Agile2010 retrospective: What I Learned From Burning My House Down

How could you not attend a conference presentation with a title like that?

I hasten to add that it was not my house that burned down; I had to assume that it was a house belonging to (or somehow associated with) one of the two presenters Yves Hanouelle and Robin Dymond — and that the story had something to do with agile software development. Now that two weeks have passed, I have to admit that I’m not even surer whose house burned down, though I think it was Yves'; all I remember is that it had something to do with an unsuccessful attempt to cook some French fries.

But yes, there was a connection to agile software development. I’ll summarize all of it briefly here, but there’s no need to go into excruciating detail: unlike many of the other presentations, this one can be found here on Slideshare. It’s slightly annoying that the authors have disabled the “download” button on the slideshare page, but at least it’s readable online — which is better than most of the other Agile2010 presentations, which I can’t even find on the Internet.

Anyway, there were a couple of “meta” themes that permeated the presentation. Yves told us that (a) his parents were out when he started the fire, and (b) he was a teenager at the time. When his parents came home, the first thing his mother did was hug him — which taught him a “permanent” lesson that it’s okay to experience a failure. He also felt that the fire ultimately helped save his parents’ marriage, illustrating that good things can come out of bad, or that there’s a silver lining in every cloud.

But what the fire also illustrated was many of our us live a life of relative complacency until a crisis occurs — and that it’s our behavior in a crisis that really matters. Most of the remainder of the Hanouelle/Dymond presentation involved a discussion about “behaving with urgency” every day in a software project, while also ensuring that the team (or the manager) does not instill a “false” sense of urgency. When someone in the audience asked whether this would apply to a project team that was always in “fire-fighting” mode, Yves responded with a comment that he acknowledged having picked up from Stephen Covey: good firefighters spend 90% of their time preventing fires.

The concept, the specific suggestions, and the examples were all very good — and I urge you to track down the Slideshare presentation to look at the details yourself. But I couldn’t help wishing that Yves had spent five or ten minutes at the beginning of the presentation to tell us all the sordid details about the fire. It must have been one hell of an adventure!

curriculum vitae.