A Retrospective on Agile Alliance’s Code of Conduct

Added to People The Alliance

“Be kind to others. Behave professionally.

Agile Alliance believes deeply in the key tenets of the Agile approaches we support. In particular, we value self-improvement through retrospectives, transparency, and learning.

Recently, an attendee was faced with a difficult and troubling situation at one of our conferences. The attendee had reason to believe someone at the conference posed a threat and this made them feel unsafe. Agile Alliance had an existing Anti-Harassment Policy/Code of Conduct which we believed would enable us to provide support to an attendee in a situation like this, but we came to learn this simply wasn’t the case.

We want to be transparent about what we have done in response to this, and put out a call to action for other conferences to consider reviewing policies and practices regarding safety and inclusion of their members and conference attendees.

Policies Are No Guarantee of a Positive Outcome

It is common sense to have clearly stated policies for subjects important to an organization. Having policies provides clarity to staff, partners, and customers; sets clear expectations and boundaries; and helps give guidance on how to respond when there are issues or challenges.

As with many things in life, the quality or effectiveness of any given policy is often only as good as the last time it was instantiated. Ours did not provide the support our attendee needed.

Our Recent Experience

Our Anti-Harassment Policy/Code of Conduct was tested at a recent conference. An attendee found themselves in a position which made them feel unsafe. Needing help, the person tried to find support and guidance. Ultimately, Agile Alliance was not able to provide the support the attendee needed.

As we reviewed the situation afterwards, it became clear there were a number of issues:

  • Our content regarding this subject was hard to find. The wording was not action oriented or succinct. It read well as a formal policy, but wasn’t useful in a time of personal stress.
  • The person did reach out to a number of people connected to the conference. Unfortunately, none of these people were as prepared as they should have been and their responses were mixed.
  • Communication between these people was also not following clear paths, which exacerbated the issues.

Our Retrospective

As we looked at our policy and reflected on what had happened, we realized we had missed something important. We had spent time defining expectations, and the policy was pretty clear on those.

However, we hadn’t considered what would happen if the policy was needed:

  • We hadn’t put ourselves in the position of someone who was attending one of our conferences and who might find himself/herself feeling unsafe.
  • We hadn’t sufficiently prepared the staff and volunteers who work on our conferences to respond to incidents.
  • We hadn’t revisited it with those on the front line in quite some time.

Additionally, as we discussed it, we realized we hadn’t extended the policy to cover the other activities Agile Alliance supports outside of in-person conferences (such as Initiatives or Online conferences).

Our Actions

We undertook a broad review of our Code of Conduct, and made a number of significant changes.

Content and Presentation

  • We have rewritten our Code of Conduct to make it simpler and more succinct.
  • We updated how it is presented on the website to ensure everyone is clear about expectations.
  • We included a link to the Code of Conduct in the main navigation of the website (instead of it being placed in the Policies section).
  • We have also reviewed everywhere we interact with our community and included appropriate reminders of our expectations detailed in our Code of Conduct (for example, speaker and attendee emails, printed materials, opening presentations, etc).

Information Sharing And Preparing Our Team

We are proactively and repeatedly preparing our staff and volunteers to respond appropriately to incidents.

  • We have created presentations detailing both the Code of Conduct, and expectations of staff and volunteers if unfortunate incidents happen.
  • We share this multiple times with the team before an event, including onsite immediately before.
  • We will continue to do this for each event, even if those participating have been briefed in the past.

Call To Action: To all conference and event organisers

We hope you never have to use your Code of Conduct and your events are happy, respectful and safe. However, please take time to consider whether your current Code of Conduct is clear and discoverable, your actions are documented, and your staff and volunteers are educated/prepared.

Ask yourself this key question: is everything well aligned to enable you to provide the best possible support should something happen?

About the Author

Paul is a 25+ year veteran of the software industry, and a 15+ year convert to agile principles and practices for delivering software. He joined Zoopla in 2019 to lead their engineering team, after almost 3 years at eBay leading their European Product Development team, and nearly 15 years at Microsoft in the MSN and Skype product teams.

As a senior Engineering Leader, Paul's passion is growing and leading large geographically dispersed agile development teams. Together, Paul and his teams have shipped large-scale web, mobile and communications products that are enjoyed by hundreds of millions of users worldwide. He has also spearheaded agile adoption and long-term transformation of both his own and other product teams within Microsoft and eBay, and has coached and mentored colleagues and teams at other external organizations.

Paul has been involved with the Agile20XX Conference since 2007, and he had the privilege of being the Agile2015 Conference Chair.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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