Agile Lean Ireland 2019: The Conference You Wish You Had Gone To

Florian Ferbach
Florian FerbachMay 22, 2019

I'm just out of Agile Lean Ireland, and I'm so excited that I wanna write down all my thoughts about this conference before they disappear in my Guinness.

Guiness truck

The conference took place in Dublin, in the awesome venue of Croke Park (see cover image).

There were so many different rooms that I lost count. But unlike most conference, tracks are not organized by rooms, but by themes. I found it much more practical.

Over 2 days, I had the chance to wander around all those tracks: Product Impact, Agile Testing, Agile Leadership, Making Teams Awesome, Software Craftsmanship, Agile HR, Kanban, Agile Coaching & Scrum Mastery.

There were also keynotes, with a lot of variety, and with amazing speakers.

Read on to see what were the talks I took the most of.

Why Great Leaders Must Unlearn to Succeed in Today's Exponential World

It all started with Barry O'Reilly. As with all keynotes, he's such a good speaker that you would get passionate about whatever he'd talk about. But he introduced the concept of unlearning, and that's fascinating.

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To me, his conference echoes The Innovator's Dilemma. Indeed, he explains that the hardest part of innovation and improvement is not to learn, but rather to unlearn outdated knowledge to make room for new knowledge. What works now won't be what works tomorrow.

His conference was, I guess, an introduction to his new book, "Unlearn" - not too commercial though. I will probably read it and let you know what it's about in depth later on.

Better Together: Product and Engineering

Next was Emily Tate. I loved her talk. It described some kind of working agreement between product people and the dev team.

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She lists all of the things that she expects from her team, and how she can be helpful to them. She asks them to:

  • shorten the feedback loop by questionning everything
  • see completed stories before demos
  • let them help you advocate your technical choices
  • challenges her choices
  • ...

Her recipe seems unbeatable, and it inspired me a lot to make everyone's expectations clearer. I'm definitely going to make a workshop at Marmelab from it.

Friction: the Big Eight

Marry Poppendieck's talk was my favorite. I can't explain why, but all the content she shares is always worth listening to. Beyond agile methodologies, she talked about reducing friction instead of becoming agile: isn't it what we're all aiming for?

With SpaceX failed landings as an illustration, she listed all the different kinds of friction that can happen.

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I think knowing which issues slow you down is the first step to fixing them - some kind of self-awareness. This list is priceless, and will surely help me identify impediments easier when I feel that we're slowing down and have no actual idea why.

The Culture That Lives

Geoff Watts proposed to make us discover a part of what he calls Organic agility. Using Game of Thrones characters, he made us guess what kind of leadership they had, and what kind of leadership they should have had in order not to fail.

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To him, no leadership type is better than another. Failure just means it wasn't the right leadership type for that case. Teams always expect something in particular, and it's usually not what you think they expect. His tip is just to have a discussion in order to know what people expect from you.

Go Home or Go Big

Tim Herbig talked about remote work. After quickly listing the reasons to go remote and the many advantages, he gave tips on how companies can handle it properly.

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The two tips I liked the most:

  • "When one person is remote, everyone is remote", so that remote workers don't feel excluded. He advises that if you're in a meeting and one person works from somewhere else, then everyone should join the visio on their own laptop as if they were remote as well.
  • "The more emotional the communication is, the more synchronous it should be". A daily meeting can probably be just written asynchronously on slack, but a peer review, or a decision meeting, should at least be a visioconference.

Might try some of those tips with our dear remote colleagues and see how it goes.

Deliberate Advice From an Accidental Career

Dan North started his talk by saying that unlike some people, his career wasn't really planned and he just let things happen.

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Through fun stories (like dropping production database on his first job), he explained that he was lucky enough to always have had great managers. Each of his stories featured a quote from one of his former managers, and an explanation of why it was important for his career.

My favorite story is about that time he wrote the code he was so proud of, and showed it to his manager. What was his manager reply? "Nice, is it live yet?" Indeed, software that isn't live can't be used and thus is worthless.


I had an amazing couple of days at the conference. It was very different from every other conference I've been to. The subjects are carefully chosen, and get away from traditional one-size-fits-all-methodology subjects.

The attendees were also a big part of the experience. I've never had someone explain to me so well what lean actually refers to (thanks Sergey!). Everyone had many ideas, everyone wanted to share their thoughts, and I even found someone who hadn't seen a single episode of Game of Thrones!

The goodies bag were for once useful, actual books I will read instead of mugs and t-shirts I won't ever use: Unlearn from Barry O'Reilly, and Flow from Fin Goulding & Haydn Shaughnessy.

For some time, I've felt something was wrong with agility and that its success denatured it, praising methodologies over its root values. Listening to all the subjects that were proposed made me feel better, I think we're going in the right direction if we loosen up with ready-made recipes and insist on what really matters: Culture, Flow, Common Sense.

Last but not least, the organizing team was very helpful and super nice. Everything happened so smoothly that it seemed like those guys have prepared conference all their lives. Thank you!

Note: I sometimes had a hard time understanding Irish accent as I'm not used to it. Guess I will have to go back next year to improve, hint hint Fran├žois.
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