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David has enjoyed success using agile and lean techniques at several companies near Washington DC and San Francisco. He joined his first startup in 1999, and helped scale it to a 13 million dollar acquisition in 2006. He now brings entrepreneurial thinking into large organizations so that disruptive innovation can emerge. David is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 30 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

It’s Not You, It’s Your Proposal

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Like many others who submitted to the Agile Conference this year, I received the dreaded rejection notification that no one wants to open.

We regret to inform you that based on the stage producers’ consideration of your proposal and the reviewer feedback, they do not feel that your proposal as submitted is the best fit for the Agile 2011 program…


Since this was also my second year reviewing proposals for the Agile Conference, I wanted to provide a bit of insight as to why I believe so many talks, such as mine, were close but ultimately rejected.

It’s not you, it’s your proposal.

Many of us are passionate about what we do. We speak at other local events, gatherings or even at other conferences. When we feel that we’ve given a talk or workshop that was a big hit, perhaps even recognized as best of conference, we glow.

Yes, I’ve found that I actually emit light after I’ve knocked a session out of the park.

The next logical step for many of us, is to in turn submit that session as a proposal to the Agile Conference. It only makes sense that a session that was so well received by many would be a shoe in for the Agile Conference, right?

Not always.

It seems, again from my perspective, that many of those who submitted proposals this year neglected to:

  1. Submit using the Early Bird Submission system
  2. Read the stage descriptions
  3. Tailor their talks to meet the stage descriptions

As a reviewer I feel the need to converse with submitters. I felt that this was a rather productive process with the first batch of submissions. Having seen both sides, I was able as a reviewer to give advice and have the submitters tweak their proposals to increase their chances of acceptance to the conference.

On the other side, as a submitter, I severely refactored my retrospective workshop to make it a much stronger candidate for acceptance.

For the Just In Time (JIT) submissions, I still felt the need to converse but it was no where near as productive as I knew these proposals had no window of revision. It was like talking to someone who you knew was not going to get hired, but you felt the need to speak to them anyway.

Tip 1: Take advantage of the Early Bird Submission process

The Agile Conference is broken up into a series of stages, each with its own vision. More specifically, they even detail out which questions ideally the sessions on each stage should be addressing.

For example, on our Agile Boot Camp stage we listed the following:

Questions this stage will attempt to answer:

  • What is Agile Software Development?
  • What are the basic concepts, principles, and practices behind agile software development?
  • What do I personally need to know to be successful with Agile Software Development?
  • What topics do I want to learn more about at this conference?


Seems rather straight forward for a stage dedicated as a boot camp for agile newbies to me.

Other stages, such as the Adoption & Transformation stage had a far more involved list of questions:

Questions this stage will attempt to answer:

  • What is it about an organization’s culture that makes it a fit for Agile adoption?
  • How long does it take in order to receive lasting benefits from an Agile transition?
  • Where do I start a transition?
  • Who should be involved with the transition?
  • How many false starts did it take before becoming successful within your organization?
  • What are the barriers to success?
  • When is my organization “ready” to begin an adoption?
  • How do I know when my organization is Agile?
  • How do I know we’re getting better at it?
  • How does Agile transform your organization’s culture?
  • How has Agile had an impact on your organization’s bottom line?
  • What tools do I have for successfully achieving Agility?
  • Now that my coach is gone, how long before we go back to our old ways?
  • What does a “transformation” look like?


That is quite the list, but unfortunately it seems that these descriptions were ignored by the majority of the proposals I reviewed. This resulted in proposals, that stood rather strong on their own, being kicked around to other stages in hopes they would be accepted.

Not exactly the scenario you’d hope for with your session.

Tip 2: Read the stage descriptions before you select a stage in the drop down for your session.

Based on the back and forth with submitters, I also picked up on another anti-pattern for the conference. Some submitters seem to have read the stage descriptions, but were unwilling to tailor their sessions to better fit the descriptions.

I can only assume that a certain degree of ego is in play in these scenarios. If you get feedback that your session’s acceptance rate would be greatly increased if you made a few tweaks to better fit the stage and you choose not to do so, well I tried.

Tip 3: Be open to modifying your session to better fit the stage

Is the Agile Conference submission and stage system perfect? No it isn’t, but I strongly believe we’ll continue to inspect and adapt on the process to improve upon it.

Overall, I felt as though strong proposals that met the stage descriptions, regardless of your speaking experience, were accepted. I personally had a session accepted at Agile2010 and people were relatively clueless about my experience. It was accepted, and I had a blast. It can happen to you, and I know of first time speakers who were accepted this year as well.

However if you were rejected, I hope this helps you understand perhaps why it may have occurred. If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments and I will respond to each one.

Published at DZone with permission of David Bland, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Mark Anthony replied on Fri, 2012/04/13 - 9:50am

I agree with this to a point. However I think that you’ve missed the question: What about sessions that don’t have a natural fit for a stage? Should we stick to our original stage design and questions? Or should we adapt.

I think that the current system of presenters deciding what stage their proposal lands on is causing us some unnecessary heartache. Perhaps we should just aim to find the best sessions and let the stages be discovered as an emergent property?

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