AgileTDUSA Part #2: Conference Day 2

AgileTDUSA Part #2: Conference Day 2

As promised, this is the second part of my highlights from the Agile Testing Days USA conference. Again, I will focus only on the keynotes because as a member of staff I only got a glimpse of the different tracks. As the name Agile Testing Days USA suggests, this is a testing-oriented conference, but not only; it is mostly about agile and I am sure that also developers did get a lot from it. Even though I am not a tester or work in software development, I got a lot of value out of it and especially the keynotes got me thinking and inspired.


Conference Day II

The second conference day started again very early for my colleagues Uwe and Ina, and myself. We would run the agile morning run and give a yoga session for the last time. The long Agile Games Night the evening before had taken its toll on us, and we felt a bit more tired than the days before. But nonetheless, when we came down to the lobby, I was happy to see some early risers to join us for a run and some yoga. It had rained the night before, so the morning air was very refreshing. The first rays of sunshine broke through the clouds and birds were chirping. We took it slow and jogged loosely towards the Golf and Country Club. We were back in time for the cooldown and the Lean Coffee session by Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin.


The Keynotes

The last conference day of Agile Testing Days USA officially began with Alex Schladebeck's and Huib Schoots' very personal keynote “Get Off the Hamster Wheel and Start Adding Value”. Alex and Huib both shared touching stories about how they fell into a dangerous trap that many have fallen into and accepted as a way of hard working: the hamster wheel. They highlighted how contagious this hamster wheel attitude is and that it not only can have a negative impact on your mental health but also on the team. They also made obvious how important it is to look after yourself and that high self-expectation can tear you apart. I am sure that the keynote struck many chords and that everyone in the room could relate to it. I also hope that Alex’ and Huib’s talk triggered others to actually change and commit themselves to get off the hamster wheel, and most importantly to look out for others and help them to do the same. If you get a chance to hear it, take it. It is a keynote everyone should hear.

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Running on the hamster wheel doesn’t help you! Slow down! It’s ok to stare out of the window.
  • If you come across the “overwhelm” zone, recognize it and act accordingly.
  • Set realistic goals! Even the smallest step will get you toward the goal.
  • Accept that it is ok to fail!
  • Get help! Talk to people and share the burden, even if it’s only an emotional one.


The second big talk of the day belonged to Ellen Gottesdiener and her keynote “Innovate and Invigorate Your Agile Discovery Practices”. According to Ellen, there can’t be a great product delivery without continuous discovery. Continuous cycles of collaboration, exploration, innovation, and evaluation can help build better products that fit the market and make customers happy. Ellen made it clear through her talk that above all transparency is needed in the way to explore true value and to recognize it. As value lies in the eye of the beholder, we have to ask ourselves who they are and what do they value. Value could mean something different for teams, customers and product partners. The keynote was also very interactive. During her talk, Ellen asked us to respond to questions from her keynote and the responses were instantly displayed in form of a diagram or word cloud on the big stage screens. Great keynote feature and very insightful.

My key takeaways from Ellen’s talk:

  • Discovery is as important as delivery as the rhythm of discovering and delivering is the essence of agile. Improve the bottom line with both.
  • Discovery is much more generative and more active; it’s not passive. Words like ‘collect’ or ‘gather’ are not good terms to describe how we discover what we should build.
  • Get rid of the word “stakeholders” and replace it with “product partners”.
  • Continuous discovery optimizes continuous delivery. Continuous delivery facilitates continuous discovery, which makes customers happy.


The closing keynote of the last conference day was presented by Ray Arell. Ray started his keynote “Safe-to-Fail” by sharing his own “safe-to-fail” story. He put a lot of attention to experiments and safe to fail environments. Ray believes it is important to have a safe-to-fail environment and to allow people to make mistakes as they are a way to learn. If failures are interpreted as a failure and negative preconceptions are made, people either leave the company or refrain from trying out their potentially good ideas.

Here are my key learnings from Ray' keynote:

  • Having a safe-to-fail environment can bring the best out of the people.
  • Safe to fail can minimize harm and maximize the learning.
  • Failure can help you figure out a solution. It’s a way of learning.
  • Hug an engineer a day! [But ask first!] Engineers need love too.

The day ended with the Agile Games Development Night in the Living Room area. And what can I say: it was again highly entertaining. Although it was meant as a kind of workshop to develop agile games and learn more about gamification, the attendees soon started to facilitate games again and it became another night full of fun, laughs, and good spirits.

This last night was also very special for the teams of trendig and TechWell. As we knew it was the last time we all would be together, we agreed upon to not separate and stay at the hotel as one group, and enjoy the evening together as team AgileTDUSA. So, a special shout goes to the most awesome people (including those not present) who did their best to make the first edition of Agile Testing Days USA in Boston such a success and fun.