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ALE 2012, two weeks later

14 September 2012

Two weeks ago, I was part of the 2nd UNconference of the ALE network : ALE 2012. This post is a summary of how I lived this 3 days. And it’s written in english so I can share it with other ALE participants.

I tried to write a first blog post right after ALE, but my mind was not clear enough about what really struck me at this conference. It’s time to try making this retrospective, trying to be as honest as I can.

My place at ALE

On my journey to « being Agile », I feel today that principles and values are under-estimated. I’ve seen recently a blog post on a company’s blog with some truly agile people, proposing a questionnaire telling how agile your project is. The questions were about practices. And I really disagree with it. I do really think that Agile is not only about practices, but about principles, and about values. Question is : « How often do you get feedback ? How rich is this feedback ? » and not « Do you demo your user stories to the PO at the end of your iterations ? ».

Secondly, I’m passionated about technologies, and how to build software better. And things I’m actually learning are very concrete : TDD, CI, automated testing, refactoring, clean code, etc. Finally, I feel like I’m a really bad agile coach. I’m not a change agent. Too difficult for me. And the first reason I see is that I’m too much passionated. Really too much. I feel like I’m not as calm as an agile coach should be. And I can’t really take a step back when I’m with a team. Not as much as I should.

And this is exactly what makes me feel not really in the right place at ALE, in the middle of so many real coaches. I didn’t know all of them, but I felt like I was the new guy, with an average level of reflexion about agile, not as high as these guys. But despite this, I really enjoyed being there. I really did ! And yes, it’s a bit ambivalent. But that’s the way I lived it.


There were 3 keynotes. 3 very different keynotes actually. And 3 very different speakers. Jim Mc Carthy, the preachy, Siraj Sirajuddin, the poet, and Henrik Kniberg, the pragmatic. This distinction is not absolute, it’s only a reflection of how I appreciated each of their talks.

The first keynote was beyond agile, quite abstract, talking about magnificence, innovation, making great softwares, and changing the world. That’s a good mindset, and I like the idea. But I feel far from it. I don’t think that agile will help me changing the world. (Yet ?). I’m quite a concrete guy. Maybe the distance with the point of view (and also lack of sleep) didn’t help me really understand Jim’s message. A great speaker by the way. I felt also a bit constrained by the religious aspect of the talk.

The second one, by Siraj, was also quite abstract. Siraj was talking about how to transform an organization. I liked some Siraj’s ideas. But I also felt far from his talk. I was annoyed when he told us no to talk about agile but about temenos. I don’t actually figure out how I can explain this to my customer. Using it as a metaphor can be interesting, but sparingly. I also found this too much elitist. I felt like : « you can’t become a good change agent if you’re not a pioneer and a nomad ». But maybe I didn’t understand anything at all 🙂 ! I also found this talk a bit too « religious », and thus uncomfortable.

Finally, I was more interested by Henrik’s talk. Henrik was talking about how to become a change agent. As I just said, I don’t feel like being one, or at least an effective one. And Henrik gave me a few tips for starting being one. And I also get further questions I’ll try to answer during my learning. At the end I felt like « OK ! Let’s give it a try ! ».


Two months before the conference, I registered as a reviewer of all the proposals. Most of them were oriented for coaches, and there were not so many technical ones. Once the program was published, it was like the sessions I’ve voted for were not here !

The final program didn’t really amaze me, except a couple of conferences. I know now that I really should have gone to Marc Lainez’s conference, making the parallel between playing piano and coaching a team.
I assisted to Marc Loeffler’s conference on retrospectives. Was interesting. You can summarize it by : « inject purpose in your retrospective ». Don’t always make the same boring retrospective, change the type (speed boat, timeline, etc.), change the location (change the bar and the beers you drink :)), and use a metaphor (football retrospective, etc., I’ll try rugby retrospective !).

But there was an absolutely awesome idea beside all the sessions : an open space software development !

Open Space Development Software

This is the place where I spent most of my time at ALE. Just check the description here. And that’s exactly what I needed at this moment. Exactly what I missed : being with people with whom I could learn a lot. And on a lot of subjects : TDD, pair programming, etc.

I was totally amazed by the idea to test our agility. This unconference should be full of people with a very agile mindset. But are we truly agile ? Are we perfect agilists (of course not !) or do we make the same mistakes than the team we coach ? That was a very interesting question. And that’s what bring me naturally to this place, with these crazy guys, whom I didn’t know by the way.The chosen language was Java. And I don’t even have a Java IDE on my computer. Nor Git. And while C# is close to Java in terms of language and architectural concepts, it’s been a while since I wrote Java code. And I didn’t know anything about Git, except that it seems to be the best DVCS.

But that didn’t prevent me from being part of it. Quite the opposite ! I knew that I could learn a lot. And I didn’t wait so long before committing… sorry… pushing some functionalities to the trunk. Just a few hours actually :). And I made ping pong programming : a lot of fun ! I was even able to code some Ajax interactions with Spring 🙂

At the beginning, the idea was to work with iteration, every hour. We had a continuous deployment system with a very interesting Jenkins plug-in, showing the pipeline between all deployment steps. Finally we worked in flow, and only have some quick stand ups, every hours. We shipped 24 times in production in 2.5 days ! That was awesome !

But we also failed learned a lot, specially with the practices we dropped or forgot. I say « we » as a team, even some of us tried to use those practices. In particular, we often traded quality to ship in production. The application was a mobile site to help ALE participants know the program, specially the open space, where the sessions and their location were known at the last moment. So the application was lively used. And that put more pressure on the PO and the team to deliver more frequently. This is where trade-offs on quality started to appear. For examples, we didn’t have any automated UI tests. And we missed them : we had regressions once or twice. Never mind ! Now we know. And this is the most important thing. We also have a lot of really great successes. And that’s worth saying it !

Finally, this experience was exactly as I imagined it. It was a great success. Not because of what we produced, but of what we learned. The success keys were certainly the fact that we had real users for this application, with a real interest to have new functionalities. Even if we didn’t know each other before the conference (except two or three German :)), we had the same motivation and everyone had good technical skills. With all of this, we acted as a real team, and very very quickly ! If you want a summary of what we learned, take a look at the retrospective results. It is very instructive. Take also a look at Marc’s feedback on this experience. I’d really like to reproduce it somewhere. I’ll think about it.

3 ALEsome days

Now you understand why I felt quite mixed up. But I only want to remember the best part of it. I also met a lot of great people. And learned. A lot. If I had some improvements to propose, I would say :

  • Just try to be less religious. I don’t want to give argues to people who think Agile is a sect.
  • Have more technical sessions, and try to encourage technical agilists to come to ALE (and we made some very good proposals about this in our retrospective group !).
  • Start the day a bit later. Mostly in Barcelona ! We were in at 8:30 and out at 18:30. We could start an hour later, just to have more time to sleep ! 😉
  • And last but not least : have some beers at the end of the day ! We’re at ALE !!!! 🙂 We should enjoy it ! 🙂

Take also a look at this post on the conference blog, where there are slides, videos, photos, feedback blog posts from the conference.

Now I’d like to thank first the organizers, all the people I met, the crazy guys who had the OSSD idea and who made it possible, and last but not least Pablo, my boss, who encouraged me to come and made this possible. And sorry again Oana, for this long walk to the restaurant 🙂

See you next year (if it’s not too far) 🙂 !