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What I learned from Agile on the Beach 2024

Niki on stage at Agile on the Beach 2024.

It’s been 12 years since I started attending Agile on the Beach. In my first year, I was VERY pregnant with my second born, and I was just dipping my toe in the water with this Agile thing that was fast becoming the buzzword for business in Cornwall.   

I was bump-deep in a research project about PR planning, and pondering how there had to be another way… away from lengthy strategy documents and Gantt charts. What I immediately appreciated was the openness, collaboration, community and colour that come along with Agile conferences. 

I’ve since attended Agile on the Beach (AOTB to friends) as a sponsor, speaker, journalist (part of my stint as UK feature writer for the Scrum Alliance), and this year as a paying punter. I’ve had a bit of a gap in recent years, particularly post-COVID. But this year we signed up nice and early and I was raring for the Post-it note action. 

What is Agile on the Beach? 

AOTB is now a hugely popular, global conference that happens to take place just down the road from us. It’s grown from around 100 local delegates in year one (2011) to 500 Agile enthusiasts gathering in Cornwall for the ultimate beach party. You can read about the history of it from my article here for the Scrum Alliance. 

This year, I had the absolute privilege of delivering not one, but two, workshops for the first Agile on the Beach Youth Track – it was a chance to unleash my most colourful Post-it notes on 16 to 19-year-olds and their tutors by helping them to Operate at 80% Awesome. 

But I also had the chance to get fully immersed in talks and workshops at the main two-day conference – it’s important to me as an Agile coach to understand what else is emerging in the community, and as a Chartered PR I look for any opportunities to boost my CPD. 

Here are my highlights and tips (spoiler alert, they don’t involve the amazing food or socials, just the learning bits).

My Highlights from Agile on the Beach 2024

Visual Thinking in Service Design – a beginner’s guide to Journey Mapping 

Delivered by the “Doodle Witch” Gemma Honour, this interactive workshop celebrated my favourite corner of tech and agile application – creativity and collaboration. We developed simple ideas on how to draw and visualise our ideas to create fast-paced journey maps. I will definitely be implementing these techniques into my practice. Also keen to explore how to sketchnote. 

Visual Thinking in Service Design - a beginner's guide to Journey Mapping.

Explore what Psychological Safety is and isn’t, with Liberating Structures 

I anticipate that Psych Safety will become my Roman Empire. Since I have begun employing awesome humans again, we talk about this a lot and I think about it consistently – both in every day, with our clients and with my coaching.  

This workshop was very safely steered by Julia Bellis and Jon Fulton, based on research by Amy Emundson, which actually predates the Agile Manifesto. I will check out the book and build this into my CPD plan. It also turns out I have designed my own Liberating Structures. Who knew?! 

Agile by nature: exploring beekeeping’s secrets for agility.

I believe Agile can be applied far beyond software, and I love a quirky application. Plymouth-based Mick Brian’s talk was fascinating, backed with brilliant science and current models for team performance. There was a chance to use all your senses – touching, tasting, smelling bee products. Bees are nature’s self-organisers and use quorum principles to crack on and deliver value – ultimately foraging and collecting pollen for nectar.  

Continuous Communication in the heat of battle 

I nearly missed this one if Lyssa hadn’t flagged it! Netherlands-based Scrum Master Veerle Verhagen applies Agile to her passion for Viking battle reenactment – in particular, how a team approach to battles requires continuous communication – don’t just save your updates for stand-ups and retros. My fave takeaway point: “You can’t work at 100% of your capacity all the time. But sometimes you can rally the troops for an extra push.”  

Veerle was passionate, high vibe and her energy was perfect for that mid-afternoon conference spot. 

Agile on the Beach 2024 you can't work at 100% capacity all the time slide on screen.

Keys in the Fridge and other sage advice for neuro inclusion

I know I am not alone in exploring neurodiversity and questioning how people’s brains are very different – as a business owner, as a manager, a mother, a friend and as a human. 

Trudy Ward’s talk was so very brave, honest, vulnerable and triumphant – not directly about Agile but seemingly very much celebrating the “individuals and interactions” element of Agile values. We will definitely be trying keys in the fridge to support lunchtime nutrition going forward. 

How do we Product at Spotify?

The beauty of AOTB is that it attracts case study experiences from big-name brands – the jaw-dropping statistic we heard from speaker Rachel Dubois from this one is that 3% of the world’s population has used Spotify. 

Taking into consideration Spotify’s global brand power and 8000-strong team, their approach to Agile and product design is brilliant in its simplicity. They don’t do scrum or strict Agile frameworks, but embrace all things data-driven combined with sensible, human approaches.  

My Tips for navigating Agile on the Beach

Look ahead: The conference schedule is all online these days – gone is the printed programme, which is certainly mindful of using physical resources but sometimes harder to navigate what’s on. Journal, doodle or make notes on what takes your fancy. Take note of the studio space where things are taking place as there are lots of different rooms across several floors. 

Don’t panic about the keynotes: Like the Pyramid Stage at Glasto, it’s advisable to get to the conference space nice and early for a good position. The studio quickly fills up. 

With AOTB being local to me, I am usually wrangling a tween and a teen out of the door so struggle to get there on time.  

Keynote talks are broadcast into an additional studio, but I find it hard to focus on that with other activities milling around. So instead, I would spend keynote time to have a quiet coffee with a colleague, to write, or to plan my schedule for the day – I plan to catch up later. 

Try a workshop! I’ve not attended a workshop before at AOTB and it really suited the way my peri-menopausal brain works these days – it’s interactive, collaborative and usually involves getting up on your feet. I did two-morning ones this year and loved them. 

Know when you need quiet time: Conferences are INTENSE. AOTB takes place at the leafy Falmouth University Tremough campus, and the walk towards the event space is green and garden-lined. There’s plenty of space to get outside, some fresh air, listen to a podcast or close your eyes for a bit. 

Make friends and connections: Agile people are the most beautiful-natured humans. I was able to reconnect with old friends, find kindred spirits with other practitioners and geek out on each others’ practice. AOTB prides itself on its hugely inclusive culture – expect voices and experiences from across Europe and from all walks of life. 

Fancy AOTB 25? Early bird tickets will soon be available.

Would you like Rachel to run a workshop applying Agile to your non-software organisation or team? Get in touch.