It’s day three and the proper conference opened after two days of tutorials with a keynote by Mary Poppendieck. She officially recognized that agile has become mainstream now, referencing a book about how ideas cross a chasm separating them from mainstream. But instead of cheering and encouraging the audience to indulge in feeling good about it she warned us about possible ways in which we could fail with agile. What I did carry out from that speech was that we shouldn’t become too attached to “agile methodologies”. We shouldn’t follow what others are doing but rather constantly inspect what we do and adapt to our own circumstances. Mary’s keynote was full of references to books and cases showing the progress continues – some even see iterations as a transitional stage to a state of perpetual release, constant improvement.

Mary’s overall message was important to me. I represent a small team working from a little country at the outskirts of Europe – and hence I have a tendency to look up to those great organizations at the bleeding edge of the new. But we can be great too – and in fact, as I already observed, my team is well ahead of most of the people I spoke to during breaks. And that there are teams that are even better is great too – at least we know we have to keep on improving. Our clients can only benefit from that.

Afterwards I attended a session led by James Waletzky from Microsoft, which was… well, boring. He had this great idea of using two of his friends as actors playing a pair of developers – a waterfall-ish one and an agile one – talking about emerging vs. upfront design while he commented on it. It was maybe a nice idea, but the actors were not in sync with his presentation and what they discussed was so basic I got bored quickly. I didn’t want to disrupt others by leaving so I opened my laptop and responded to some e-mails thanks to Wi-fi reaching into that particular room.

Luckily, that was the only disappointment of the day. The afternoon sessions by Andy Hunt about the workings of the mind and improving how we learn and handle things in our heads were quite interesting. Some practices – like GTD or mind mapping or the left-brain vs. right-brain thinking – I was already familiar with. Others were new or I’ve just read about them but didn’t use them.

I always like to listen to people who have broad knowledge, research many things and can talk about them in an interesting way. I feel I have lots in common with such people, whom I call “searchers”. It is great that there are others who don’t just use the mind, but try to understand what it is and how it works.

During the break there was a small discussion and it turned out some insights I gained from my meditation practice were quite interesting for the others. I was surprised that Andy – being interested in the workings of the mind – started some kind of meditation practice only recently. We also exchanged some ideas – I’m now researching what EMDR is, Andy will – I’m sure – go through the website of the Global Conscience Project. As it is frequently the case – questions and discussions during breaks can be as valuable as the sessions themselves.

The day closed with another keynote, this time by Mike Cohn. His presentation – as usual powerfully delivered – concentrated on reservations and fears people have against switching to agile. Not much new material for me, but again, hearing it in an organized fashion was quite refreshing.

Tomorrow I’ll be leading an open space session on agile in outsourcing. I don’t count on many people being interested in such a discussion but I thought it’s worth a try especially as the subject is really underrepresented in the conference (and most of agile literature).