Impressions from Agile Manchester 2023

Tags: conferences, community,

I went to Agile Manchester 2023 because I have a lot of things to think about. And sometimes the best way to think is to have a conversation with someone. At QWAN we like our rubber ducks to talk to, but actual people add that little extra.

Table of Contents

  1. introduction - impressions from agile manchester 2023
    1. what convinced me
  2. Writing style influenced by chat - talk to the blog
  3. And then there were sessions.
    1. Emily Webber
    2. Charity Majors
    3. TDD game
    4. Matthew Skelton
    5. Ceri Newton-Sargunar and John Clapham on a road trip
    6. That was the end of the walk, but I also ran into Neill Vass
    7. Ensemble programming, further explored
    8. Sorry Allison, I did skip some sessions
  4. Wrapping up
  5. So what was it like to dictate a blog post?


At first I wasn’t convinced this was the best place to do it - previously most people would go into sessions, and I didn’t always find things I wanted to go to. A conference can be a time-effective way to have conversations - no need to set up meetings. Having said that, Allison Beaumont, one of the organisers, will be pleased to know that I also went to many sessions and enjoyed them. She didn’t have to say “Willem, shouldn’t you be at a session?” :-) this time.

What convinced me

Ceri Newton Sanguinar convinced me there would be at least one person to have long conversations with (Ceri :-) ). Luckily, there were more. I guess with more work from home, there is more interest in sharing experiences outside of sessions. It also helped that John Clapham did a fairly elaborate introduction and started the conference encouraging everyone to engage in conversation with people they haven’t met before. Which I think worked, the first coffee break after that. I was approached by someone. I had a met in light of a coffee and we had a very good conversation.

Writing style influenced by chat - talk to the blog

The way this post is written is influenced by a conversation with Jit Gosai. We were discussing how to get ideas out from our minds into the world. He mentioned that, if I remember correclty, Isaac Newton would walk around in his garden, he had a path in his garden, he would just go around and around to think. So, I’m writing this blogpost while walking, talking into my headset. As I mentioned to Jit, I often have ideas for blog posts, but when I sit down at the keyboard, nothing much comes out or it’s not in the voice that I like. I have been recording my voice with GoodNotes. GoodNotes is an iPad note taking app. You can write with a pencil and then you can talk to it while scribbling. I do notice that while I’m talking I’m just scribbling, not drawing as much, but little drawings are a sort of seeds. I can always make a more precise drawing later if I feel like it. Edit: the same goes for the spoken word. The post has been edited a fair bit after dictation, but it was a very fruitful seed.

And then there were sessions.

Emily Webber

From Emily’s Webber’s talk I took away that I really like working in transdisciplinary teams. A transdisciplinary team consists of people with a variety of backgrounds use all of their capabilities to get a good result. The thing I haven’t tried, but will definitely be taking away from Emily’s talk, is the capability comb.

So, basically you write out all the things that you are capable of and vary of the length of each tooth of the Comb depending on how capable you are in that skill. People are good at various things, but many capabilities are often overlooked when we forming teams. I find with gelled teams that members share a lot more about their interests.

Charity Majors

I enjoyed Charity Majors’ talk as well. She also is not very keen on the definition of continuous delivery in the book. I did a rant about that a couple of years ago. Her talk was very much better explained than mine. Basically, if someone needs to push a button to deploy, that’s a bit sad, because that will encourage delays and waiting times, or reduce confidence in the software that you have.

TDD game

Like JitterTed’s TDD game. I had seen it floating by, it’s a card game about test driven development. The best way to learn about a game is to play it. The second best way is to observe it. I was enjoying a chat, and therefore arrived late, but the facilitators kindly let me observe. I think I’d like a game that emphasises different aspects of TDD - this game focuses on predicting whether a test will pass or fail when writing it. My thinking is - why not do this with code, as it is aimed at developers? I’ll play this some more, Wouter Lagerweij bought a deck, hopefully he’ll bring it to XP2023.

Matthew Skelton

I’d have to check my notes to remember what the talk was about, but it was very well explained (edit: Continuous delivery at scale - social and technical practices for fast flow ). I liked the way Matthew shares his sources and how he approaches things. For instance the way he develops his card decks by open sourcing them and doing a revenue share with a company that prints prints and sells the cards. I was thinking of making some more card decks after our refactoring cards, but yeah, putting cards in envelopes is not something I particularly enjoy.

Ceri Newton-Sargunar and John Clapham on a road trip

I also had some very good conversations with Ceri and John on the way back. On Friday trains were striking, so I drove to Manchester instead, and gave Carrie and John a lift on the way back. We had a very nice conversation . A transdisciplinary team on the move - we all do fairly different things, but also appear to have several perspectives in common.

A four hour drive and a quiet way to discuss various things and getting to know each other was fun. Some things don’t come across nearly as well in public writing as they do in private conversation. Some things only come alive when I’m working through a problem with a client and they sort of, that when you see them at the conference, well, the lived experience may be quite interesting, but it just does not resonate.

That was the end of the walk, but I also ran into Neill Vass

It was also great to meet Neil Vass in person. Maybe I’ve met him before, but I don’t remember. We had some interaction on LinkedIn and Mastodon and one day on the conference he walked in with a Primal Scream t-shirt. That’s something you don’t see every day. We had a good chat about transdisplinary teams, and how “teams these days” seem very specialized, whereas ’in the old days’ everyone did whatever needed to be done to achieve a good outcome. Neil’s blog has notes from agile manchester as well.

Ensemble programming, further explored

Unexpectedly for me, I am on the fence on ensemble programming. I like to be able to do things with one or two people. When you need at least three, it gets expensive quickly. When you’re bootstrapping, you need to convince a bunch of people to spend their time with you for no immediate rewards.

So being able to attend a workshop was very useful, to better understand the practice and its’ potential. Strong style ensemble-ing is as fascinating as I find it frustrating. It’s interesting to see the things that you easily view at a keyboard and then trying to explain them to someone else. While trying to get them done. It’s a bit like pulling teeth. But I also can see if you practice this and you become more gelled, it will become fluid again. But practicing it like this, when you practice, it creates an awareness that you’re not easily going to get from other forms of working.

Sorry Allison, I did skip some sessions

So yeah, I a good time at the conference and the bar(s). I did skip our two sessions because I got stuck in in a good way. It was also good to meet up with Marc Dalgarno again. I haven’t seen him in a while.

Wrapping up

Before Ceri’s encouragement, I wasn’t confident that Agile Manchester would be a place to have those conversations. Because in previous years, before the pandemic, most people would go to sessions, and I wouldn’t always. I didn’t always find the sessions that interesting. One year, I had long conversations with another person. There was only two of us who would hang around between sessions. This time was different, I did go to more sessions, as I found more of them interesting. Not that they’re all 100% novel, but for instance with Charity Majors’ talk, if something is explained really well it gives me a more precise vocabulary to think and talk about these things. Which helps move me forward.

So what was it like to dictate a blog post?

Seven minutes in or so I said it felt a bit like FreeWriting - just writing without editing, emptying your thoughts on the page. At some point, there is nothing, and then you write something like “I don’t know what to write” until you do. And then I did, and continued until the end of my fiteen minute walk. I did say at some point: “So now, I am one of those weird people talking to themselves, pretending I’m having a call. ”. In the end it took two hours of editing to whip 15 minutes of talking into some sort of shape, but it is still relatively fast for me. At least I got some of my reflections on paper. I hope you find them useful. There are still bits missing, but I hope this works as an impression of Agile Manchester 2023. Please let me know on linked-in or mastodon, any feedback is greatly appreciated.

View on manchester over a river, as seen from the tram. On a sluice gate graffity says:'give it to me hard like Y2K'. P.S. After editing there are some more things I may want to write about, like meeting Rob Bowley and the spontaneous SPA/OT mini reunion at the pub, Giovanni Asproni’s talk, Thierry De Pauws’ very personal pre-conference talk about delaying decisions etc. But shipping is a feature, your blog must have it :-). See you next time!


Thanks to Ceri for encouraging blog posts in general (‘what have you got to lose?’) and Oana Juncu for encouraging this one in particular.

Subscribe to our RSS feed