Agile Cambridge 2022 – 5 lessons

I’ll finish up this series of blogs on Agile Cambridge 2022 with some key ideas and thoughts from the talks.

There was a lot of content – 30 sessions over 2 days. Parallel tracks, but I went to 10 or so plus some lightning talks and lots of great discussion. Plenty of ideas to sift through in my own time, but I’ll allow myself a few lessons to pull out.

.So what were my high points? I’ll give the top five…

#5: Diversity is a key trait in testers

From “The Human side of testing” – Amanda Perkins.

In this talk, Amanda Perkins (AKA the QA diva) argued that the diverse backgrounds of QA professionals are a key part of their value. Few people come to testing in a straight line path. And the diversity that results is very valuable. Quality professionals (or “quality advocates” as the speaker prefers) do more than make sure the code works. In many cases they anticipate the way the product may be used and look beyond the assumptions the developer may have made. As in so many areas, diversity allows the anticipation of more world views and so leads to better testing.

#4: Agile is about more than the buzzwords

From “Taking the jargon out of agile” by Kathryn Lupin

In this talk the speaker was discussing how they implemented Agile in a (non-tech) team without using any of the “language”. This started because the team were scared of the language, and the organisation had little experience in Agile. But it was clear that this was more than just “stealth Agile”. What I loved was the “back to basics” approach. The team talked about key concepts – communication, the importance of feedback, learning. And then they built process to address these – daily checkins, reviews, retrospectives. The approach was very outcome based, not based on teaching an existing framework.

#3: Drucker probably didn’t say that

From “How (agile) charts lie” – Nick Brown

This was a good talk about how graphs can be used to misrepresent data. It’s a favourite topic of mine (anyone who knows me would say I’m a little data obsessed). And I’m also concerned about the tendency to use “approximately correct” quotes from key figures at these events. Woody Zuill in his keynote even commented on the set of people you have to quote these days in an agile talk. Nick Brown pointed out that Peter Drucker misquotes are so common there’s even a web site from the Drucker institute “Did Peter Drucker say that“. And you can test yourself on Peter Drucker misquotes. Sadly Drucker never said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” (which is a great quote even if apocryphal) although he did say “Culture—no matter how defined—is singularly persistent.”. Which, in my view, isn’t quite as good.

#2: Design your organisation to reduce cognitive load

From “Unicorn scale – team topologies at Cinch” – Andy Norton, Toli Apostolidis

I loved this talk. Partly because it’s about scaling organisations which is my favourite area. But mostly because the sheer enthusiasm of the speakers for their journey shone through. Cinch had gone from 20 people to a 350 person “unicorn” in 2 years. And it had done it with a scaling team model using some of the ideas from Team Topologies.

Unicorn scale talk

One starting philosophy was to reduce the cognitive load on the teams, The key to this way of thinking is to maximise the mental space for germane thinking – problem solving – by reducing the effort on intrinsic thought – domain knowledge – and extraneous thinking – reference material you always have to look up.

And that led naturally, as with many organisations, to a split between “platforms” and value stream aligned teams. And the introduction of communities of practice to add the dimension orthogonal to delivery. It’s very close to the learnings we’ve been following in our organisation and so great to hear their journey.

#1: Limit your decisions in progress

From “why decisions are hard” – John Clapham

Decision making is a great topic and one not discussed enough. And the idea of “DiP” (Decisions in Progress) as an analogy with WiP (Work in Progress) was a clever one. The speaker also gets my “best slide” award for showing that many of the “large company” issues in decision making can actually be found in the Second World War “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” as ideas to reduce enemy productivity.

  • When possible, refer all matters to committees
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as often as possible.
  • Refer back to matters agreed at the last meeting and attempt to re-open them

The talk focussed on the importance of building a decision making process which was proportional, considering the impact and delegating where possible. This helps focus the effort where it really matters, avoiding the “bike shed” effect.

The time spent in a meeting on an item is inversely proportional to its value

Parkinson’s law ofmeetings


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