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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Agile Open Northwest 2009, Feb. 10-11

We've had two great AONW open space conferences, 2007 in Portland, and 2008 in Seattle.

This year we are back in Portland, close to the MAX, and as low-cost as ever: $125. There's still a bit of room to sign-up if you don't wait. The conference is Feb 10-11.

Agile Open Northwest 2009, the best open space conference in the world. Learn from each other at AONW 2009...

"These two-day Agile Open Northwest conferences are an extremely good value. ..[Y]ou learn directly from practitioners in the agile community what works and what doesn't. I attended the first two of these conferences, they were stunningly good... loads of practical, useful stuff and stimulating discussions." -- Ian Savage, PNSQC Program Chair


Anonymous said...

I did not find this event useful, or good value at $125. There were a lot of unemployed people, and corporate people there seeking education, and I didn't see them being helped.
This is like an auto-mechanic's convention for auto-mechanics, not newbies, but this isn't stated. Nobody has anyway to know if the other guy is a real mechanic, fake, or terrible. The event has no official speakers or experts that you can check credentials on. Format of the event is like a massive role-playing game, random people off the street spontaneously declare topics, and go off and discuss. Nobody is policing massive redundancy or content quality of topics. I found a lot of redundancy, or very superficial mentions on books people had read & what people were trying at work. Very little usable information.

There are consultants seeking to appear like experts and build their consulting biz, who are volunteering to talk about things. Impossible to check if they are any good.

One "presenter" had us playing a game that turned into a violent wrestling match over office chairs, and people were getting very wild, sweating, whipping at each other's faces with office chairs.

Other presentations were "trying to go Agile in a non-Agile Company", a repeated topic over and over, and they were all very vague bitch sessions.

Charlie Poole said...

It's too bad that Anonymous didn't get value out of this, but a bit of advance reading would have warned him of the nature of the event.

[Fair warning, along with Patrick, I'm one of the event organizers. I'm also a coach/consultant, but the only session I hosted was one where I asked people for their experiences and opinions.]

"This is like an auto-mechanic's convention for auto-mechanics, not newbies, but this isn't stated"

Half right: it's an event for people with some experience of agile. A lot of fairly advanced topics were discussed. But not stated? The web site invites "100 experienced, collaborative, committed agile practitioners" to attend the event. The previous events have had the same focus and so will the ones in coming years. Introductory tutorials are available from lots of sources. We want to provide a place for true agile practitioners to hone their skills by sharing ideas with one another.

"Nobody is policing redundancy or content quality of topics."

That's how Open Space works by definition. If the page or so description on the web site needs to be improved, please write to us suggest how we could have worded it better.

Basically, you are the judge of quality - or usefulness to you. You are free to leave sessions that are not useful to you and even to host sessions that would be useful to you. About half the sessions were hosted by people who were not experts on their topics.

"There are consultants seeking to appear like experts and build their consulting biz, who are volunteering to talk about things"

Yes, there were consultants who stepped up to talk. There were also folks in working in IT departments or for software product companies. There were even people who hosted sessions about topics they wanted to learn more about, hoping that other people would show up to help them. That's how open space works.

The assumption that those consultants who hosted a session were seeking to build up their business may be a bit simplistic. This is certainly not the type of audience where I would expect to find a lot of business for myself. Rather, it's a place to go and NOT be a consultant for a while, interacting with all sorts of folks who are trying to figure out ways to do things. I learned a lot from those interactions, and I have about 35 years of experience, including 8 or 9 doing it the agile way.

On the other hand, it is true that some sessions - but not all by consultants - were a bit one-way: somebody promoting his own way of doing things. That happens: it's human nature. I usually don't attend that kind of sesson myself - I prefer the ones that ask questions rather than telling the one true way.


Anonymous said...

RE: Agile Open Northwest,
Yes, there were quite a few people wanting real info. So I'm wondering what an AMAZING coincidence that sooo MANY people were "mistaken" or "Mis-read" the information.
That's a really cruel ripoff, especially for folks hanging by a thread at these companies, or unemployed.

If this was a party solely for jaded Agile experts not wanting to hear beginner info, why the heck were so many (similar) topics aimed at "how to implement Agile in non-Agile companies?", "What is Agile", ie--beginner Agile topics.

Agile Open did not even deliver as good a quality of information as the average monthly techie-club meeting: it was 10X more expensive, 10X worse amateurish information. At my techie-club meetings, nobody would dare show-up as unprepared as what I saw at Agile Open.

Rename it "Poser-Fest".

Patrick Logan said...


I'm sorry you were disappointed. We did collect a good bit of input from attendees on what the conference could add/remove/keep, and we will be looking at that in great detail.

I see a few options for you specifically. I hope you will consider which would be most appropriate for you...

1. Choose not to attend further AONW conferences. This is our third annual, and they've all been roughly the same. I doubt they will change _significantly_ in the future.

2. Embrace the Open Space concept and hold sessions of your own, to present your views, help people you believe you can help, or seek the specific ideas of others that may be helpful to you. This conference will almost certainly not become less Open Space oriented, and so it becomes each time what the attendees make it.

3. Join the conference committee to help move the conference in the directions you prefer. (You have more chance of success with #2 though. All we do really is set up a space for attendees.)

4. Attend some other conference with a different format, or start your own. There is nothing special about this one, other than some people did put it together and do have a fairly successful track record now at three years in.

I am sorry you were disappointed. I do hope you channel that disappointment into activities that helps you and others with similar needs.

Ian Savage said...


Thanks for your feedback on the conference. But I stand by my assertion that $125 is very well-spent at AONW.

As one of the posers (I led a talk on the death of the QA dept), I'll gladly take your bullets.

As an in-the-trenches quality practitioner in an organization transitioning to more agile methods, I respectfully but strongly disagree with you about AONW's usefulness. I was one of the corporate people there and I *was* helped.

As a veteran conference organizer of the oldest software quality conference (PNSQC), I've understand your appreciation for the other extreme: the highly-structured, highly-regimented end.

You didn't ask but here are my recommendations:

If you and your colleagues want/need an intro to agile, read the books. They provide the necessary theoretical framework.

If you want to follow the leading edge in software development, join the conversation on Twitter.

If you want/need a more structured conference, it's hard to beat PNSQC - even though it's about 5X as expensive as AONW. PNSQC's focus is quality and always contains paper presentations about effective agile methods. [Disclosure: PNSQC (pnsqc.org) is an AONW sponsor.]

If you want to really learn Agile, do it. But hang on, it's a wild ride.

Keep those critiques coming. That's one way we move forward as an industry. And if you and I see things differently, I can live with that. We all have different life experiences.

Ian Savage
Former PSNQC Program Chair

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Portland, Oregon, United States
I'm usually writing from my favorite location on the planet, the pacific northwest of the u.s. I write for myself only and unless otherwise specified my posts here should not be taken as representing an official position of my employer. Contact me at my gee mail account, username patrickdlogan.