Agile India 2014 Recap – My Impressions

tl;dr: Thank you for making Agile India 2014 (AI14) a grand success.

Slides: Several speakers have already uploaded their slides. They are available via http://present.agileindia.org/schedule/agile-india-2014. Rest will upload their slides in the coming days.

Videos: If you like to get a copy of all the videos from the conference, you can purchase the entire DVD set here: http://booking.agilefaqs.com/agile-india-2014

Feedback: Anyone who attended the conference would have noticed that the conference doesn’t provide any feedback forms. How bizarre is that for an agile conference? Let me tell you something, asking attendees to fill out feedback forms at the conference when there is so much going on is very ineffective. Have you ever wondered why after filling all those feedback forms or taking customer surveys things hardly change?

At Agile India, we take feedback very seriously and hence we believe in talking directly with you. If possible, we try and implement your suggestion right-away instead of waiting till the next conference. I’ve personally collected face-to-face feedback from over 300 attendees. However we were not able to talk to everyone and as a fall back option, we would encourage you to visit http://bit.ly/1nrjpVn and submit your valuable suggestions. The top 3 suggestions, selected by our program committee, will stand a chance to win an iPad mini or a free pass to next year’s conference. However please read the entire email, before you jump off.

Long Version:

As we are wrapping up the last few tasks from AI14, I would like to take a few minutes and share my reflections on conference and the growth of agile community in India since we started in 2004 (10 years ago.)

First of all, thank you for participating in our largest conference ever! We were happy to host 1236 Attendees from 28 different countries. We had attendees playing 342 different roles from 226 different companies: http://blog.agileindia.org/2014/03/04/agile-india-2014-conference-final-attendees-profile/

For 10 years we’ve been running these conferences and every year the community-feeling keeps getting better. This year, finally one could sense the true spirit of large scale community at the conference. It was not a one person show anymore. Also, it was amazing to see how well folks were networking and learning from each other (peer-to-peer learning.)

This year we got tremendous support from a diverse set of companies sponsoring the event. Many people appreciated that the conference was not only supported by Agile tools & consulting companies, but was also supported by companies like JP Morgan and Siemens. This clearly shows that the industry believes in the agile movement and wants to invest in nurturing our budding community. I greatly appreciate the support from our partners.

Another thing the participants really appreciated was, how inclusive the conference program was. In the early days of Agile India, we were very heavily influenced by eXtreme Programming. But over the years, we’ve tried our best to be more inclusive of other methods (Scrum, Kanban, Lean Startup, DSDM, etc.) and frameworks (SAFe, DAD, etc.) We strongly believe that our job is to create an equal platform for everyone, get the best in the industry and let people decide what makes most sense to them, in their context.

As you might know, the entire conference program was put together by a committee of volunteers (http://2014.agileindia.org/organizers/), who are selected via a nomination process. Also anyone is allowed to put in a proposal via our open submission system (http://present.agileindia.org). We got 263 proposals for talk, out of which 64 proposals were selected.

You might not be aware, how much blood and sweat goes into putting together a conference of this scale. Every single person, who helped us with the conference is a volunteer. People who have regular day time jobs, just like you. Our team has spent many sleepless nights starting from June 2013 to Feb 2014 (9 months.) It is a big commitment. I sincerely want to thank every volunteer who made this possible.

We encourage you to participate in this process as well. There are 3 level in which you can participate:

  1. Join the Program committee (chairs, core members and reviewers)
  2. Share your experience by putting in proposals for talks you would like to present at the conference
  3. Give constructive feedback via votes and comments to other proposals, to refine them.

Please follow @agileindia on twitter to get updates. We’ll have a call for all of these (May time-frame.)

Quick note to presenters: If you would like to present at the next year’s conference, start now. Start by presenting inside your company. Then at a local user group. Then at one of the regional conferences. Agile India runs many regional events every year: http://agileindia.org/events Also consider pairing with an experience speaker. There are no shortcuts to presenting at our annual, international conference.

Dave Thomas Keynote:

After signing the Agile Manifesto, this was the first Agile conference in 13 years that Dave Thomas was attending. I think this is special. Many attendees told us that Dave’s keynote was the highlight of the conference. Dave can tell you, how much I pestered him to accept our invite. We always strive to bring you the best.

Paid Workshops:
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Unlike last year, this year we got a really good response for the paid workshops. Just the workshops attracted over 300 people and the feedback from the workshops was very promising. The paid workshops not only gives you an opportunity to spend quality time with an expert, but it also helps us to cover some of the speaker expenses and attract more experts to the conference. If you were to attend the same speaker’s training outside the conference, it would cost you at least 3 times more. The conference, massively subsidies the cost for the greater good of the community.

Food:
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Overall the feedback on quality & taste of the food was very positive. Many attendees commented that they hate hotel food, esp. since it creates a burning sensation after eating. But they were surprised they did not have any such problems. Nor did the food make them sleepy. We know that food is a big part of the conference experience. And hence I had personally tasted and selected the entire menu. So if you did not like something, blame me.

Some tweets from the conference:
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#AgileIndia2014 – an awesome conference and one to consider adding to your must-attend events.

As world conf traveler, I can say #AgileIndia2014 is 1 of world’s top Agile confs;

Leaving #agileindia2014 – what an amazing time! Thanks to @nashjain and everyone else who made it happen 🙂

It’s great to hear “understand the problem you are trying to solve” as a common theme from many #agileindia2014 speakers.

Our team had a wonderful learning experience at #AgileIndia2014. Congratulations for organizing such a brilliant event.

Few other things worth highlighting:
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First Registration Slab was sold out in flat 7 mins. This was even before the conference program was available. Trust me, this is unheard of in India. There are at least 200 people who’ve been attending Agile India conferences for more than 3 years and they mostly pay out of their pocket to attend. To encourage such passionate folks, we kept a super-early-bird registration slab. We believe they are a key part of our community.

Experience Reports and Case Studies:
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As you know, this year we’ve focused a lot on getting as many case studies and experience reports at the conference. To further maximize your learning from these sessions, we’ve published all these reports here: http://2014.agileindia.org/program/reports/ These reports will continue to be freely available for anyone interested in learning.

Lightning Talks:
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Lightning talks were very well received. Many people having great ideas to share. Next year we plan to structure them little better and make them more visible.

Not everything was perfect at the conference, however the attendees did a great job in cooperating with us. It was amazing to see them take ownership of the conference and work patiently with us.

A few unexpected things worth highlighting:
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Different floors: Original plan was to have all the 3 parallel tracks on the same floor, but only 3 days before the conference the hotel told us that the divider in the grand ballroom, which is used to split the grand ballroom into 2 halls is not working. We had to shift one of the tracks to Sigma hall (which was 2 levels above) and move the paid workshops elsewhere. I could see the frustration in people trying to find Sigma hall and move between floors. But hardly anyone complained. They gave us the benefit of doubt. Thank you!

Speaker Dropouts: We had a few speakers (including a keynote speaker) dropout last minute. We tried our best to cover up the slots with something equally interesting. IMHO this is true agility in action.

Cramped Hallways: The hallways were quite cramped esp. during the breaks. We had not expected such a great response from sponsors, when we originally planned the conference. Other than the hallway, we could not find an alternative, central location for the title sponsor stalls. The stalls certainly added to the space constraint in the hallway. But it was also fun to have some ongoing action in the hallway.

Registration process on the first day is always challenging. We had so many last minute changes (attendees swapping names and days) which makes it extremely hard to streamline the process. As far as I’m aware, we embraced it and accommodated all the changes. Our team of volunteers did their best to make it as smooth as possible. Next year we are planning to revamp the whole registration process by using RFIDs and other technology solutions.

Wifi Connection: Internet Wifi connection is still extremely expensive (~ 10 Lakh Rs.) for conferences. So we get it sponsored from Airtel. But there is only so much we can demand when we get something sponsored. Having said that, compared to last year, this year the wifi connection was much better. We had 5 routers and few of them were constantly overloaded. With over 200 people trying to connect to each router, there were moments when new connections could not be established. Whenever we noticed something like this, we tried to reset the route, but all of this took time and I could see some people unhappy about it.

Few things we tried for the first time:

Agile Art!
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During all the three evening receptions, the participants created a visual art piece together with the help of Richard Kasperowski and the team from McAfee. This helped the participants to create new connections and build/reinforce the community of Agilists in India and around the world. On the fourth day, we displayed our art, which was a big hit. I saw many people posing in front of the art piece for pictures. Finally, we invited attendees to take pieces of the art as gifts as reminders of our potential to create greatness together.

Book Signing and Book Store
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Every year Agile India attracts top speakers from around the world. Most of these speakers have a track record of writing very influential books. To enable the fan/follower of these authors, we set up a book store at the conference and had book signing events where attendees were able to get a personal autographed book by the authors. Many folks appreciated this initiative. And we plan to make it even stronger next year.

Agile India Webinar Series
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We invited many speakers to the Agile India 2014 Conference. However due to travel constraints or other conflicts, they were not able to make it. However few of them agreed to do an exclusive webinar (Google Hangout) with us. The recordings of their webinar is available at: http://2014.agileindia.org/program/webinars/

Agile India Job Fair
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Agile India was happy to host the world’s first job fair dedicated for hiring Agile practitioners. The goal of the Agile Job Fair was to create a platform dedicated for the Agile practitioners to meet their potential Agile employers and for companies to find Agile practitioners to enable their journey to Agile adoption and excellence. We had over 200 people who applied to participate in the job fair. Also we had a total of 6 companies who participated as employers. On the day of the event, we had only 40 odd people show up. This was disappointing. However the 40+ who showed up, really appreciated the initiative. Next year we plan to host the job fair, during the conference itself.

P.S: Every week, I get at least 10 emails from people asking me about Agile India membership. I don’t get it! Why do you want to give me your hard-earned money for no good reasons? The current membership program has no real benefits and hence we’ve closed it. I’m currently working on a new membership model for Agile India, which will provide real membership benefits. At that point you can justify spending money on membership. If you have ideas on how we should structure the membership program, please drop me a note. Good ideas win free membership. Stay tuned for more…

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About Naresh Jain

Naresh Jain is an internationally recognized Technology & Product Development Expert. Over the last decade, he has helped streamline the product development practices at many Fortune 500 companies like Google, Amazon, HP, Siemens Medical, GE Energy, Schlumberger, EMC, CA Technologies, to name a few clients. These days, he is more focused on engineering excellence and product innovation. In a nutshell, hire him as a consultant/mentor, if your entire organization wants to move beyond the Agile and Lean mindset. Naresh is leading two tech-startups, which build tablet-based adaptive educational apps for kids, conference management software and social-media search tool. His startups are trying to figure out the secret sauce for blending gamification and social learning using the latest gadgets. Naresh founded the Agile Software community of India, a registered non-profit society to evangelize Agile, Lean and other Light-weight Software Development methods in India. Naresh is responsible for conceptualizing, creating and organizing 50+ Software conferences worldwide.