Tony Edwards

3 things I learned at Agile on the Beach

- 4 mins

Towards the end of the summer I was lucky enough to attend the Agile on the Beach conference, courtasy of Plymouth University. Held in Falmouth, on the south coast of Cornwall, it brings people together from all Agile walks of life. This was my first ever dive into the world of professional conferences, it certainly won’t be the last. Here’s my three big take homes (plus a few blurry photos) from the experience.

You can’t learn something you already know.

Marcin Floryan from Compare the Market gave a talk titled #nolearning. He explored the Sammelweis reflex, whereby new evidence is not accepted because of pre existing bias.

In the 1700’s sailors started venturing further from land, becoming ill with what we now know to be scurvy. In 1760 James Lind ran the first clinical trials to discover the cause of illness. He gave different control groups different foods and found that the people fed citrus fruits made a full recovery. When he shared his findings he found that people didn’t believe him because of their pre existing world view. It wasn’t until James Cook took some marmalade around the world that people accepted food could provide the cure.

“I cannot teach them anything. I can only make them think.”

– Socrates (470-399 BC)

Marcin goes on to discuss what is needed in order to truly learn something. Learning needs to be:

In order to learn it’s not enough to have the skills or theory in isolation. Combining the two allows abstract ideas to be worked through, thus creating new pathways within the brain. The act of going through this cycle allows those skills to be applied in practice. An important part of the cycle is reflecting upon what you have learned, something we’re encouraged to do often as students.

And enjoy the pits of despair….it’s part of the journey!

Agile is awesome

As expected there were a number of talks on Agile and it seems pretty awesome. Until this conference Agile was simply a diagram in a text book alongside a little theory. This conference really brought the concepts to life, especially the benefits of having a good agile methodology.

Meri Williams compared traditional management styles to those found in an Agile environment. She argued that there is a gap between what good management theory is and what is being practised in reality. She says that by allowing teams to be self organising, members will naturally feel they can be themselves and, as a consequence, will want to be more awesome.

She found that the greatest predictor of staff retention is whether people feel they can thrive and succeed on a personal level. It seems from this presentation, and the conference in general, that motivation of staff is an important part of working within an agile structure. This sounds great. My time in retail left me with the impression that staff happiness is low on the list of priorities for most businesses. I’m so happy to find it’s not always the case.

Networking, Networking, Networking.

My biggest personal take home from Agile on the beach is that networking (and social skills in general) are as equally important as the skills I’m learning in the classroom. It was great to have conversations with people that I wouldn’t get to mingle with in day to day life. After all, it’s not every day that you can chat with the Vice President of a large oil company.

Since swapping my job for university, the number of different people that I talk to on a daily basis has decreased dramatically. Agile on the beach acted as an important reminder that communication skills are indeed skills (the name should’ve been a clue!), and ones that need practice regularly to remain effective.

Final Thoughts

Before this conference, Agile management was not much more than a diagram on a slideshow. Agile on the Beach really brought the subject to life and prepared me for the second year of university. I’m writing this at the end of the first week of the new term and Agile project management has been mentioned in almost every class. I can tell, even at this early stage, that going to this conference will greatly benefit my studies over the coming years.

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