Here a few lines describing on my impressions of the XPDays Benelux conference that took place in Belgium a few weeks ago.
Organization of the conference
With 115 participants, and 4 parallel sessions, the conference had a friendly and personal atmosphere. It was also very well organized. At the beginning of each day, the presenters had 60 seconds to stand up and "sell" their session. This made it easier to choose among the 4 parallel sessions.
In one of the hand-on sessions, we learned how important it was to have a product owner (PO) closely involved in the project. XP and Scrum talk about "customer on site". This point was also mentioned by other participants in informal chats. It became clear that having a readily accessible PO, someone capable of deciding on and prioritizing the product feature set, made a big difference.
In my humble opinion, one of the most powerful ideas from the XP/agile world. Basically, it means that the team members take the time to reflect on the various processes and improve upon them. Retrospectives happen frequently, differentiating them from project post-mortems. At the end of the first day of the conference, the organizers had a retrospective on the conference itself, improving it on the fly.
TDD (test driven development)
Excellent development practice but which can end up warping your mind. I thought I was practicing TDD for some time but apparently not well enough according to the opinion of the purists. Supposedly, you have to make a consistent effort so as to come up with the tiniest possible change on the implementation barely sufficient to make the tests pass. It made feel like my mind was in shackles. Apparently, you get used to it. I hope I never do.
In other sessions, I have learned that tests can be considered as a specification. As such, the test phase is more akin to design.
To write maintainable tests, you can start by asking yourself whether by (only) reading the test code one can come up with the solution, i.e. implementation. Once you do that, you can start viewing the test code as the origin of the implementation.
Teams need tome to gel. The arrival or the departure of a member will disturb the team dynamic. Some people talk about a new team after any change to the team. It may sound extreme but I think there is some truth to it.
Agility and co.
I was surprised to discover that agile methods require a lot of discipline. XP and Scrum define detailed procedures that some people follow religiously. The no-compromise/no-prisoners-taken/all-or-nothing approach of certain participants seemed disturbingly martial, on the verge of the intolerant.
Having said that, there are many excellent ideas brewing in the Agile world. Next time you stumble upon an XPDays conference in your neighborhood, I'd recommend that you attend.