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Agile on the Beach Conference Report

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Agile On The Beach 2015 conference took place last week, on 3rd/4th September. It was hosted at the Performance Centre at the Tremough campus of Falmouth University and the University of Exeter, near Falmouth, Cornwall, UK.

The conference featured 48 sessions over the 2 days, with 5 tracks running on the Thursday and 4 tracks running on the Friday. Topics covered everything from estimating, project management, and implementing agile to source control, testing practices, and teaching software developers.

What follows is a summary of the sessions I attended. Slides and videos of all the talks should be available from the Agile On The Beach website in due course.

Farley's 3 laws

The opening keynote was Dave Farley, coauthor of Continuous Delivery. Rather than talk to us about continuous delivery, he introduced Farley's 3 laws:

  • People are crap
  • Stuff is more complicated than you think
  • All stuff is interesting (if you look at it in the right way)

People are slow, lazy and unobservant. Thinking requires real effort, measurable in brain scans, so we are hard-wired to avoid it where possible, making snap judgements and guesses. Our eyes cannot take in a whole scene at once, so they scan around, and our brain fills in the areas we're not looking at for that millisecond with what it thinks is likely based on what was there when we last looked in that direction.

The best indicator for whether or not people will agree with you in a meeting is how good the food was: feed people well and they will look favourably on you and your suggestions.

Our brain is a pattern-recognition engine. If we can recognize a pattern then we don't need to consciously think about the details. This has some surprising consequences, such as that we can hear speech in a simple set of sine waves. Dave played us some audio files of sine waves, then someone talking, and then the sine waves again: we could all hear the speech in the second set of sine waves. He also showed us various optical illusions, with static images that appear to move, black and white images that appear in colour and so forth.

By being aware of our tendencies to be lazy, and jump to conclusions we can consciously decide to pay attention to how things are. Apply the scientific method: hypothesize, test, repeat. This is the core of Agile and Lean, and the manufacturing ideas of Dr W. Edwards Demming, and it's how we managed to get a man on the moon in 1969 despite barely any of the technology existing when President Kennedy suggested the idea.

  • Don't do things because we've always done them that way,
  • Don't start work on a guess or jump to conclusions,
  • Don't be afraid of failure,
  • Question everything,
  • Always think "how can I test this?",
  • Iterate to learn and adapt.

Remember: everything is interesting.


After the break, Jim Barritt was presenting a live demo of ClojureScript. This is essentially just a Clojure-to-JavaScript compiler, which allows you to write Web applications in Clojure.

One particularly neat aspect is the way that it integrates with the server side code, so you can have Clojure code running both on the server and in the browser.

Another nice feature is that error messages in the browser console refer directly to the line in the ClojureScript file that the JavaScript was generated from, rather than a line in the generated JavaScript.

Test-driving User Interfaces

Next up was my presentation on Test-driving User Interfaces. The main thrust of my presentation is that in principle User Interfaces are no harder to test-drive than any other bit of code, we just need to know how.

Also, desktop frameworks don't tend to support testing UIs, so we need to develop our own library of support code to drive the UI from within our tests.

After my presentation it was time for lunch.

Only You can Analyze the Code

What happens if only one member of the team is allowed to run static analysis tools on a codebase? That is the question that Anna-Jayne Metcalfe's talk was there to answer after lunch.

As you might guess, the answer is not good. Though it can be nice to get a heads-up on the state of your code base, this is all you really get if only one person does it. To get the most out of static analysis tools you need to have the whole team involved, and have the analysis run before check-in.

On a large legacy code base you might well end up with several lint warnings per line for you crank up the analysis level too much. Wading through millions of messages to find the important ones is not for the faint-hearted. Better is to set the warning level to a minimum, so only the nastiest issues get flagged. If you run the analysis locally, before check-in, you have a chance to fix things before the code gets committed.

If you're going to do Scrum, do it right

That was the message of Amy Thompson's talk "Scrum ... Really?". This was more of a pep-talk selling the benefits of doing Scrum by the book than a "how-to", but there were titbits of real advice in there on things you should be doing:

  • Scrum needs proper buy-in at all levels of management
  • Have a physical progress board, so everyone can see the state of the project
  • The Product Owner needs to work on the stories before adding them to the backlog to provide a clear definition of done

Don't let your organization do "Scrum, but ...".

Use contract tests to ease integration pain

The penultimate talk of the first day was Stefan Smith's talk titled "Escape the integration syrup with contract tests". If your software is part of an ecosystem of cooperating pieces of software then you need to ensure that everything works together. This is the role of integration tests.

However, if each piece of the ecosystem has its own release schedule then this can make integration difficult. Organizations typically wrap a combination of builds of the individual components into a single monolithic system build for integration testing, which then moves through the various test stages as a package.

If you're trying to release a small change to one of the components this can cause a big delay, as your change has to join the next release train.

Contract tests can help. Each component carries with it tests for the required behaviour of all the components it interacts with. These are packaged alongside the component, and come in two parts: a test client that mimics the behaviour of this component and the way it uses other components, and a dummy server that provides a minimal test-double that demonstrates the required behaviour.

When testing the component itself, you run it against the test-double. You also need to run the test-client against the test-double to ensure that you keep your behaviour in sync. When testing interactions between components you run the test-client from one against the real implementation of the other, and vice-versa.

Since these test-clients embody the interface to the component, they allow you to test whether components work together without having to do full integration tests. If component A is used by components B and C, when developing component A version 57, you can run it against the contract tests for all the versions of components B and C in the release pipeline. If all the contract tests pass, you may then be able to bring this new release forward to the pre-production staging area for final integration tests without having to go through the full pipeline.

Done right, this can save a lot of pain and allow faster deployment of individual components. However, this is not free. You have to pay attention to ensure the contract tests are properly updated, and there can be many combinations to run, which requires time and resources.

Mob rule

"Product Development in an Unruly Mob" was the title of the final talk I attended on the first day. Benji Weber and Alex Wilson from Unruly spoke about a practice they use called "Mob Programming". This is pair programming taken a step further, so the whole team sits in a "mob" around a single computer, rather than each person doing their own thing.

You need a large screen so everyone can see — they use a 50" TV — as well as a smaller screen for the person at the keyboard to use.

One important point is that the person at the keyboard should not do anything that has not been decided by the group as a whole. This makes it possible for non-programmers to drive. They also suggest that you need to change the driver frequently so everyone on the team gets a turn relatively often, and everyone feels involved.

They commented that the closest they've ever got to an "ideal programming day" was when mob programming.

They don't mob all the time; sometimes people will peel off the mob to take a break, or to work on something that really is a single-person task. However, they try to eliminate the need for such single-person tasks.

Their experience has shown that mob programming can help eliminate the common team dysfunctions: it builds trust, as you're all there together, it reduces conflict because everyone can get heard, and it builds commitment and accountability as the whole team is there and everything is decided together.


The first day ended with a party on the beach. This was a great opportunity to have discussions with people about the day's talks, as well as to discuss wider issues around software development and life.

Day 2

The second day of the conference was just as good as the first. I missed out on watching any of the sessions in one of the afternoon slots due to having extended discussions in the break, but that's the way things go — the discussions with other delegates are probably more valuable than the sessions themselves anyway.

Agile Leadership

The Friday morning keynote was by Jenni Jepsen, on "Agile Leadership and Teams".

Agile works because the processes support the reward mechanisms in the brain; the neuroscience proves that Agile works.

We work best when we have moderate levels of stress hormones. Too much stress and our brain shuts down and performance suffers. Likewise for too little, but that's not a common concern in the workplace. If you're over-stressed then support and encouragement can help reduce stress, and improve performance. The collaboration techniques in Agile methodologies have this effect.

Our brains are great at pattern matching, so we can manage to read sentences with all the letters in each word scrambled, provided the first and last letters of each word are correct.

If we have a feeling of control, our Pre-Frontal Cortex functions better, and can override the stress response from our limbic system.

If we're stressed for 2 weeks we can become more negative as our brain is rewired. We then need 2 weeks of no-stress to recover. By focusing on positive things then our brain is rewired in a positive fashion.

Agile processes help with providing us these positive things:

  • Craftsmanship and pride in what we're doing
  • Certainty, having an overview of what's coming next. Planning for uncertainty creates certainty in the brain: we're certain things are going to change
  • Influence and autonomy: we plan the details ourselves in our teams, rather than having things imposed from above
  • Connection with people, by working in teams

Focusing on relationships before tasks helps us get to the tasks quicker, and do the tasks better.

Taking Back BDD

Next up was Konstantin Kudryashov, with the first of the two talks I attended on Behaviour Driven Development (BDD).

One of the central aspects of BDD is the structure of the BDD tests: Given a setup, when I do something, then the outcome is this. Konstantin wants us to really drill down in these scenarios, and use them as a focus for a conversation with the customer. This can really help us build our ubiquitous language, and help with Domain Driven Design (DDD).

Konstantin used an example of an application to help conference delegates plan which talks they are going to attend. This was something we could all relate to, since the conference organisers were plugging the use of the free Whova app for doing exactly this.

"Given that there's a conference 'Agile on the Beach', and that the first session in track 1 on Friday is 'Taking Back BDD' ..."

Talk to the customer: what do we mean "there's a conference 'Agile on the Beach'"? What do we mean by "session"? What do we mean by "track 1"?

Each of these questions can help us flesh out our scenario, and help drive the interface of our domain objects. Create factory functions that mimic the structure of the sentence:

$conference=Conference::namedWithTracks("Agile on the Beach",5);

BDD drives the conversations that help us build the ubiquitous language for our DDD. This leads to fewer misunderstandings, as the customer, the programmer and the code all use the same terms for the same things, which leads to happier customers.

Watching Konstantin made me think "I really ought to do this on my projects".

10 things you need to know about BDD

The second BDD talk was in the very next slot. This one was presented by Seb Rose. He first provided 10 (base 12) things you need to know about BDD, which he reduced to 10 (base 2) things you need to know at the end.

Fundamentally, BDD is about collaboration and conversations between the developers, testers and customers. Tools like Cucumber and Specflow provide nice ways of automating the test scenarios that arise from the conversations, but you don't need them to make it work.

Code Club : Creating the next generation of software developers

After lunch, Mike Trebilcock spoke with enthusiasm about what we can do to encourage young people to get interested in software development.

Mike used the metaphor of a "pipeline" to anchor his talk, with key markers at the various stages of education from primary school onwards, culminating in a career in software development. This is a "leaky" pipeline: not everyone from every stage will continue to have an interest in software development at the next stage.

Mike wants us to work to cultivate interest in children at primary school, and then keep that interest all through education, to ensure we have a new generation of skilled software developers. He encouraged us to help with or start Code Clubs, and to work with schools and colleges on their curriculum to ensure that they are teaching the things we as an industry would find valuable.

Cornwall College and Falmouth University have new degree courses on game development and software development. The software development course in particular has been developed in association with Software Cornwall to provide the skills that would be useful for local software companies.

All of us can help teach and encourage the next generation of programmers.

Financial Prioritization

Antonello Nardini's presentation hinged on a single premise: if we can estimate the actual monetary business value and cost of our stories, then we can use that information to aid in prioritization, and thus help our customers get more money sooner, or maintain cashflow.

Sadly, there was nothing in this that wasn't covered in Mike Cohn's Agile Estimating and Planning. Also, I find the premise to be flawed: it is rare to be able to predict with any certainty what the monetary value of a feature is likely to be. Doing fancy calculations such as Internal Rate of Return on estimated values just compounds the uncertainty, and gives you numbers that look good, but are basically useless.

I tried asking Antonello how he dealt with this in practice, but didn't come away with anything I could use: "it depends". I won't be trying to use financial prioritization of my projects.

What is Agile?

Woody Zuill presented the conference Endnote. He started by talking to us about the Agile Manifesto: what does it mean? What does "over" mean in this context?

He likes to think of it like "I value being fit and healthy OVER eating junk food". It doesn't mean that eating junk food is ruled out per se, but you try not to do it, especially not to the point that it stops you being fit and healthy.

Woody reminded us of John Gall's writing: complex systems that work invariably have come from simple systems that work, so start there, don't go straight for a big complex system.

You might not even need the whole system that you first envisaged. Woody tells the story of a project he worked on where there were 12 calculations that the business wanted automating to improve their production. Doing all 12 would have been a big complex task, so Woody's team started with the one calculation that was most vital to automate. When this was done, working and released, they worked on the others one at a time. After the 4th was done, the business said "that's enough" — we don't need the others done after all, they're not that valuable. If they'd started doing a system for all 12 calculations then it would have been much more complex, much more expensive, and would have done a load of work that ultimately the customer didn't actually need.

Woody sums up this approach with "Deliver features until bored" — keep delivering features until the customer is bored, and doesn't want to invest any more in the product.

I'll be back

Agile on the Beach 2015 was a great conference, and I'll be back next year. The question is: will you? Mega early bird tickets for 2016 are already on sale.

Posted by Anthony Williams
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I like all the people are meeting under a roof to make new ideas and suggestions about innovation. I am looking forward for a bright programming future from here. As I am guiding by these members Thanks

by Free Sample Job Descriptions at 15:00:33 on Monday, 21 January 2019

I like all the people are meeting under a roof to make new ideas and suggestions about innovation. I am looking forward for a bright programming future from here. As I am guiding by these members Thank you so much.

by Sample Job descriptions at 15:00:33 on Monday, 21 January 2019

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