Last week I attended Agile 2013. This is my first time attending an Agile Alliance conference. My compliments go out to everyone involved with putting it together.  In particular I’d like to thank all the volunteers who gave up their time to help us lost souls all week. I hope everyone involved gives themselves a pat on the back!

Someone asked me what I learned this week. The good news for you as the reader is I will not be summarizing everything (way too much). The learning only stopped when I went back to my room for sleep. Whether it was sessions or discussion both during and after the day’s events … I was always learning something. Attending conferences such as this serves to remind me as a coach this is a journey!

Here’s my summary of the sessions I attended and took something away:

Estimating business value (Chris Sims) – Chris’s approach to estimating business value is a good one. It’s a nice mix of a visual card wall and an approach fostering collaboration. Value is an over used word and everyone thinks of something a little different when you say the word. Chris’s approach makes use of the most important tool for breaking down misunderstanding … dialogue.

Mob Programming (Woody Zuill) – this was one of the most powerful talks I attended during the week. Woody and his mob have achieved what the rest of us are after. (eg. where we have daily stand-up meetings to eliminate waste, Woody’s team eliminated daily stand-ups to eliminate waste). This one session has me thinking about approaches more than any other.  Check out my full blog post on this subject at:  Don’t fear the mob!

Empirical Leadership (Christopher Avery) – The time for linear deterministic leadership is over. The world is shifting and for leaders to succeed long term they need to be empirical and adaptive. It’s difficult to confront such a thought process but as I wrote in my post Confronting reality sucks management and front line workers all needs to confront their own level of responsibility. If we can all see this then it becomes increasingly possible to succeed at transforming the organization.

Got Value? (Ellen Gottendiener) – Value is in the eye of the beholder. This makes it difficult to define value but Ellen taught us to look at it with the lens of customers, technology and business. We should be including all the right people in the discussion and use tools to bring structure to the discussion. By following the steps of defining the ends, determine who our partners are, exploring & delivering options and validating the results you can ensure your team is working on the right things.

Continuous Architecture & Emergent Design (Scott Ambler) – For me the big message I took away focused on the Emergent Design. What do you need to allow your architecture and design to emerge as the team proceeds with the work. For example, conducting design spikes to prove theories, paying down risk early, or simply taking time to think up front.  However you approach it Architecture and design are just as important on Agile projects as any other. It’s the approach you need to rethink.

The curious, present and empathetic leader (Gil Broza) – Gil shared three simple steps to empathizing with our teams. We need to be curious, present and empathetic when talking with team members. Curious where we probe for clarification, details and understanding to ensure we’re talking about the same thing.  Present where we focus on the team to ensure we’re engaged and aligned with the discussion. Empathetic where we support, align and reflect with our team member. Everyone I talked with enjoyed the framework Gil provided.

Playing getKanban  (Russell Healy) – I was quite excited when Russell Healy came to facilitate a giant workshop with the getKanban game. There were 20 games being played at the same time! I love this game as a great way to teach the mechanics of kanban, but more importantly how different decisions can impact the outcome.  (if you’re interested in learning about Kanban at your organization feel free to contact me. I have the latest version of the game for just this reason!)

Demystifying Kanban (Al Shalloway) – It’s not hard to find discussion on the internet where someone believes they have the methodology or approach that’s going to save the IT industry from certain doom. The key message I took away from the talk is where we need to find the best attributes of any methodology for the job at hand. If you’re using Kanban and it doesn’t make sense to use WIP limits initially then don’t.  If you’re using a combination of Scrum and Kanban and it works … then what’s wrong with that. I like the message and think it’s refreshing to have a thought leader thinking this way.

The Language of change (Esther Derby) – we were reminded of the importance of words when working with people. Especially people who are enduring changes to their world. Using words such as: targets of change, dead wood, drive change, implement change and more really create visions of the wrong outcome. What script does your language initiate? Does it mask the true intent, complexity and challenges of the change? The people enduring change need support, empathy along with the time and space to learn. Oh … and try smiling for them as it will go a long way.

Problem solving and decision making (Linda Rising) – Just stand up! In this talk Linda reminded us of the importance of not just sitting at your desk. If you’re stuck on a problem … go for a walk!  Einstein used to go for a bike ride when he wanted to solve a difficult problem. Linda goes for a walk and talks through it. Whatever the problem you’re trying to solve … just stand up! While  you’re at it make sure you get enough sleep (Einstein averaged 10 hours per day), and don’t sit at your desk too long.

There were many other great discussions I had in the halls, restaurants and during the evening events. It seemed all week all I did was learn!  Perhaps why I thought it was such a great event!  I look forward to next year!

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