This horizon scan from the Agile Research Network (ARN) covers insights from the XP Conference on Agile Software Development (XP 2023) in Amsterdam (Netherlands). Conference attendance was funded by the Agile Research Network.
It draws on the conference proceedings and discussions with attendees to identify potential current trends of high relevance to business agility researchers and practitioners. The conference theme was ‘Sustainability’ and it was highly represented in presentations.
The two dominant themes of the conference were:
- Re-balancing agile to move it away from becoming an orthodoxy;
- Sustainability across all departments within the organisation, including IT.
Other important themes were:
Why this matters for business agilists
Looking ahead, AI and sustainability are the two big game changers on the horizon. AI is moving quickly and is potentially a major disrupter. Similarly, public concern and government initiatives about climate change are driving organisations to look at sustainability and be innovative in finding solutions. Hybrid working and large-scale agile are both key features of agile environments but there are some challenges associated with these that need to be addressed. More than ever, a balanced approach to agility is needed.
Rewilding Agile (rewilding in the sense of restoring balance rather than returning to its original state) was the topic of a talk by David Snowden (known for his work on the Cynefin framework), challenging orthodoxy and suggesting different ways of tackling complexity.
Key takeaways were:
- Opposing the rigidity of frameworks in attempting to solve all problems and instead focusing on deconstructing methods into units, picking what is good in each one, then combining them and managing their interactions;
- Avoiding the ‘certification plague’, where you teach a course and give a certificate to people who pass the exam but do not have the skills;
- Capturing people’s experiences through stories, rather than asking them what they need;
- Focusing on people’s interactions and social processes to change behaviours (micro-nudging), rather than on cognitive processes (it’s not about ‘mindset’ nor ‘mental models’);
- Proposing three heuristics:
- Get the granularity right – focus on micro-stories of people’s day-to-day experiences (these are valuable to understand complex situations);
- Distribute and diversify cognition to the originators of the data;
- Remove mediators between decision makers and those affected.
Sustainability was a key theme for the whole conference. In organisations it is important to understand how sustainability needs to be a concern not only for Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) but also for all teams, their interactions and collaborations and their product creation. Software, in particular, is not often thought of as a major pillar in the fight against energy consumption. In her keynote Coral Callero (Professor in Computing Science at the University of Castilla-La Mancha) showed us some software consumption measurements (from programming languages, browsers, search engines, and applications) that highlight the importance of building software more carefully. Jutta Eckstein (an independent consultant, well-known for her book on BOSSA Nova) noted the EU legal obligation for companies with over 250 employees to report on their sustainability actions. She focused on how social, environmental and economic sustainability impact team collaboration and product creation.
In the large-scale agile workshop, indicators of 'mega monster projects' that always end up being troubling were discussed.
The following tell-tale signs were identified:
- Projects that start really slowly and are not modularised;
- Projects in which the number of stakeholders and/or the number of business processes covered gradually increases;
- Projects where there is no focus on delivering high-level organisational value;
- A lack of participants who really understand the business and systems landscape.
The AI-assisted agile development workshop looked at the use of AI in software development. Although Large Language Models like ChatGPT are not yet mature, they can be used throughout the software development lifecycle.
Recent research findings suggest:
- ChatGPT can be used to evaluate the quality of user stories, but experience and evidence-based strategies are needed to achieve reliable outputs
- ChatGPT can be used for full-stack web development, but it needs considerable human intervention and quality checks at each stage
- ChatGPT can be used to help start-ups do early-stage brainstorming. Some tuning is needed to get more useful responses but good outcomes are not guaranteed
- Human factors play an important role in the effective use of AI-assisted development.
The Global and Hybrid work workshop discussed the continuing trend towards hybrid working. Findings indicate that knowledge workers like to work from home 2-3 days per week and consider flexibility a right, not a privilege. They are likely to resign or look for a new job if forced to return to the office full-time.
Companies need to:
- Consider how they communicate their intentions around office attendance and hybrid working to employees;
- Take a systematic approach to setting goals for a revised work policy and align intentions with actions;
- Balance the conflict of interest between employees (flexibility, productivity, well-being) and companies (profitability, quality, employee retention).
Visit their website for more information: