An #ACCUS Review
Last weekend, I drove down to Indianapolis for Agile Coach Camp. I didn't find out about it until Wednesday afternoon, but by early Friday morning, I was on my way to my first major coaching networking/learning meeting.
Friday: Games Day!
When I arrived on Friday morning, there was a keynote on agile and games theory given by Thiagi. It was very engaging and entertaining, and he provided some cool tips and tricks that apply to coaching. He says that he creates a new game every day, and has been doing so for umpteen years.
After the keynote, there were open sessions for people to show off their Agile games, or just give mini-sessions on Agile things. The sessions I attended were given by Diana Larsen, George Dinwiddie, Paul Boos, and Karen Spencer.
Diana's session was on the Five Rules: Setting the Conditions for Learning. It was very insightful, and I expect that I will make great use of what I learned here in future coaching engagements.
In George's session, titled Designing Experiential Games, we took the teachings of Gerry Weinberg, and designed an experiential game, in the space of 45 minutes. As a group, we decided that we would create a game of Social Influence. The way that we elected to expose the Social Influence dynamics was: How To Choose A Restaurant For Lunch As a Group. As you would expect from a game designed quickly, there are some rough edges. I hope that Tim Ottinger is willing to follow up and work on fleshing out the game more, because I still have all the materials! :)
After that, I went to Paul's Power of 13 game session. That was really fun, and a very easy and powerful way to show teams that we coach the power of collaboration.
Next, there was Karen's Fearless Journey session. This was an engaging game that I could easily see teams using to get through certain roadblocks.
Finally, I attended the Circles and Soup session by Philip Rogers. Here, we learned different ways to help teams think about things that are -- or are not -- in their control. It was framed in terms of how to help the team figure out what action items can be gleaned from the retrospectives.
Saturday: Conference Begins
Saturday, the conference "offically" started, and the number of attendees about doubled to near 100 total. Deborah Hartman-Preuss got us started by laying out the ground-rules for an un-conference.
An Un-conference: Whaaaaat?
This was my first un-conference, so it seemed a bit weird at first. However, it really does work well. Basically, no sessions were pre-planned. It was up to all of us in attendance to create the conference we wanted. Markers and cardstock were provided, and we all came up with session names, formed a big line, and announced which session(s) we would each be presenting to the entire group, and then self-selected a timeslot in which it would happen, and where. Hour-long timeslots were provided, as were about 10 different meeting areas -- some inside, some outside. It all worked amazingly well.
Unconferences follow four Principles, and one Law.
- Whoever comes is the right people
- Whenever it starts is the right time
- When it’s over, it’s over
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
Law of Responsibility and Passion
When I find I am neither learning nor contributing, I’ll go someplace where I can
The power of these Principles and Law is that collectively, they set the stage for what happens during the rest of the conference. Basically, it is incumbent upon the attendees to create the conference that they came for. If you're in a session and aren't participating/learning, then get up and leave. Conversely, if you're hosting a session where someone gets up and walks out, you're not supposed to give the person walking out of your session the "hairy eyeball," because that person is trying to improve their own conference.
The first session I attended on Saturday was given by Susan Davis titled Every Tool Sucks. We discussed primarily card-wall tools, and the pros and cons of each. Turns out that everybody has used Jira at some point, but nobody likes it. Mingle got some pretty good reviews, but nobody except ex-ThoughtWorkers had heard of it. Most people prefer something simpler, such as Trello or even a physical wall with index cards on it.
Next, I went to Tim Ottinger's session on The Anzen Experiment. Anzen is (supposedly, I'm not a linguist) a Japanese word meaning "safety." Industrial Logic uses it in a powerful way to provide safety to team members when they're working. The most intriguing concept that I took away from this session was that of the Permanent Pre-Invitation for someone to stop the work that we're doing and have a discussion. I could see combining this concept with skills gleaned from reading Crucial Conversations.
The week that the conference took place also happened to be the tail end of Banned Books Week. During the week, the Kurt Vonnegut Library had an artist re-typing Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 in the window. And while that bit of performance art ended Friday evening, a group of about 15 of us took a walk over to the Library/Museum to see what was there. It's kinda small, but interesting. As someone who has read many of his works over the years, I am very happy that Ellen Grove decided to host this "session".
After the walk back from the library, it was time for my session on Leveling Up Your Team. Thanks, first of all, to everyone who attended! I hope that you got as much out of it as I did. We discussed multiple ways that, as coaches, we could help our teams improve -- everything from skillsets to tools to working environment was discussed.
Finally, Howard Sublett led a discussion around how Agile Coaching Is Dead.
Sunday, we all reconvened at the One America center for more sessions.
The first session I attended was Mark Windholtz's Good to Great, a discussion on how to improve our engineering practices when the ones we're currently using "sort-of" work. The main points of discussion here centered around the possibility that sometimes we, as coaches, need to step back and think about whther our teams are providing actual value. If we are, and we're able to respond to change (whether it's a change in requirements or a change in direction, or something else) nimbly, then that might just be good enough, even if we're not following ALL of the "Best Practices." However, Mike Bowler's insight about teams needing to have a "Culture of Craftsmanship" was very well-received.
After that session ended, I went outside for Why the Same Process? by Dave Rooney. Discussion topics centered on why we always go back to the same process and try to force it on our teams -- Scrum and SAFe being the main boogeymen. I am personally not certain that SAFe provides much value, or that it's very "agile"...My experience shows that it's too prescriptive. However, that was also part of Dave's point -- the way that we as a community of coaches are going around "implementing Agile," there's very little deviation from what's given as a "starting point" in the literature. Part of Agile methodologies -- in fact, I would argue that it's key to being Agile -- is the "inspect and adapt" cycle. Retrospectives provide a time for the team to take a look at what their process is and how it's working for them, and come up with ways to alter course when something we're doing isn't working quite right. We shouldn't forget that Scrum and/or SAFe are great for a starting point, but what each of our teams end up doing after 10 iterations each might be totally different. As with Mark's session... Does it matter what the process looks like at a granular level if our teams are able to produce value and respond to change?
Finally, there was Jeff "Cheezy" Morgan's session on Earned Business Value. This came across as a Game of Constraints wherein each epic/feature/story is assigned a number that represents Business Value Points by the Product Owner. Theoretically, teams should strive to complete stories that produce the highest amount of Business Value earlier in the project. Once a card is "Done", then the Business Value is "Earned" by the team. This provides another metric that could, theoretically, be tracked and graphed, and our Product Owners can use this metric as input into their constant question of "Is it worth it to pay for another iteration?"
This weekend also happened to be the weekend of the Chicago FAA Fire, which disrupted travel plans for a few folks trying to leave Indianapolis. This provided me the opportunity to have a "car buddy" on the ride back to Chicago: I drove Ellen Grove to O'Hare since her flight from Indy to ORD was cancelled, but her flight out of ORD was still on. Thanks for providing company and insightful discussion! :)
So it's been a week since the conference. Would I go again? In a heartbeat. The opportunity to meet other people doing the same thing I do, from different backgrounds/companies/walks of life...It was amazing. It's also a great networking opportunity. If you get a chance to attend a Coaching Camp, take it!