Thoughts on China Conference

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Thoughts on China Conference

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I’ve just returned from my first trip to China. I attended the TiD 2014 Conference, which was a consolidation of 3 specific conferences:

  • AgileChina
  • ChinaTest
  • SPIChina

It’s the first year for the conference’s to be united in this way. For example, this was the first year for AgileChina, but the third or fourth year for ChinaTest.

Because of my background and interests, I was invited to speak at two of the three conferences: ChinaTest and AgileChina. Xiaomei Tai was the program chair for the overall conference and my primary contact.

I certainly had more than my share of sessions. I had one keynote, 3 – ½ day workshops, and 3 track talks that I presented. Overall, I believe I was “talking” for over two days. Imagine that?

The conference ran from Sunday – Wednesday, July 27 – 30 and was held at the National Conference facilities in Beijing. It was well attended, as I would guess that nearly 1500 or more people showed up for the conference keynotes on Tuesday.

I thought it would be useful to share some of my observations, both minor and major, from the conferences:

  • First of all, it was hot in Beijing. It’s summer there and temperatures hovered around the mid 90’s with heavy humidity. I thought I was going to melt whenever I ventured outside.
  • The attendees were very friendly and engaged. I’ve received quite a few follow-up emails from folks – particularly around “agile”.
  • The language barrier was much less of an issue than I thought it would be. There were translators available in each of my sessions, but largely the attendees could understand me. Heck, folks in the US have trouble understanding me, so this was pleasantly unexpected. Where the interpreters made a big difference is in helping to explain more complex or nuanced topic. And during Q&A.
  • In many ways, I feel that the “agile community and practice” is a few years behind what I typically see here in the North America. Folks are still struggling getting the basics of agility down. If I were to place a number on it, I’d say 3-5 years behind my sense of things here.
    • I believe part of the agile adoption lag time is based on the nature of the majority of technology businesses in China. They do quite a lot of outsourcing to firms in other countries, so their agile-ness (methods, approaches, constraints, etc.) is largely influenced by their clients. Very often these projects are driven more from a traditional, waterfall perspective because of legacy methods or outsourced project governance.
    • Another driver for agile adoption challenges seems to be cultural and by that I mean from a leadership perspective. My sense is that most leaders & managers in China still lead from a strong Command & Control posture. For example, I had many discussions surrounding how managers should “evaluate” their teams in agile environments. Everyone was looking at the challenges associated with individual measurement and evaluation and really struggling with the notion of a self-directed team. My sense is that this will be one of the key transition challenges for many Chinese organizations. But this is still a challenge for North American organizations too.
  • Overall there was an excitement and an eagerness to learn at the conference. While folks were very shy, I suspect because of the language difference, I still sensed an excitement to learn new things and an open-mindedness to consider new ideas. I think this was more pronounced than many of my North American conferences.

I must give a “shout out” to Xiaomei and the other conference volunteers. They did an outstanding job of putting on a wonderful event AND supporting the speakers. We had several “speakers only” events and I got to meet many of the senior members of each of the groups putting on the conference.

One of the biggest things I learned is to adjust my content and speaking style for Chinese audiences. I have a tendency for rapid-fire presentations and I need to slow down a bit there. I also need to condense my talks down to allow for translation time. So next time, instead of just going with my normal, canned presentations – I’ll be making some adjustments. I think that’s the agile thing to do.

To wrap-up this post, I just want to thank Xiaomei for inviting me. She had tried to invite me to the previous two ChinaTest conferences and failed because of my schedule conflicts. But to her credit, she persisted and I’m glad she did.

The conference was outstanding and I’m hopeful that I can be a part of future events. Then I can start to observe the evolution of agile within China. I suspect there will be a healthy bit of learning there and accelerated adoption.

BTW: I had some wonderful morning chats with Gerard Meszaros. He’s a great technical agile coach who I think aligns well with my own principles.

And James Bach – thank you SOOOO much for the portrait of Foster.

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

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