Always on the lookout for Agile connections, Sanjiv, Bob and I attended Smart Cities Week DC earlier this month.  The conference theme was “Smart Infrastructure Enables Smart Cities.”

Our very first session was participating in co-creating the “Code” for Smart communities i.e. a guiding set of values and principles that govern all Smart City initiatives.  Such a common language doesn’t (yet) exist and this session was about sharing the existing thinking in the area and the work done thus far in defining the “Code”.  Wait, what the heck is a Smart City, you might ask.  I know, I did.  So let’s get that out of the way.  While there is is no singular definition that has emerged yet, here’s a reasonable start:

A Smart City is one that uses information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of things (IoT) to enhance its livability, workability and sustainability.

The “Code” defines a Smart City as one that embraces these 4 Guiding Principles:

  • Connected (think IoT, fiber, community engagement, government, private sector and academia aligned)
  • Aware (think BigData, analytics, dashboards and dissemination of info in digestible manner)
  • Responsive (action-driven based on data insights)
  • Innovative

This is the essence of Lean-Agile thinking!  (As with Agile), the facilitator observed that none of this will really come to pass without these imperatives – radical collaboration, social cohesion, governance and sustainable adoption.

In other sessions…

  • The CTO of Washington DC mentioned the use of “Ideathons” (Hackathons reimagined) where Lean Startup®-style, Community-Driven Design sessions were held to engage community residents in ideation when designing solutions for the communities.  This theme was reiterated by Los Angeles DOT planners as well.
  • “Data is the new crude oil”.  Big datamachine learning and digital dashboards were recurring themes all through the session.  The guidance here was first just collect the data.  Worry about the analysis later.
  • In the autonomous vehicles track there were repeated pleas to not be too focused on tech.  City leadership needs to start with the vision first and identify the goals for their cities.  What sort of a city do they want to be? Impact Mapping anyone?  As Sanjiv noted throughout the conference, where is the focus on the people?
  • Thinkabit labs offers students a hands-on experience combining career exploration with engineering innovation and let’s them play engineers for a day by getting their hands dirty with a little bit of device programming.
  • Innovation-as-a-service.  If you’re thinking, what the heck is that, you wouldn’t be the only one. The basic premise is that while there is no shortage of innovative startups, the challenge is finding ones that fit with an established company’s processes, systems and culture.  Successfully filtering can be difficult and time consuming. Innovation-as-a-Service is about bridging the gap between innovators and established companies, connecting problems to solutions, providing access to test beds and de-risking the solutions.  This was an engaging round-table discussion with a potential lead for some collaboration with the city of Tucson.  Personally, understanding the distinction between Incubators, Accelerators and (the newly minted term), Business Actuators was useful.  This session was facilitated by Smart City Works co-founder David Heyman.

What is the connection to Agile?

So, where does Agile fit into smart cities? On the one hand, we have city planners, architects and developers, and on the other we have the technologists.  Smart Cities need to bring these two worlds together.  The mindsets of the two groups couldn’t be more different.  Could Agile be that bridge?