What I learned at Agile Manchester

Jack Collier
4 min readMay 17, 2023

Agile Manchester was a blast. I’ve missed hanging out in real life with agile folk and 3 days in Manchester talking agile delivery has given me a whole new energy. If you missed it this year, come next year. It’d be great to hang out. For now, here’s some things I learned…

  1. The spaces between talks are just as valuable as the talks themselves.

The thing that I always leave a conference or event remembering most are the people. I’m really pleased to have met and been able to hang out with such a fantastic bunch and swap ideas and develop new ones.

It was great to see some old friends again — Pete Bromley, now at the BBC, Emily Webber, now in Liverpool who I haven’t seen for years, Rachel Shah and Neil Vass, who I can credit with introducing me to the Manchester digital scene.

It was also great to make some new connections — Sara Bowley from the BBC, Jaimella Espley who talked about the power of laughter and Sophie Weston, who was great to chat to over a pie!

The conference left me wondering how we might be able to use the space between talks more to generate connections…watch this space.

2. Learning by having fun is the best way to learn. Why don’t we do it more often?

I’m a bit of a board game lover, so I fell in love with John Wilson and Janis Kampe’s TDD board game. It really made we question why we don’t spend more time thinking about how we can teach through games. It was also a great way to meet new people and engage in a really unforced way.

Ale Diaz and myself used a board game format to share insights from working with policy back at the MOJ, which Apolitical ended up adopting. The experience at Agile Manchester has definitely led me back to exploring this path again, especially as I was gutted to miss Jaimella’s talk on the power of laughter (I’m a advocate of serious play) and Neil’s talk on estimation games.

3. If you aren’t deploying to prod quickly and regularly, are you living a lie?

Charity Major’s talk on fulfilling the promise of continuous deployment was incredible. It’s changed my life. She talked about how real users introduce chaos that you can’t test for. Any time you take longer than 15mins to deploy to prod, you’re creating a problem for yourself, and living a lie.

You’re living a lie because you think your tests can cover every eventuality and you’re creating a problem for yourself because by the time that code gets into production and is really tested, you’ll have forgotten all about it. Any batching of releases is a potential problem and nothing beats observing code in production.

I was particularly blown away by the notion that teams that are high-performing are high-performing because they’re releasing code multiple times a day, and learning from it. Teams that can’t do this, simply can’t learn as quickly and increasingly, get left behind.

4. The power of diverse teams is real

We know this already, but did you know that diverse teams are 50% more innovative, gender diverse teams are 21% more profitable, and ethnically diverse teams are 35% more profitable?

Annette Joseph shared her work with Diverse And Equal and just how imperative it is for organisations to change the way they think about recruiting diverse talent into their organisation.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Annette and her team and really think she’s going to change the way the digital world works.

5. We need to stop being multi-disciplinary and start being trans-disciplinary

slide describing the different definition of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary

Emily Webber talked about why agile teams can’t seem to get along due to organisational structures and ‘professional protectionism’. What stuck wit me most though was the idea that multi-disciplinary is not what we’re aiming for. Multi-disciplinary describes an additive, not integrative team, whereas interdisciplinary describes teams integrating to achieve a shared goal and trans-disciplinary being where blended teams achieve shared objectives.

6. I need to budget my energy, time and money better

I really enjoyed listening to Sol Byambadorj share her powerful personal story about budgeting energy, time and money. I came home inspired about her lunar new year parties! but also slightly in awe of how she had used these techniques to manage herself, particularly in some really challenging circumstances.

Sol presenting her approach to budgeting time, energy and money

7. Sharing is important

Saheel and I shared a talk on our work on making COVID testing in schools a reality in some less than ideal circumstances during the pandemic. We were slightly worried that what we were sharing was maybe too basic. But we were pleasantly surprised by the reaction and discussion that we got. So lesson learned, work in the open and share regularly, even if you don’t think there’s much to say.

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Jack Collier

Doing product, delivery and UCD to change things for the better. Previously DD in Gov, now at Transform.