I’ve attended or been involved with the Agile2014 conference almost every year since 2004 (I didn’t make the previous visit to Orlando in 2010). Through all of those experiences, I’ve learned a lot of lessons, some more painfully than others, about how to get the most out of the conference. I thought it would be good to share some of those lessons as we are about to embark on Agile2014 in Orlando.
1) Start with a goal in mind.
Why did you come to Agile2014? Are you looking to soak up a lot of knowledge? Are you looking for some fancy new tool, framework, or process to take back to work? Did you want to meet others that are going through the same challenges? Agile2014 provides opportunities to do all of these things but you can run yourself ragged trying to do all of those things. Think about what you really hope to accomplish from the week and use that as a filter for deciding how to spend your time. You won’t be able to take it all in, and that’s ok. Having a decision filter to determine what you do (and don’t do) will make your conference experience more enjoyable and rewarding.
2) Pace yourself
5 Days. Over 250 Sessions. Nearly 2000 people. Opportunities for free drinks (almost) every night. Great conversation on just about every topic imaginable. It’s easy to go into sensory overload from all the stimuli. When you register, you are given a quota of drink tickets. These are good for the entire week, and you should strive to make them last that long so you don’t go thirsty at the conference party Thursday night. Don’t over do it the first night so you can actually enjoy the rest of the week. I also suggest you find the right balance between getting involved in great conversations that happen outside the sessions, with getting enough sleep so you can remember what those conversations were about and use the information when you get back to your day job.
3) You don’t have to attend every session.
Because you physically can’t. Unless of course you’re channeling your inner Tom Poppendieck. This is where the goal for your conference comes in. Use that decision filter as a way to decide which session seem best aligned with what you are trying to accomplish. Take a look at the descriptions for the sessions. If the presenter has provided slides, take a look at those from the Online Schedule. Ask other folks what their thoughts are. If you are in a session and you find it’s not filling your needs, use the law of two feet and find something else that is more useful. If there are multiple sessions going on at the same time that you’d like to see, pick one, and then chat with folks who went to the other one. If it sounds like those other sessions were useful, talk to the presenters who are generally happy to discuss their sessions.
Related to #2, you may find that you just need some time to decompress. While the long lunch break often provides some good time for that, you may find that you just need some down time. That’s ok. Remember you can always catch the key points from sessions that interest you from others who went or from the presenter themselves. Don’t feel compelled to go to a session in every single time slot.
4) Take advantage of Open Jam
One thing you may want to do instead of going to a planned session is see what is going on in the Open Jam area. This is a place where you can sit in on spontaneous conversations, or even start one. If you find that your particular problem or question is not being directly addressed by the planned sessions, start a discussion in the Open Jam area. Chances are you will have some folks with a great deal of experience show up to discuss it with you. I’ve talked to many first time attendees who find the Open Jam area on Wednesday or Thursday and wish they had known about it all week. There’s a morning huddle where people often announce the discussions for the day, or you can follow @opn_jam on Twitter for updates.
5) Get Familiar with the Online Schedule
The Agile Conference has been using an Online Schedule since 2011. It’s the place to go for in depth information about the sessions and to get electronic copies of the presentations (if the presenter provides the organizers with it.). This year’s online schedule also provides you an opportunity to provide session feedback electronically instead of the paper forms used in the past.
Here are some handy things to know:
- The online schedule does not use the same account info you used when you registered, so if you have not used the online schedule for previous Agile Alliance conferences, you’ll need to create a new account.
- You do not have to “sign up” for a session in the online schedule in order to attend it. That feature is there to help you remember which sessions you think you might want to go to and filter down the overall schedule.
- The labels of Limited, Filling, Full, and Waitlist on sessions is an indication of how many people have expressed interest in a session. So if a Session is “Limited” it means that you don’t have to be too early to that session to get a seat. On the other hand if a session is marked “Full” or “Waitlisted” you may have to get to the room at the beginning of the break period.
- Presentations are being uploaded to the online schedule when presenters send them in. So if a session does not have a presentation available, it’s because the presenter hasn’t sent it in yet. This is often the case because presenters like to tweak things up to the last (ir)responsible moment. At least I know I have in the past.
- By default the online schedule hides all sessions that have passed until the entire conference is over. To change that behavior go to your profile on the mobile app and uncheck the box “Hide the sessions which have ended”.
Full disclosure: I’m the Product Owner for the Submission System and Online Schedule, so any questions or feedback, please let me know.
I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things, but that list should give you a good start. Enjoy the conference!