Agile 2008 Conference - new model, many changes - part 1

Catching up on blogging about Agile 2008 Conference, for which I am a Program Chair. Luckily, I am part of an amazing squad of 40+ enthusiasts and their teams, led by the fearless trio: Rachel Davies (who is the General Chair), Mary Poppendieck (who shares Program Chair’s responsibilities) and yours truly.

This year we are experimenting with a new model based on a music festival metaphor. I’ll tell you how we are adopting it in a minute. But firstly let me explain why we needed a change. After all, the conference has been very successful in the past (selling off several months in advance for the past three years). So, why would we change a model that works? Well, over the years due to increasing popularity of agile methods, we rapidly grew from several hundred attendees to over a thousand and realized that the current model cannot scale any further. Last year in Washington, DC, with several dozens of simultaneous sessions in various places, it was hard not only to find the room but to simply navigate the program and decide where to go. We believe the new model will address these issues, allow the conference to grow (we expect 1,600 delegates) and even make it more community-driven.

So, I’ve mentioned the music festival metaphor earlier. What festivals do I have in mind? Blue Skies Festival in Clarendon, Ontario, Canada is one. It grew up from a small beginning and now attracts thousands of people. Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts in the UK is another example with tens of thousands of performers and organizers entertaining hundreds of thousands of attendees (I believe it is the biggest greenfield music festival in the world!) Both started back in 1970s and still running and selling off annually. Only about one third of those who would like to come actually get tickets. How did these festivals manage to grow so big and yet remain so successful for such a long time?

It occurred to us it’s the multiple stage metaphor with individual producers and production crews focusing on their own stage (e.g. Acoustic Tent, Dance Village, JazzWorld etc.) that helps these events grow. Importantly, these producers have a high degree of autonomy (in recruiting and selecting performers, scheduling appearances etc.)

Just like those festivals, the stages within our conference program are designed and organized by experts (acting as stage producers) who are truly passionate about their particular areas. Each stage will have a feel of a smaller, focused mini-conference whilst providing the conference attendee with a wide choice of stages to choose from:

§ Agile and Organizational Culture

§ Breaking Acts

§ Chansons Françaises

§ Committing to Quality

§ Customers and Business Value

§ Designing, Testing, and Thinking with Examples

§ Developer Jam

§ Distributed Agile

§ Leadership and Teams

§ Learning and Education

§ Live Aid

§ Main Stage

§ Open Jam

§ Questioning Agile

§ Research

§ Tools for Agility

§ User Experience

You can find more info on stages here.

This makes a lot of sense. In the past, the conference was organized around the session types (tutorials, workshops, experience reports etc.). Individual committees were formed to review and select sessions for the program. Instead of organizing the conference around the session types we are organizing it around the topics (the content types), which is more aligned with the agile principles. Focus on the value delivered to the customer. Focus on substance in the first place, not form. After all, our customers (attendees) care less about the session type and more about the content presented and discussed. We want to have a good and broad coverage of topics and also avoid redundancy. The producers are in a better position to balance the program of their stage.

(To be continued...)