Agile the Pivotal Way

Ian McFarland (Pivotal Labs, Inc.)
Location: Ballroom III Level:
Presentation: external link
Average rating: ****.
(4.59, 37 ratings)

What’s the right team size for maximum throughput? How do you manage large teams without losing efficiency?

How often should you pair? How frequently should you change pairs? How do you balance consistency and new blood on a team?

How do you find great candidates, and discern the great ones from the ones who just interview well?

How do you manage a stand-up with 50+ people in it? How do you keep a consistent culture across multiple locations? How do you work remotely?

What makes Pivots so good at what they do?

Does it really matter if you test first or test after? Why?

Why is pairing a good idea? Why is it faster? How does the layout of the workspace affect productivity, communication, and developer happiness?

What do I do if my management is resistent to doing this? My team?

I heard you have breakfast every day. Is that true? Why does that make a difference?

How do you bring in new ideas?

Do you really just work 40 hours a week? Even in ‘crunch time’? Don’t your clients make you work more hours? Does that really produce the most work product per week? Why?

These are all questions we’ve had, from clients, developers, and other firms. We’ve been practicing these methods for over 10 years, so we’ve learned a thing or two about how it all works. We want to share what we’ve learned, and we think you’ll take away new insights you can apply right away. It’s been great for us, and we think it can make your own work more sustainable, delightful, and productive.

Photo of Ian McFarland

Ian McFarland

Pivotal Labs, Inc.

I started working on networked Hypertext systems in 1989, working with Ted Nelson at Autodesk. I was on the launch team at HotWired, and was one of the 4 people involved in the decision that saddled the world with 468×60 banner ads for all time. (It looked nice on the page with the HotWired layout and Netscape 0.94 beta.)

After HotWired, I started a consulting company (Neo Communication) that did a lot of work for companies like IDG and Sony, and we started doing Java development in 1995. (In fact, we built the first client-server application ever built in Java, a demo applet and server, used to reserve seats for a theater presentation announcing the public release of Java at SunWorld.)

I was Java Evangelist at Symantec during the glory days of VisualCafé, and was Sr. Director of Technology at, before returning to consulting, and later writing Mastering Tomcat Development for J. Wiley and Sons.

I joined Friendster in 2004 as employee #4, and when we got around to titles, I became their Chief Architect, only to leave when our new VP of Engineering moved us to PHP+XSL.

Since then, I’ve been at Pivotal Labs, where I’m a Principal, and VP of Technology. I’ve worked on a number of projects for high-profile clients, and designed a number of applications.

Comments on this page are now closed.


Picture of Shirley Bailes
Shirley Bailes
06/17/2010 5:41pm EDT

Slides are available now: see top of page.

Picture of Mike Taus
Mike Taus
06/12/2010 1:48pm EDT

Love’d the talk. Thanks, Ian. Would love to see the slides and video.

David Rogers
06/11/2010 6:26am EDT

Are slides available?

Jaime Bellmyer
06/10/2010 6:45pm EDT

This was such a great talk. It went way over time because nobody wanted to leave. Ian presented an amazing and well thought-out approach to rails shops. I’m a single developer, and this talk makes me want to take on a dev partner and start pairing tomorrow!

Adrian Cuadros
06/10/2010 4:04pm EDT

Very high on content but it was fun to see how a company like pivotal operates, you guys set an example for a lot of firms out there including ours

Luke Melia
06/10/2010 11:13am EDT

Nice job. Great Q&A and engagement with the crowd.

co-presented by Ruby Central, Inc. O'Reilly
  • Engine Yard
  • Heroku
  • 8th Light
  • Blue Box Group
  • InfoEther
  • JetBrains
  • New Relic
  • Open Hosting
  • Rhomobile
  • WyeWorks
  • Linux Pro Magazine
  • Chargify

Sponsorship Opportunities

For information on exhibition and sponsorship opportunities at RailsConf, contact Yvonne Romaine at

Download the RailsConf Sponsor/Exhibitor Prospectus

Media Partner Opportunities

For information on trade opportunities with O'Reilly conferences or contact mediapartners@

Program Ideas

Send us your suggestions for speakers, topics, and activities to

Press and Media

For media-related inquiries, contact Maureen Jennings at

RailsConf Newsletter

To stay abreast of conference news please sign up for the RailsConf newsletter (login required)

Contact Us

View a complete list of RailsConf 2010 contacts.