Scrum Gathering London 2011 – day 3

The third day of the London Scrum Gathering (day 1, day 2) was reserved for an Open Space session led by Rachel Davies and a closing keynote by James Grenning.

We started with the Open Space. I’d done Open Spaces before, but this one was definitely on a much larger scale than what I’d seen before. After the introduction, everyone that had a subject for a session wrote their subject down, and got in line to announce the session (and have it scheduled). With so many attendents, you can imagine that there would be many sessions. Indeed, there were so many sessions that extra spaces had to be added to handle all of them. The subject for the Open Space was to be the Scum Alliance tag-line: “Changing the world of work”.

I initially intended to go the a session about Agile and Embedded, as the organiser mentioned that if there wouldn’t be enough people to talk about the embedded angle, he was OK with widening the subject to ‘difficult technical circumstances’. I haven’t done much real embedded work, but was interested in the broader subject. It turned out, though, that there were plenty of interested parties into the real deal, so the talk quickly started drifting to FPGAs and other esoterica and I used the law of two feet to find a different talk.

My second choice for that first period was a session about getting involvement of higher management. This session, proposed by Joe Justice and Peter Stevens (people with overlapping subjects were merging their sessions), turned out to be  very interesting and useful. The group shared experiences of both successfully (and less successfully) engaging higher management (CxOs, VPs, etc.) into an Agile Change process. Peter has since posted a nice summary of this session on his blog.

My own session was about applying Agile and Lean-Startup ideas to the context of setting up a consultancy and/or training business. If we’re really talking about ‘transforming the world of work’, then we should start with our own work. My intention was to discuss how things like transparency, early feedback, working iteratively and incrementally could be applied for an Agile Coach’s work. My colleague and I have been working to try and approach our work in this fashion, and are starting to get the hang of this whole ‘fail early’ thing. We’ve also been changing our approach based on feedback of customers, and more importantly, not-customers. During the session we talked a little about this, but we also quickly branched off into some related subjects. Some explanation of Lean-Startup ideas was needed, as not everyone had heard of that. We didn’t get far on any discussion on using some of the customer/product development ideas from that side of things, though.

Some discussion on contracts, and how those can fit with an agile approach. Most coaches are working on a time-and-material basis, it seems. We have a ‘Money for nothing and your changes for free’ type contract (see, sheets 29-38) going for consultancy at the moment, but it’s less of a fit than with a software development project. Time and material is safest for the coach, of course, but also doen’t reward them for doing their work better than the competition. How should we do this? Jeff’s ‘money back guarantee’ if you don’t double your velocity is a nice marketing gimmick, but a big risk for us lesser gods: Is velocity a good measure for productivity and results? How do we measure it? How do we determine whether advice was followed?

Using freebies or discounts to customers to test new training material on was more generally in use. This has really helped us quickly improve our workshop materials, not to mention hone the training skills…

One later session was Nigel Baker’s. He did a session on the second day called ‘Scrumbrella’, on how to scale Scrum, and was doing a second one of those this third afternoon. I hadn’t made it to the earlier one, but had heard enthusiastic stories about it, so I decided to go and see what that was about. Nigel didn’t disappoint, and had a dynamic and entertaining story to tell. He made the talk come alive by the way he drew the organisational structures on sheets of paper, and moved those around on the floor during his talk, often getting the audience to provide new drawings.

There is no way I can do Nigel’s presentation style justice here. There were a number of people filming him in action on their cellphones, but I haven’t seen any of those movies surface yet. For now, you’ll have to make do with his blog-post on the subject, and some slides (which he obviously didn’t use during this session). I can, however, show you what the final umbrella looked like:

All my other pictures, including some more from the ScrumBrella session, and from the Open Space closing, can be found on flickr.

Closing Keynote by James Grenning on ‘Changing the world of work through Technical Excellence’

(slides are here)

The final event of the conference was the closing keynote by James Grenning. His talk dealt with ‘Technical Excellence’, and as such was very near my heart.

He started off with a little story, for which the slides are unfortunately not in the slide deck linked above, about how people sometimes come up to him in a bar (a conference bar, I assume, or pick-up lines have really changed in the past few years) and tell him: “Yeah, that agile thing, we tried that, it didn’t work”.

He would then ask them some innocent questions (paraphrased, I don’t have those slides, not a perfect memory):

So you were doing TDD?


Ah, but you were doing ATDD?


But surely you were doing unit testing?

Not really.

Pair programming?


Continuous Integration?




At least deliver working software at the end of the sprint?


If you don’t look around and realise that to do Agile, you’ll actually have to improve your quality, you’re going to fail. And if you insist on ignoring the experience of so many experienced people, then maybe you deserve to fail.

After this great intro, we were treated to a backstage account of the way the Agile Manifesto meeting at Snowbird went. And then about what subjects came up after this year’s reunion meeting. James showed the top two things coming out of the reunion meeting:

We believe the agile community must:

  1. Demand Technical Excellence
  2. Promote individual [change] and lead organizational change

The rest of his talk was a lesson in doing those things. He first went into more detail on Test Driven Development, and how it’s the basis for improving quality.
To do this, he first explains why Debug-Later-Programming (DLP) in practice will always be slower than Test-First/TDD.

The Physics of Debug-Later-Programming


Mr. Grenning went on to describe the difference between System Level Tests and Unit Tests, saying that the System Level Tests suffer from having to test the combinatorial total of all contained elements, while Unit Tests can be tailored by the programmer to directedly test the use of the code as it is intended, and only that use. This means that, even though System Level Tests can be useful, they can never be sufficient.
Of course, the chances are small that you’ll write sufficient and complete Unit Tests if you don’t do Test Driven Development, as Test-After always becomes Release First. Depending on Manual Testing for testing is a recipe for unmaintainability.

The Untested Code Gap

The keynote went on to talk about individual and organisational change, and what Developers, Scrum Masters and Managers can do to improve things. Developers should learn, and create tested and maintainable code. Scrum Masters should encourage people to be Problem Solvers, not Dogma Followers. He illustrated this with the example of Planning Poker. As he invented Planning Poker, him saying that you shouldn’t always use it is a strong message. For instance, if you want to estimate a large number of stories, other systems can work much better. Managers got the advice to Grow Great Teams, Avoid De-Motivators, and Stop Motivating Your Team!


It was very nice to be here for this talk, validating my own stance on Technical Excellence, and teaching me new ways of talking to people in order to help them see the advantages of improving their technical practices. Oh, and some support for my own discipline in strictly sticking to TDD…

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