Home, again, from Agile 2011

It’s been a wonderful, busy week in Salt Lake City at the Agile 2011 Conference. It was great to see so many friends and to make new ones. I had an incredible number of fascinating conversations.

This weekend I was saddened, though not surprised, by the number of tweets with complaints about the conference, often tweeted by people who didn’t go. To paraphrase Yogi Berra

Nobody goes to the Agile Conference anymore. It’s too crowded.

It’s true that the Agile Conference doesn’t have a tight, narrow focus. It casts a wide net and is as inclusive as possible. This means that, no matter what your interest, it doesn’t concentrate on that. This means that it’s almost certain to have more interesting sessions than you can possibly attend. On top of that, there are many interesting conversations and side-sessions in Open Jam and in the hallways that are often worth as much or more than the sessions. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

I no longer worry about the things that I’m missing. Instead, I concentrate on the fact that my time there is bringing me value. I can’t optimize the value I receive, but I can use the “Law of Mobility” to get up and go somewhere else if I’m not getting enough value. This year, I found I rarely had to do that. Even when I wanted a bit of peace and quiet, I got sucked into valuable conversations. Even walking down the hall, I got sucked into Jim Shore and Arlo Belshee’s “Stages of Practice: the Agile Tech Tree.”

It was a conference of connecting ideas for me.  The Agile Tech Tree session tied right into the levels of proficiency from Willem Larsen’s “Fluency over Proficiency: Accelerating Agile Learning and ‘Hunting Fluency’.” Barbara Fredrickson’s keynote, ” Why Care about Positive Emotions?” contained many key points that dovetailed with my workshop on ” Team Swarming–Why and How.” (Those in my session know there were no slides, but I’ll be uploading the flipcharts we generated in the workshop. I’ve uploaded the flipcharts, as well as the slides I didn’t use.)

Yes, I missed many, many sessions that I would like to have seen. Sometimes I missed sessions not because of the conference design, but because of the limitations of my own body.

To be sure, there are things that could be improved about the conference. That’s always true. Every year, the current organizers hold a retrospective to notice things they want to change, or continue, in the next year. As Linda Rising says, “We are all a work in process.” It’s futile to ever expect optimization of a system composed of people, though. And this conference is an extremely distributed work by many volunteers, some of whom are new to the process. There are a wide variety of goals among those who work to put on the conference. Far from being disappointed in its imperfections, I’m amazed at how it soars.

But now the conference is over and I’m back at home. There are many things I want to pursue while the ideas and passion are fresh. There are two ideas, especially, that I’d like to collaborate with others who have passion in the same area.

  • Applying the ideas and techniques from Willem Larsen’s Language Hunting to learning and training Agile concepts and techniques.
  • Exploring team swarming and collaborative team formation.

If you have passion and energy in these areas, please contact me, and let’s see where we can go with it. And if you want to stay in touch less energetically, sign up for my occasional email newsletter.

5 Replies to “Home, again, from Agile 2011”

  1. Larsen’s Language Hunting was a big takeaway for me also. I joined one of his sessions in the OpenJam. I was skeptical, I knew I could not learn the things he was having us copycat, I thought it looked stupid. Then in under an hour I realized I knew entire sentences in sign language.

    My goal at the conference was to get ideas to help our team avoid missing big things in a theme or user story (not that we do very often, but we can always improve). It was neat how much synergy there was in the sessions I attended, like Gil Broza’s ‘Refactoring Conversation Smells’ and Angela Harms’ ‘Courageous Curiosity’.

    Anyway, I’d love to know how you apply the accelerated learning stuff from Language Hunters. I missed your Team Swarming session so I’d like to learn more about that too.

  2. I’ve missed (not skipped) the past few Agile Conferences, so maybe I’m off base, however:

    Having something for everyone is good, but not enough. One of the things some of the criticisms seem to get at is a lack of “nucleation”, for want of a better word: it’s not easy to become part of the informal groups that provide so much of the benefit of any conference, or it’s not encouraged enough, or it’s not mentioned enough — anyway, not enough of it is happening.

    You and I can go to any Agile conference and see some familiar faces, and thus get into informal groups “for free”. But what about somebody who’s new to Agile? What about somebody who’s come as part of a group from work? Maybe there are ways to include the former, and break up (intermittently) the latter.

    And if lack of nucleation really is a problem, I’d be worried about it, and come up with some ideas to encourage nucleation: “homeroom” groups that intentionally mix people up randomly, simple whole-conference games or earnable badges, paying attention to the physical setup (e.g. lots of alcoves off every hallway?), simply encouraging everyone to join at least one conversation a day with a group of strangers, getting people together physically based on mutual interests, “conference pals” similar to pen-pals (matched up by interests or roles), some FourSquare like way to say “Hey, Kanban discussion going on in the bar”… There’s no shortage of solutions to any one problem, if it’s a problem, and if we realize that.

  3. Supreme George, those are some good suggestions. I think there’s much done to provide that mix, though there certainly can always be more. Some things I can think of right off the bat:

    * Twitter announcements of sessions in Open Jam (as well as whiteboard announcements). There were also monitors with twitter fountains following the #Agile2011 hashtag.
    * Dinner with a stranger.
    * Coaches Corner

    Physical layout is always a problem, because there’s relatively little the conference can do about it. This year there was great hallway seating scattered around. Unfortunately the conference was also split between Grand America and Little America to have enough space.

    One thing I noticed is a tendency for people to assume that the conference is just the sessions. I had a number of lunchtime conversations where I touted the value of what was happening in Open Jam. I don’t know if those people explored it, or not.

    In short, I think much of “the problem” is people expecting the things that interest them to come to them instead of seeking them out. I’m not sure I know an answer for that.

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