The Alliance

Added to The Alliance

Here’s a – possibly slightly rambly – note about my involvement with the Agile Alliance’s Board of Directors, and about the Alliance more generally.

This is prompted by a few conversations that took place in the past couple weeks, over Twitter and on blogs, prompted by various people complaining about aspects of the upcoming Agile Alliance business taking place at the conference, in particular the Board of Directors election.

I was elected to the Board in 2007 and served two consecutive two-year terms, stepping down in 2011.

The most striking aspect of the experience, from my point of view, was how little I understood beforehand, about what being on the Board meant and how the Board worked. This even though I had held a Board position within the local XP Day France (and later Agile France) non-profit for a few years before taking that step.

From the outside, I thought the Agile Alliance was doing some things that seemed pretty obviously broken, and that getting elected would mean having the clout to make changes.

Well, that was somewhat naive.

For instance, some of the things that struck me as broken had to do with the conference, and the actual running of the annual conference is not at all up to the Board: the conference is a separate program, run by a dedicated team whose leadership is renewed each year, and which the Board fully entrusts with organizing the conference – within broad constraints. These constraints are in turn decided not by the Board, but within the Conference Steering committee – which of course overlaps with the Board, but also includes people outside it.

Other problems I saw had to do with the Agile Alliance’s Web presence. Back then I (and, I think, some of my fellow boardies) thought “well, we are Agile developers, so we could just roll up our sleeves and fix some of these problems as part of our involvement with the Board”. That’s fine as an idea – and then you start running into some pretty big constraints, such as the Board being a team of distributed volunteers who are all otherwise pretty busy; other business to address that takes priority; the usual tangledness of legacy systems, scarcity of documentation, and “we-should-rewrite-this-from-scratch” syndrome. Truth is, it’s not the Board’s business to address that kind of thing; the Board’s business is to build the organization so that it can address that kind of thing. All with a non-profit’s limited resources.

Grumblings about the Board elections themselves reflect the same kind of divergence in perspectives. A large part of the issue is that people don’t know how the board works, and they make a number of faulty assumptions as a result. And “how the board works” is a work in progress, even the board doesn’t have all the answers yet…

For instance people generally don’t know about the nominations committee, which the Board appoints to try and find suitable candidates. With a geographically distributed team, you need to find people who are willing and able to travel for F2F meetings at relatively fixed dates, which narrows down the selection. But we’ve also had complaints in the past that the Board had too many coaches or consultants, too few people from end user companies, and so on, so the committee also takes these constraints into consideration. And so on. This is why historically the organization has oscillated between “slate” based elections (which some complain about) and the more “open” model, the risk of which is that no suitable candidates come forward – and then people complain anyway because unsuitable ones were elected.

But we haven’t really communicated very broadly about the nominations committee or invited members at large to help these folks, so from the outside it can look like a catch-22. The only prominent occasions for speaking out appear to be after the candidates or the winners are announced; by then the feedback is only marginally useful.

Today, I’m no longer involved in the decision-making role of the Board, but I remain involved in shipping things that further the Agile Alliance’s mission. My perspective is neither quite an outsider’s nor an insider’s – I feel somewhere in between, which is a good place to help others bridge gaps in communication.

So, I’ve offered this blog as one channel to do so, and have encouraged the Board to set up other channels as well.


About the Author

After a first career as a software developer (20 years of coding experience) and a few years as an independent consultant, Laurent Bossavit now heads Institut Agile, whose aims include helping Agile software development become better established as a research topic and as a discipline, and helping grow a healthier market for clients and suppliers leveraging these practices.

Passionate about helping people in various Agile communities network and support each other, Laurent is a former member of the board of the Agile Alliance, a recipient of the 2006 Gordon Pask award for contributions to Agile practice and co-founder of the Coding Dojos.

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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