The slightly complicated history of Agile20xx

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Just about everyone in the Agile community, I suppose, knows at least peripherally about this annual event, collectively titled “Agile 20xx”, as the Agile Alliance’s flagship, so far the largest and most diverse Agile-related event. Some call it the “gathering of the tribes” or the “family reunion” or the “big tent”.

The event is the occasion where the various strands of Agile thinking come together, a time of convergence; and it is also where many new ideas are born, some of which go on to develop a more autonomous identity – thus also a time of divergence.

Few people, however, know the full details of the conference’s history.

In the beginning was XP Universe, held at the initiative of Robert (“Uncle Bob”) Martin of ObjectMentor. The first XP Universe took place in 2001, and as successful conferences tend to be, was followed the next year by a new edition.

This 2002 edition was billed as a “joint conference”, gathering under one roof XP Universe 2002 and the newly minted “Agile Universe” (chaired by Martin Fowler) – though it was only ever to be known as “XP/Agile Universe” or XPAU. Back then the Agile Alliance had just been formed as an organization; it was not listed as an organizer or a sponsor of the 2002 edition, but as a “Media Partner”.

The following year saw things take a turn to the still more complicated: XPAU continued, but concurrently Alistair Cockburn kicked off the first Agile Development Conference. This was the first conference officially “presented by” the Agile Alliance, according to the archived site.

The next year, there were again new editions of both XPAU and ADC – but this was to be the final year with two major conferences. As I understand it, both conferences were acclaimed and turning a profit, but there was a concern that rivalry might eventually undermine efforts to bring the Agile community together. (It’s not entirely clear to me who was concerned about what, and I was not privy to these discussions – with my historian hat on, I can only hope that now the dust has settled and it’s too late for accuracy to cause anybody any discomfort, the relevant documents will eventually turn up.)

Thus, the first “official” instance of the Agile20xx cycle was the Agile2005 merger of XPAU and ADC; Todd Little was involved as 2004 conference chair, as was Ken Schwaber as chairman of the Agile Alliance at the time. Under the merger agreement Agile Alliance would be the official organizer, overseeing all aspects of the conference including financial; by then the amounts of money at stake were non-trivial. ObjectMentor received a share of the conference profits in compensation, a move that Robert Martin later said he regretted, bemoaning “the loss of the technical emphasis that rapidly followed”. This perception, shared by several, led in 2010 to a plan (ultimately shelved) to revive XP Universe.

(You can see that there was something of a judgment call involved in deciding how far back the Conference Archive should reach in listing past conferences as being part of the Agile20xx cycle. I followed longstanding tradition in incorporating the ADC programs, and went one step further back for completeness, including XPAU 2002 as the first conference to have “Agile” in its title.)

After 2005 the conference settled into a pattern, at least from an administrative standpoint; the overall structure of the conference, the selection process and so on have continued evolving, reflecting the ongoing collective effort to figure out “what this Agile thing is all about”.

The conference had a peak number of sessions in 2008 in Toronto, with a whopping 387 sessions. Many attendees said they felt somewhat overwhelmed – subsequent editions scaled back the number of concurrent tracks, of distinct stages and of total sessions quite a bit, though the conference is still very much an impressive smorgasbord of topics.

As well-established an institution as it might now appear from the outside, the Agile20xx conference has actually been quite a wild ride over the years – it has involved many difficult negotiations and tough decisions. No surprise there – these are the challenges of teamwork in any complex field.


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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