Project Management

How to Get Proposals Accepted at the Agile Alliance Conference

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Categories: Agile Alliance, Conference


Every year the Agile Alliance Agile Alliance Logoholds the Agile 20XX conference, what many people consider to be the preeminent agile conference in the world. The Agile 20XX conference is typically held in mid-to-late July and its location varies year by year. Common locations have been Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, Washington, and one time in my home city of Toronto. Attendance tends to be between 2,000-2,400 including speakers and staff. In this blog posting I share my advice for how to increase the odds of getting a submission accepted.

Why Listen to Me?

There are several reasons why you should listen to this advice:

  • I've helped to successfully shepherd dozens of people through the submission process in the past.
  • I've been accepted at every Agile Alliance conference that I've submitted proposals to.  
  • I've had many proposals rejected over the years, and have a pretty good understanding of why.
  • I've been on the conference committee several times, including being the co-chair of a track one year.

Strategies for Increasing Your Odds

Here are several heuristics that I have found to work over the years:

  1. Read the call for submissions. The conference committee is doing everything that they can to have a successful conference, and a big part of that is to ensure there are great conference sessions. The Agile 20XX conference is multi-track and each track s defined in the call for submissions. While there is wiggle room in what appears in each track, it behooves you to submit proposals that are aligned with a specific track. This makes it easier for the organizers to see where a proposal fits in.
  2. Avoid common topics. The conference will receive between 10x and 20x more proposals than they have room on the schedule to accept. Probability distributions being what they are, they are likely to receive a large number of proposals about a small number of topics, and a small number of proposals that are truly unique across a wider range of potential topics.  For example, I'm guessing that the Agile 2022 conference will receive a very large number of proposals about how to successfully run remote daily stand up meetings. Although that's a great topic, if your proposal is one of the multitude of proposals on this topic it's going to be really hard for yours to stand out from the crowd to be the one accepted. 
  3. Prefer niche topics. There is a very wide range of "niche topics" in the agile world that many organizations are struggling with yet get very little air time.  Such topics include agile in government, architecture, procurement, data warehousing, working with legacy systems, agile project management, regulatory compliance, and many more. If you have valuable experience to share in such a topic then you should submit a proposal around that.  If you think "nobody else seems to be covering this topic" then that's likely a very good sign that you've got a shot. 
  4. Consider a truly introductory topic. Interestingly the conference has fallen short in the past on submissions around introductory topics. There will be people at the conference who are completely new to agile and hoping to learn about it, yet many of the topics will be too advanced for them. This is particularly true for people outside of the IT space, working in government or not-for-profit agencies, or working in traditional roles.
  5. Be realistic. If you're submitting a talk about topic X, and someone who has written a book about topic X also submits a talk about it, who do you think is most likely to get accepted?  Having said that, if your talk is "How to Apply X in Situation Y", and situation Y is interesting and relevant to others, then you've got a better chance.  For example, where Mike Cohn is very likely to get an "Introduction to Agile Planning and Estimation Techniques" proposal accepted you could have a good chance with "Agile Planning and Estimation on Life-Critical Projects" proposal.
  6. Have a catchy title. Which talk would you rather attend - "Agile Management Reporting" or "The Top 7 Agile Reporting Strategies"?  Everything else being equal, likely the latter.  Or, how about "The Top 5 Agile Risk Management Techniques" vs. "Don't Look Up: How Agile Teams Can Get Serious About Risk Management"?  Catchy titles sell.
  7. Prefer interactive sessions over speaking sessions. There is a clear preference for interactive, hands-on workshops because people are likely to learn more in them.
  8. Provide all the information they ask for. The Agile 202x submission form is detailed.  Give the reviewers the information that they need to make the decision to accept your proposal.
  9. Get your topics in early. One of the really great things about this conference is that the review process is interactive, and the reviewers will provide feedback to you.  The earlier you get your proposals in, the more likely you'll get feedback and the better your ability to act on that feedback. There is always a rush of people submitting at the last minute, and by that time reviewers are swamped and typically aren't going to provide as much feedback.  And you may have run out of time to act on the feedback anyway.
  10. Listen to the feedback and act on it. The reviewers are there to help you.  Let them do that.
  11. Submit ideas to multiple tracks. You're generally better off to submit 3 ideas to 3 different tracks than 3 ideas into the same track.  Proposals in the same track are effectively competing against one another.  Also, submitting the same idea 3 times to 3 different tracks will be noticed - the reviewers are smart people.

Good Luck!

The Agile 20XX conference is always a great experience.  It's hard to get a session proposal accepted at it as a result, and I hope this blog posting has been helpful.  If you don't get accepted this year, then please keep trying until you do.

Feedback?

I'd love to hear about ways to improve this blog posting.  If you have any tips to share, please add a comment. Also, I'd appreciate it if you could give me a star rating (see to the left of the article). Thanks!

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Posted on: January 09, 2022 08:32 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Great topics! Most of them apply to most of the conferences.

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