Agile in the City: Birmingham – Political Tactics, Rockstars and Applying Music

This post was written by Jovile Bartkeviciute.

Another chapter of Agile in the City events started in Birmingham today and I am glad I had an opportunity to be a part of it! Agile in the City are practical events run in Birmingham, London and Bristol for the Agile community from the organisers of Agile Cambridge and Agile Manchester and as usual for the series, the audience had a chance to learn a lot of useful tips and advice from the industry experts and their peers giving the talks. Not only the speakers were knowledgeable, but entertaining too! From a real comedy number to making the audience draw pictures and sing acapella – there was no time to be bored.

Here is a quick summary of the few talks that I attended:

Keynote by Kate Gray and Chris Young“Don’t divide and conquer when you can segment and thrive”


Kate Gray and Chris Young delivered an entertaining, informative and most importantly interactive talk on using your available time wisely with lessons taken from politics:

  • There is only so much mind space available in a business day or in a political campaign – you need to focus on the right things – you cannot do it all.
  • There are a lot of thinking tools available to help you – use them! “You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands and you can’t do much thinking with your bare brain”.
  • Political segmentation:
    • Hard Opposition – you do not need to spend time on them since they will never agree with you
    • Soft Opposition – similar to hard opposition – difficult to persuade, thus you do not need to spend time on them also
    • Hard Support – they already agree with you, thus you do not need to spend time on them also
    • Soft Support – this is the group you need to spend the most time on – they are kind of with you and they will talk about you since they spent a lof of time thinking about agreeing with you – they will do the job for you in convincing swing
    • Swing – the group you need to influence. The easiest way to do that is by influencing the soft support group instead and letting them do the work for you.
  • “I have never encountered an effective executive who remains effective while tackling more than two tasks at a time” – The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, Peter Drucker



Nik Silver“Quantify your goals: a simple idea with huge benefits”

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Nik Silver talked about quantifying goals, how to do that successfully and tried to convince us how valuable they are. Some takeaways:

  • Quantifying goals is not a new idea – Tom Gilb talked about quantifying the goals for decades.
  • Executives and Team – communication should be around the Value that has been delivered. Executives should ask about the value delivered and team should ask themselves how they are going to deliver the value.
  • Having a value statement is essential
  • Quantified goals means
    • clearer decision-making
    • better conversations
    • more creative solutions
    • better prioritisation
  • How do we measure anything?
    • Can we measure anything?
      • tangible difference
      • more or less of something
      • it’s measurable
    • What it means to measure?
      • A quantitatively expressed reduction of uncertainty based on one or more observations.
    • Why you want to measure?
  • If you can agree the quantified value to be delivered, then almost everything else follows


Martin Burns“This is the sound of all of us”


Martin Burns delivered a musical talk about collaboration and what it means to be a part of a group. The talk involved a base guitar and singing acappella too!

Main points:

  • 1. Collaboration and participation
    • Close partnerships are important since often, one isn’t enough
  • 2. Teams and crews
    • when you change one person in the team, all team changes
  • 3. Learning
    • You cannot learn if you never step out of safety, stretch yourself, do things that scare you
    • If you do not fail – you do not learn
  • 4. Creativity and constraints
    • Creativity is not about freedom, it is about constraints
  • 5. Candence and Synchronisation
    • Sustaining out of sync cadence is hard, linked, regular cadence helps
  • 6. Coordination
    • A little advance agreement, common logistics and touchpoints, acceptance criteria and you can achieve immense scale.

Creativity with patterns, cadence and coordination enables scale and complexity



Louise Paling“Agile and Outsourcing: a how-to guide”

Image uploaded from iOS

Louise Paling talked about outsourcing and how to make sure you are using outsources teams to full potential.

  • Rule 1: Use fixed price contracts
    • It is better to use T&M contracts
  • Rule 2: Separate teams
    • Integrated teams are better
  • Rule 3: Separate systems
    • Selectively connect the systems – the cloud is your friend
  • Rule 4: Minimize meetings
    • Don’t be afraid of meetings
  • Rule 5: Minimize travel
    • Allow travel within reason
  • Rule 6: Minimize meeting attendees
    • Full team meeting as appropriate
  • Rule 7: Maintain full control
    • Delegate authority
  • Rule 8: Internal decision making
    • Seek advice
  • Rule 9: Don’t upset the team
    • Be less British, give feedback
  • Rule 10: It’s not a relationship, it’s a supplier
    • It’s definitely a relationship
  • Rule 11: Don’t pay to train them
    • Coach as appropriate
  • Rule 12: One size fits all
    • One size does not fit all

Anna Miedzianowska“What good looks like?”


Anna Miedzianowska shared with us how they are managing teams at Ocado and what good looks like at their organisation.

Some key points:

  • Would you fly in a plane that was running on your software?
  • You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.
  • Some ideas they have tied at Ocado:
    • Mango rule – shut up, this is off-topic, take it offline
    • The Great Product Bake Off
    • GEMBA (The Real Place)
    • Buddy routes – developers and drivers pairing off
    • Reversing the roles
    • Asking for bad ideas first in a meeting
    • Question of the week
    • User personas
    • Waste snake
    • Team health check
    • Portfolio wall
    • Doing pre-mortems as well as post-mortems


10 minute lightning talks

Spencer Turner – “So how much is it going to cost? Agile estimation and the bathroom tap…”


Key points:

  • Be confident enough to say I don’t understand and am not best placed to make some of the decisions and hand over control (and by extension risk) to an expert.
  • Know which decisions I care enough about to not hand off to an expert.
  • Understand what ‘good enough’ means in any given context
  • Know what I’m prepared to compromise and what not.

Trust is based on:

  • Recommendation
  • A reasonably accurate estimate
  • Being clear around what isn’t estimable
  • Having previously proven yourself.


Emily Webber“The Agile  Team Onion”


Making your own Agile Team Onion:

  • Get the right people in the room
  • Map out who is in each ring
  • Prioritise the collaborators
  • Agree on what questions you need to answer
  • Agree who will talk to them
  • Talk to them



Chris Oldwood“Wit limits”

A comedy number, no summary – you had to be there!



>> Day 2

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