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Recap and takeaways from AgileNZ Conference 2016

Some personal highlights from SilverStripe Agile Project Managers about the recent AgileNZ Conference 2016 in Auckland.

Posted in Agile

Tagged event

Katie Elks

by Katie Elks

Posted 12 December 2016

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In November this year, four of our Agile Project Managers attended the Agile New Zealand Conference in Auckland.

This year’s event was the biggest yet, attracting around 500 people to the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre in the City of Sails. The New Zealand Agile community know how to put on a great show. With multiple (free!) coffee and ice cream stands, the two day event was beautifully put together and provided a great space for us Agilistas to share our ideas and experiences.

AgileNZ 2016 was split into four streams: Technical, Product, Innovation and Case Studies. Each stream packed in two days’ worth of speakers, all under the broad theme of “Delivering Digital”.

Today, Kris and Katie share with you their personal highlights and most important takeaways from the event.


After the obligatory welcome, sponsor & event safety messages (which thankfully kept the quakes at bay!), Jeff Patton kicked into the the first of four event keynotes: “Learning Velocity”.  

This was the first time I’d seen him speak, and to be honest it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. There was a certain nervousness as he humbly sketched out his slides live in front of the audience using a webcam, some paper, and a few coloured Sharpies.


Slide chaos?… well Jeff Patton’s unique keynote stuck in my head at least

In terms of key takeaways, mine were:

  • Scrum has evolved, stop worrying about velocity, start measuring value
    He freely admitted that the practice of estimation with planning poker to assign points to features and stories... and the whole sprint velocity concept in general was broken.  (I’m pretty sure he just straight out asked everyone to just stop doing it.)

    Velocity drives more stuff, but not necessarily the right stuff. It doesn’t truly speak to the value of what’s being delivered.

    He then dug into how that value is interpreted completely differently depending on who you are to the project:

    • Broader Stakeholders value return on investment, and the company brand keeping up with the market
    • The Product Owner values their ideas being turned into tangible outputs, and typically the speed at which that happens
    • The Team values the outputs being of a good quality, while meeting the spec (to keep everyone happy)
    • The End User values an end product/service with features that actually meet their needs (and typically it’s not the full smorgasbord of features they want).

The direction proposed was taking the “Build > Measure > Learn” cycle used in the Lean Startup approach, and embedding it within Scrum, proving hypothesis through prototypes, rather than deploy & forget features.

  • Minimum Viable Product, what is it?
    The term itself is polarising, so Jeff went into the three typical definitions:
    1. Smallest product that achieves the desired market outcome
    2. Smallest thing we could do or make to validate a product hypothesis
    3. Crap, but it works.

No one wants the last one, but all too often it’s velocity driving towards that outcome (particularly as you get towards the end of a sprinting marathon). He suggested moving from towards the product hypothesis & aligning that to the value discussed above.

All up, Jeff’s keynote was one of the more memorable sessions I attended, which I think speaks volumes to his speaking style, and taking people on a journey (rather than just PowerPoint-ing at people.)


One of our favourite keynote speakers was Joshua Kerievsky, who spoke on Modern Agile and the four principles for a modern Agile mindset. Of these, Make Safety a Prerequisite very much resonated with us. Joshua explained the importance of safety within teams to create trust and freedom among team members. Essentially, this principle is all about culture, which means a lot to us at SilverStripe. Meetings should be “psychologically safe” and organisations should provide a safe place for employees to make mistakes and speak their minds.


Joshua speaking passionately about safe meetings


The four principles of Modern Agile

The safer and happier a team feels, the better outputs they are going to produce. Cultures of fear and blame will stifle creativity and performance and will of course, lead to poor staff retention. It’s important to let people fail and be safe to do so in order to learn rapidly, be awesome and deliver value. We really believe this at SilverStripe and are already thinking about how we can provide an even safer environment.

Several other speakers touched on this principle, including Aaron Hodder with his talk “All Kind of Minds - Encouraging Mental Diversity in Technology”. Aaron spoke about how to create a safe and inclusive culture for those considered to be mentally diverse. Some examples of mental diversity are autism, depression and anxiety. Aaron focused on how organisations need to provide special kinds of support for those who are mentally diverse in order to untap their full potential. Like any other kind of diversity (e.g. race, gender, sexuality), mental diversity is extremely important in ensuring that the things we produce work for everybody, not just the people who made them. Aaron used the analogy of heros and their superpowers to demonstrate the valuable benefits and skills that autism, depression and anxiety can provide to create a diverse and high performing team. There was a huge focus on the importance of creating safe environments to help to remove the stigma that is often associated with mental illness or diversity. The main pieces of guidance to support mental diversity included:

  • Treat mental illness the same as any other illness
  • Talk about it, remove the stigma! Ask “are you okay?”
  • Make the environment a safe place for individuals to speak up and say they are having a bad day
  • Talk about it with employees as part of the HR process
  • Create diverse physical environments with quiet spaces
  • Find out how the people you work with communicate best and accommodate that within your teams
  • Don’t assume people are difficult or rude
  • Let people focus on what they do best, but never stop encouraging them to learn
  • Understand people’s limitations and work out how to include everyone and use them to their full extent.

AgileNZ 2016 was a valuable and fun experience for the SilverStripe crew who are looking forward to seeing what the team come up with next year. After two hectic days, we were all pretty exhausted but excited to get back to SilverStripe HQ and share some of the things we had learned.  

If you’re interested in next year’s event, you can follow the AgileNZ team here.

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About the author
Katie Elks

Katie is one of SilverStripe's Agile Project Managers, currently working with our awesome Quantum Dragons development team.

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