May 14, 2008

(Feed)Back from XP Day France 2008

I attended the XP Day France 2008 last week, and also gave a talk on the second day. The conference was a success as they recorded more participants than last year. From my point of view I participated in sessions much more interesting than I expected, and especially enjoyed some enriching workshops.

In the morning of day 1, I attended the workshop on Lean System. That was a role-playing game in which a team had to build 10 paper-shadocks in an assembly line-like mode during rounds of 10 mins. After each round the customer (the workshop leader) would accept or reject the finished units depending on what she found acceptable. The project manager would then calculate the financial results based on the sells (accepted shadocks), consumed commodity (paper sheets), team-member wages, facility (tables), etc. I played the shareholder, not a very demanding role as I just had to sit and wait for the financial results, then look very disappointed as the results were quite bad until the last rounds. Before beginning a new round, the team could only take 1 action to improve the output and increase the overall results. Beside being fun, the workshop actually tought some interesting lessons while it was not really focused on software development:

  • first of all, I realized that Lean System is not mainly about removing waste, it is firstly about removing variability among instances of the same steps. This point, though, might not make much sense in software development and this is probably why we talk much more about removing waste in lean software development,
  • applying lean system may drive to reduce human resources while increasing productivity and quality. I thought only productivity and quality was the focus while keeping stable resources. The workshop leader therefore stressed that initiating a lean system within an organisation might fail badly if it does not happen in an economically favorable context, because employees will not contribute to a system that might lead to removing their job.

In the afternoon of day 1, I attended the Lightning Talks led by my colleague Yannick. I also made a try at the XP laboratory but soon left the session as it turned too technical to me. What I experienced there was indeed very weird: at the beginning of the session, the organizers explained briefly what was realized thus far and what was the stories they proposed to make in the first iteration of the session. They then asked whether the participants were comitted to delivering these stories by the end of the 10 mins iteration. And guess what, nobody said no ! None of us had a clear idea of the existing design, code quality, or past problems, but we all comitted to deliver the stories. Even more striking is the fact that everyone but me then rushed to the available laptop PC to dig in the code and start programming. Well, I left the session soon after as I'm quite unable to undertsand or program a line of JAVA. I did not feel like that was a great XP application. I however had the occasion to discuss this brief experience with the workshop oragnizers, François Beauregard and Eric Mignot from Pyxis, and it confirmed what I felt: the organizers let the team made some mistakes so that they could learn the XP values. They also were very surprised that no one, whatever the sessions, refused the comittment on the proposed stories having no idea of the design and problems. This is even more striking knowing that this laboratory did not have any financial stakes and that most of the participants are not beginners in the Agile world. That makes me think the way is still long until we master the Agile values and apply them naturally.

Day 1 ended up with a good dinner. I had the occasion to discuss extensively with an employee of Parkeon, especially on their use of FitNesse. I now have better examples to share if I encounter again the objection that FitNesse and TDR techniques are not suited to embeded software (objections that I often hear when I'm teaching the TDR course).

On day 2 I opened the day with my talk on Test-driven Requirements, while 2 of my colleagues also made a presentation (Romain on continuous integration and Nathalie on contracts for agile projects).

I then attended a very enriching workshop about Leadership. The principle was simple, the participants had to build structures with Lego blocks. We run three such sessions, each with a different type of leadership. The first session was driven by 2 leaders with a commanding type of management, the second had no leader and the team built a church in a self-organizing fashion, and the third had 2 coaching leaders (I was one). A global restrospective at the end gave us the opportunity to discuss the characteristics of a good leader and what they missed to do in the exercise. Beyond the lessons that this workshop was supposed to bring about, I realized something more after the retrospective: when there is a leader, everyone holds him responsible for the failure or success of the exercise, on the other hand, when there is no leader, everyone tries to identify what was good and bad with herself or himself. In brief, we are naturally feeling responsible when there is no designated leader while we naturally shift all the responsibility on the leader's shoulders when there is one. What this workshop tells to me is: if you're a leader, expectations will be high on you whatever the type of management you're applying, so you'd better succeed :)

Finally I attended a presentation on practicing the conflict. The presenters made their talk dressed in kimonos and played small funny scenes to illustrate their points. Briefly speaking it was about using an aikido-based technique to master a conflict and not to avoid it. Beyond these techniques, they stated that conflict is a mandatory step towards successful teams, argueing that conflicts can bring about better solutions. Although I understand and share some of their points, I still cannot consider that the conflict is a must have for successful teams. I rather think that confrontation is a must. Sometimes confrontations turn into conflict so we indeed need techniques to master conflicts but I don't see them as a healthy step toward sucess.

Before leaving, I spent some time discussing with the Pyxis guys and getting a demo of Greenpepper (great tool!).

That was my experience of the XP Day 2008 !

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