Embarking on an Agile Journey
I bid farewell to the Scottish Highlands and rain-soaked moors and embarked on my journey across the Atlantic. Destination? Orlando, Florida - the land of globally recognised mice, magic, and its own fair share of political turmoil, where I was to make my international speaking debut at Agile 2023, Agile Alliance's annual conference, from the 24th to 28th of July 2023.
Agile 2023 wasn't just any conference; it is the conference to be at for Agile practitioners worldwide. Hosted annually by Agile Alliance, the conference serves as a hub for thought leaders, innovators, and passionate practitioners in the Agile community. It's a space to explore new ideas, push boundaries, and challenge traditional Agile principles to create a future-ready Agile approach.
When I applied to speak at Agile 2023, I wanted to contribute to this global Agile evolution. I'd been advocating for the integration of AI in Agile practices back home in Scotland, and this was an opportunity to take that conversation to an international stage.
The Warm Embrace of the Agile Community: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Walking into Agile 2023 was nothing short of intimidating. Imagine stepping into an enormous conference venue bustling with almost 2000 people, all seasoned Agile practitioners, many of them industry leaders and trailblazers. My excitement of being a first-time international speaker was tinged with trepidation and my imposter syndrome was hitting like a truck.
And yet, the atmosphere at Agile 2023 washed away those feelings almost immediately. It wasn't just the grandeur of the event or the line-up of incredible speakers that did this. It was the warmth and the genuine acceptance that the Agile community showered on me. Everyone I met - from speakers, delegates, exhibitors, to volunteers - was welcoming and inclusive. The environment fostered an immediate sense of connection that transformed this enormous space into an intimate community.
The real magic happened at the 'lean coffee' sessions every morning. Huddled together with the most passionate people in the industry, discussing real Agile topics, I felt seen, heard, and valued. It was here that I understood the true spirit of the Agile community - we were not just professionals sharing a career path; we were a team, working together to advance Agile principles and values.
Over the course of those five days, I realised that the only imposter in that room was the voice in my head telling me I didn't belong and of course the AI I trained “Delilah” who stole the show from me as my AI Imposter Syndrome construct. More on that bundle of fun later!
Learning and Growing Together: The Call for Redefining Leadership
From day one, the keynote speaker, Anne-Marie Charrett, set the tone, then compounded by Bushra Amiwala, and Esther Derby on Wednesday, and Friday. Their collective message echoed throughout the conference - Leadership needs to level up. It's time we rethink our preconceived notions of what a leader should be and who can become one. We need leaders who understand the nuances of the rapidly evolving world, who can foster an environment of trust and collaboration, and who can inspire and innovate.
One session that left an indelible mark was Tine Zekis’s presentation on the structural problems causing widespread Imposter Syndrome in organisations. It was a wake-up call, an invitation to address the invisible barriers hampering our growth. For me who is a constant victim of imposter syndrome this was like a weight being lifted form my shoulders. Then later in the conference Ahmed Sidky’s interactive workshop helped me explore the creation of an agile product strategy while keeping customer delight at the forefront. An amazing inspiration from a person in the industry I have always admired.
There were so many amazing talk, workshops, and innovative sessions I could go on all day!
Link: Find out more about the inspiring speakers and their enlightening sessions at Agile 2023.
Breaking Boundaries with 'AI in Agile'
Walking into my session, 'Putting the AI into Agile', my nerves and imposter syndrome resurfaced as the room filled to capacity a full 20 minutes before we were set to start. The thought of addressing a packed room, all eager to learn about AI in Agile, was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.
However, as I began to interact with the crowd, the familiar warmth and openness of the Agile community washed over me once again. With each point I made, every question I answered, my confidence grew. I could see their interest, their curiosity, as I unveiled the potential of integrating AI in Agile processes - a perspective many hadn't considered before.
My session focussed on considering AI tools as co-pilots rather than replacements, how I embrace this position, and examples of advances being made by organisations across the world. I also demonstrated an AI I have trained and named Delilah, who I use to represent my imposter syndrome. It is brutal to say the least but helps me massively in getting thoughts out of my head and in a space, I can deal with them. Of course, everyone wanted to meet her, and she did not disappoint. Within moments she tore down my penchant for obscure movie references and had the attendees in stitches. Thanks Delilah!
Delilah’s response to my Movie references.
The post-session feedback was the cherry on top. I received a whirlwind of responses, from grateful attendees appreciating the fresh insights to seasoned professionals sharing tips for improving my delivery. The underlying thread in all their feedback was their genuine care - for my growth, for the topic, and for the Agile community. The imposter syndrome I initially felt had been replaced by a profound sense of pride and gratitude.
Bridging Minds: Converging at Conference Epicentre
Among the best spaces at Agile 2023 to connect and reflect were the exhibitor stalls, with ICAgile space standing out. It was designed to be open and inviting, fostering quiet reflection amidst the conference's buzz. A magnet of sorts, I noticed how people - myself included - naturally gravitated towards it whenever possible.
And it wasn't just ICAgile. Exhibitors like Scrum.org and PMI also created engaging spaces, transforming the traditional concept of exhibition stalls into dynamic knowledge sharing platforms. However, I must add, their decision to position themselves between the attendees and lunch was a rather courageous one. Not many can get in between an Agile practitioner and their lunch!
A Nook of our Own: Experiencing the Gaylord Palms
The Agile 2023 conference was held at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Centre in Orlando - a venue as grand as the event itself. Its sprawling area, decked with an atrium that housed an array of restaurants and shops, was an embodiment of both opulence and comfort.
Yet, despite its size, the Gaylord Palms managed to feel like a second home, thanks to the incredible warmth and service of the staff. The sense of familiarity was nurtured right from the get-go, with every interaction echoing their commitment to making us feel welcomed. This, combined with their unwavering effort to ensure smooth proceedings of the event, amplified the overall experience.
A favourite catchup spot that unofficially became part of the conference experience was Wreckers Sports Bar. Amid the clinking of glasses, laughter, and sports commentary, many attendees including myself, found ourselves deep in enriching conversations, fostering connections that extended beyond professional boundaries. The bar's lively atmosphere offered the perfect setting to unwind and reflect on the day's learnings after an intense conference schedule.
Image: The splendid Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Centre.
A Look Back: Lessons Learned and Friendships Formed
Reflecting on Agile 2023, I realise it was more than a conference – it was a transformative journey. From battling imposter syndrome to stepping into the limelight, from absorbing rich insights to forging new friendships, every aspect was memorable. The Agile community's warmth dissolved any initial trepidation I had. Their support during my session left me feeling proud, not only of my presentation but of the shared enthusiasm we hold for our field. And while the sheer scale of the event was intimidating, the familiar comfort found at exhibitors like ICAgile, Scrum.org, and PMI served as rejuvenating oases amidst the buzz.
As I now eagerly await Agile 2024 in Texas, I'm left wondering: What were your impressions of Agile 2023? Did you share similar experiences or encounter unique scenarios? And more importantly, will I see you in Texas next year for another unforgettable Agile journey?
Michael EassonHaving spent his career facilitating, coaching, teaching and consulting in technology and management, Michael has honed an ability to design and deliver innovative and engaging experiences – with a strong emphasis on interactive and memorable learning.