Agile 2012 Conference Technical Track Teaser with Mitch Lacey

Episode Special

July 19, 2012



The Agile Weekly Crew and Mitch Lacey discuss Agile 2012, technical tracks and gaining buy in from developers.

Jade Meskill: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly podcast. I’m Jade Meskill.

Drew LeSueur: I’m Drew LeSueur.

Roy vandeWater: I’m Roy vandeWater.

What Is The Agile Alliance

Jade: We’ve got Mitch Lacey here with us on the Agile Weekly podcast. Great to have you here, Mitch. Thanks for coming on the show. Why don’t we get started by…I know that you are involved with the Agile Alliance. Maybe you could tell our listeners, who might be unfamiliar with the Agile Alliance, what the Agile Alliance does, what it represents, and how you’re involved there?

Mitch Lacey: My job with the Agile Alliance is in the Conference Chair for the Agile 2012. The Agile Alliance itself is a non‑profit organization whose primary goal and focus is to advance Agile development principles and practices, and it supports this in a variety of ways.

The conferences, probably its biggest way but it manages and hosts local user group meetings, supports for those, talks, community groups, the website has good resources and event listings. Agile Alliance, its primary focus, Agile software development, and the big source of revenue to supply that, those endeavors, is the Conference.

Agile 2012 Conference Grapevine, Texas

Jade: Maybe you could tell our listeners also about the Agile 2012 Conference that’s coming up soon.

Mitch: Agile 2012 is going to be in Grapevine, Texas this year. I’m really looking forward to it. We tried some new things this year with regards to our keynotes and to a new stage called the “No‑Bull Know‑How” stage, where we have a bunch of known industry experts that’ll be there, not giving a talk, but they’re actually going to be answering questions that people can submit on the website, provided they’ve registered for the Conference.

Then come up on stage to have, as intimate as you can be with a couple hundred people in the room, an intimate conversation around large topics of choice at hand. We’re really looking forward to that. The Conference itself, we had over 800 submissions this year. We had to accept 20 to 25 percent of those, so we have a little over 200 submissions that came in.

One of my big charters for this year, one of my goals and objectives, was to be able to increase the amount of technical content, as compared to traditional management or program management content. Increase the technical content from last year, it was at 10 percent, up to 25 percent. I didn’t totally hit that goal but I brought it up to 15, little over 15 percent. That is something I’m pretty happy with.

Increased Technical Content

Drew: When you say technical content are you talking about more like developer‑oriented stuff, like XP stuff?

Mitch: Correct, yeah, developer‑oriented stuff, eXtreme Programming XP stuff. For example, how are people doing Agile for iPhone and iPad development? How are they doing Agile for embedded systems? What are some good modern practices around TDD? What are people doing? What are the emerging trends?

They’re just bringing it back from a more program management, leadership focus to making sure that the technical content is included because you guys know that’s where it started.

Drew: Right.

Mitch: I don’t want to get that lost. I don’t want to see that be lost, so I had some very passionate conversations last year with some individuals at the conference who wanted to get involved and I took them up on it and I think we’ve got a pretty good program this year, I’m pretty happy with it.

Jade: What’s one of the sessions that you’re looking forward to seeing, especially given that you’re really putting an emphasis on the technical side of things.

Mitch: [laughs] It’s funny because I’m not even sure I’m going be able to go see any sessions.


Technical Sessions To Attend

Mitch: There is a session on Monday with Eric Smith and Eric Meyer around “Make your iPhone Agile with automated iOS Testing” which, to me, sounds pretty cool that I want to see.

We also did something different this year. Corey Haines is doing a full day Immersion coding development workshop on Wednesday, which, if I had a full day to go I would go to it. I’m really excited for that. I think that’s going to be a fantastic program for people to come in, get their hands dirty, and do stuff.

Bob Martin will be there. He’s doing a session on Clean Code, which is great. Liz Keogh will be there doing a session on Behavior Driven Development which is going to be great. There’s one session, and I remember this one when we were laying out the program which made me laugh and the title of it is “Does pair programming have to suck”?


Mitch: It’s obviously funny because when you start out at those you actually learn how to do it. It gets significantly better and easier. Dave Bernstein is doing a session on Writing High Quality Code that I think is going to be pretty exciting and fun.

The coaching stage also has a lot of good stuff on it as well. Dave Hussman is doing a session over there. Sam Laing and Karen Greaves are doing a session on Brain Science on Monday ‑‑ the first day. It’s a three hour session I won’t be able to go, that’s one of the ones that I’m recommending to people just because it’s interesting, really cool, really exiting.

From a program standpoint it’s pretty challenging to find a session that you want to go to knowing there are so many other good ones. I was on the phone with somebody earlier saying, “Hey I am a first timer. I don’t know what to see, I don’t know who’s who, what should I go see”? I spent about an hour on the program with her diving through it and she said, “So you recommend everything.” and I said, “Well, yeah.”


Mitch: I do, why don’t you go look at it and let’s talk again next week and you pair down the list a little bit and I’ll give you my thoughts on your paired down list.

Jade: Awesome, sounds like some really great people.

The Venue Is Amazing

Mitch: Yeah, it should be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to it. The party on Thursday night is at the Glass Cactus Nightclub which is there on the Gaylord compound overlooks the reservoir, the Lake Grapevine. It is a beautiful building. We have a great band called the Emerald City band and a comedian that is going to open up for us as well, should be pretty fun.

What Has Your Attention

Jade: Awesome, looking forward to that. Shifting gears a little bit, what is something that you seen lately maybe a recent development in agile technical practices that’s got you exited, or frustrated, or what’s got you hot and bothered in the technical realm?

Mitch: I can’t say that I have stumbled across anything new but the thing that gets me hot and bothered in fact I had another conversation with a person today about this. She was a customer, a friend of mine, she was telling me that in her organization you’ve got management who’s bought off which is, they’re saying, “Let’s go go go let’s do it whatever resources you guys need to make this happen.”

Then you got the middle management which was surprisingly was bought off and supported and you had half the team, the testers, ready to rock the traditional project managers ready to rock and you had the developers saying, “Yeah I’m not sure I can build anything in a month and have it be potentially shippable, it’s going to take a six month to design the system let alone to actually get anything written probably a year and half.”

It drives me bad when I see that behavior because it’s so well known ‑‑ at least for me I think it’s pretty well known how that stuff works. We’re constantly ‑‑ as people in this industry ‑‑ we constantly have to re‑sell and re‑sell that message, of people have done it before us, it does work, you have the right mindset you’re are going to be fine, if you don’t it’s not going to work.

I know it’s not really a development practice you have under focus for some developers today, but I just bang my head against the wall time and time again and it just, I’m sure you guys do when you hear, “That can’t work here,” story or “That doesn’t work in the real world.” Obviously when people say it doesn’t work in the real world I won’t know what world they’re in…


Mitch: …because, in the world I live in it works great. As far as I’m concerned we are all in the same planet but maybe not.

Broken Mindsets

Jade: What are some of the techniques that you might use when you end up in that situation where you, going back to your scenario we can’t even design it in six months let alone deliver something in a month that’s just impossible? What do you do from that point?

Mitch: At that point I really focus, what I do is try to focus on the past. And say, “OK. Hey, you’re right. Walk me through how you’ve done this. How would you go about and do this”? And of course they’ll start out and like to this day it wasn’t a development team, they that they are thinking of. The development team wasn’t on the phone.

It’s like, “OK, let’s walk people back and say, ‘What have you done in the past’”? They lay it out there and say, “Now, tell me when all the problems surfaced in that area.” Of course, they always surface at the end. Telling people doesn’t work.

Telling people, “This is the way you should do something,” doesn’t work because you have to paint the picture inside their head and show them what it is they’re missing or what it is that needs to be seen for them to have the light bulb go off and go on, “Ah, now I understand everything you’re talking about. I still don’t believe it, but, at least, I understand it and I’m willing to take a little bit of a leap of faith on this to be able to drive it forward.”

That’s when having somebody there to help comes into play. I’m a big fan of painting the past. They can paint in the past, highlight in the failures and go, “Great. If we keep doing the same thing, we should expect those results.”

Drew: Great stuff. When a developer has that mindset, “There is no way we can do this in this amount of time,” what do you think it is? Are they afraid to release something because then they’ll have to be held accountable for it? Or is it they’re just used to procrastinating and not really releasing anything?

What do you think causes that?

Mitch: It’s both. It’s procrastination. It’s accountability. It’s the fact that people have been trained. You get trained in school. You got to school, you learn development. You won’t learn project from the get‑go.

There are very few schools out there that are teaching that stuff. Most of the people, like my next‑door neighbor, he’s a computer science major and he’s learning that you go off and you do your design up front. You go write all your codes, then, you go write all your tests.

Jade: Right, it’s the same continuing…

Mitch: He comes next door and he goes, “Mitch, how does it work at Microsoft? How does it work here? How does it work here”? I tell him, I say, “This is what I advocate. This is what companies do.”

I gave him a copy of my book and he read it and he’s like, “I’m not learning any of this in school.” It starts at that ground level foundation because you’re teaching somebody how, if they’re right‑handed, you’re teaching them how to be left‑handed.

You’ve been right‑handed all your life and now, suddenly, somebody’s telling you to be left‑handed. That doesn’t really work that well, especially if you’re expected to learn it overnight, which a lot of management teams really drive.

Because of that, you see a lot of resistance with development teams. You see a lot of resistance with management in the fact that they say, “We can’t do it.” That’s part one.

Part two is the fact that people look at a holistic solution and think that they have to build the framework and then, they have to build the UI and they have to build all these things and, hopefully, it all comes together at the end. As you guys know, everybody in our space is a big advocate of, “Let’s build the smallest piece first, smallest thing, validate functionality and direct forward with it.”

Of course, that creates the mindset that you have to have this throw‑away work and organizations, often, frown upon throw‑away work because as development teams, we should get it right the first time.


Mitch: The problem is we’re not going to get it right the first time because software is a creative process and it’s artistic and the IDE is like the canvas. You’re going to paint and you’re going to repaint and you’re going to repaint again.

It’s impossible to get it right the first time. You have to go through and do some sketches, do some prototyping, create some GIFs and user stories that working so you can get feedback from the customers. If they change their mind, that’s a good thing.

A lot of companies think that’s a bad thing because they have everyone sign in blood.


Jade: That’s right. What do you think our responsibility is as those people who have found this new way and we still look to the traditional university environment and other things that are teaching people that this outdated way of developing software?

What should we do about that?

Mitch: What should we do about it? First thing, let me back up, I’m not necessarily sure it’s an outdated way, it’s just a different way. I’m a big advocate of Waterfall. I think Waterfall is great.

However, if you’re in an environment that’s going to change and if you have customers that are going to change and if your business is changing and it’s changing so rapidly that you have to be able to respond to it, then Waterfall is not a good solution.

Traditional approach isn’t a good solution because you pick any one of the Agile practices, one of the core penance of those is the ability to respond to change, to be able to manage and respond to change to build what your customers mean, not what they’re asking for.

All responsibly in that is to help build trust with customers and stakeholders because as an IT industry, we’ve been breaking their trust for the last 30 to 40 years. Every time we say that we can go do something, we deliver late, we deliver with low quality and that degrades the trust.

Then, of course, our business puts more controls on IT and says, “OK, you must commit to this. You must do this. You have to have very precise estimates.” It’s a really evil cycle that we have to deal with.

It’s part of our responsibility to train management, train leadership and, most importantly, train the customers to help them understand that we do have their best intentions at heart and we don’t want to screw them over. In order to do that, we have to work together. We can’t promise the world because we know what we want when we see it.

We know that when we see things they will change.

Jade: Mitch, as we wrap things up, is there anything that you’d like our listeners to go check out? Where can they read more about you, pick up your books, all of those things?

Mitch: Definitely, it’s in the Agile 2012 conference. It’s going to be a kick‑ass event. My website is, pretty easy. Amazon has got the book up there.

I’m very proud and happy. It’s up to 33 positive reviews. 31 of those are five stars and two of them are four, so people are reading the book. People are liking the book. I couldn’t be happier.

Conference, awesome. Great website. Scrum Alliance, which we didn’t talk about. Lots of good stuff of that website as well. Good content, people should go read up there.

You guys have some good content as well…


Mitch: …and podcast, everyone should go listen to them.

Jade: Thanks so much for joining us on the podcast. Good luck with Agile 2012. We’re really looking forward to seeing all the great content coming out of there. Thanks for joining us.

Mitch: I think Derek’s got one of those invited No‑bull sessions.

Jade: Yeah, he does.

Roy: For our listeners, if you’d like to continue this conversation, you can join us on our Facebook page at

Jade: Thanks, Mitch.

Mitch: Thanks, Jade.

Jade: Talk to you next time.

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