I wanted to share what happened while I was there.

It started Sunday, with a day full of tutorials. I’ve been the tutorial chair for the last three years, and I’ve noticed a shift in the attendance patterns. The first year, we had more tutorials focused on basic agile programming techniques, like TDD and refactoring. Now, the tutorials seem more focused on project management and process details. And the tutorial seats sold definitely favored the PM and process fields rather than the more technical practices.

Monday morning, the conference officially opened with three keynotes. In keeping with tradition at this conference, one of the keynotes was from an “outsider”, someone not part of the XP/Agile movement. This year it was Chris Avery, who talked about Ultimate Agility. This talk was about how to change yourself without actually changing. This fit in very nicely with the psychological bent of many of the original XP’ers. I’ve personally always had a bit of a problem with the touchy-feely side of the agile methods, but they are an integral part of the change to agility. The next two talks were more to my liking personally. Each of them described a particular part of “Crossing the Chasm”, the process of bringing XP and the agile methods into the mainstream. Mary Poppendieck talked about how to sell XP to management, which is the challenge that we face now. We are at the precipice of the chasm with respect to adoption of agility — we are at the point where the early adopters and visionaries are already on-board with XP, but we now have to start talking to the pragmatists. These are the ones who aren’t interested in technology or adopting new things just for the sake of their newness — they want to find out about other pragmatists are doing with it. This means that we can’t sell XP to this group the same way we sold it to the early-adopters. Instead, we have to find them others in their same shoes who are using and succeeding while being agile. And, finally, Brian Marick talked about how TDD has crossed that chasm. Writing code test first and refactoring have made it into the mainstream, as demonstrated by the prevalence of xUnit-like tools built into many IDEs. Writing unit tests is becoming part of our everyday jobs for more and more people, and now we just have to ride that wave and try to stay in front of its crest. (Jim Newkirk has an excellent summary of Brian’s talk)

As with most conferences, the best part is the hallway conversations that happen between sessions and in the bars at night. This conference was no exception, and I had a great time seeing and talking to old friends. One thing that did happen at this conference is that a lot of my friends had new books either on sale or close to being released. I bought a couple of them, and I’m looking forward to the rest. These are just a few of the new books I saw:

  • Joshua Kierevsky — Refactoring to Patterns. This book looks like a followon to Fowler’s Refactoring book, but at a higher level.
  • J. B. Rainsberger — JUnit Recipes. Can’t wait to read this one. It’s full of practical advice on how to test lots of different situations
  • Michael Feathers — Working Effectively with Legacy Code. Michael’s specialty is teaching teams how to tame their legacy code base, and he has put together a book very much like Fowler’s and Kierevsky’s books in that it is a book of refactoring recipes
  • Herb Sutter — Exceptional C++ Style. Followon book to Exceptional C++ and More Exceptional C++. I try to read everything Herb writes, and Stan Lippman recommended it in his blog, too!

I’m sure there were a few other books I forgot, but the universe of agile books out there is getting larger and better. (I need to write a book!)

Finally, it was announced at this conference that the Agile Alliance is taking over and merging the two North American agile conferences, the Agile Development Conference and XP/Agile Universe. The merged conference will have its new name announced the end of the week, and it will be held in Denver in 2005.

— bab