Agile Open NW 2016

I had the privilege of going to my 2nd Agile Open NW conference.  I’m a huge fan of this conference and the format it’s in.

What is it?  From the Agile Open NW Website “Agile Open Northwest is an annual conference about agile practices and techniques. Using Open Space, the participants themselves make the conference they want to attend.” Have you ever heard of “unconferences”?  The main idea of this conference is that it utilizes some of the key agile principles and allows individuals to self organize around topics they are interested in. I never would have expected it to work, but I’m pleasantly surprised!  on the first morning people start grabbing time slots on topics they want to discuss, content they want to create, or questions they want answered. You get 30 seconds to give your pitch to the group, and then people come to the sessions they are interested in.  You may have 2 people show up, or 30+! Even if no one else shows up it’s encouraged that you spend the time on your topic.  Why? who wouldn’t love 60 minutes to focus on a topic they are passionate about?

Who was there? There is typically a wide array of attendees. I’ve met developers, agile coaches, video game producers, and newbies to the agile world.  Some are there to be a sponge and absorb from others, but I think everyone ends up contributing to some degree.

What were the takeaways? This year’s theme was “Agile: How will you know it when you see it?”  While the sessions don’t have to directly align to the theme, somehow they tend support it tie back to it.  For me, I was surprised that my greatest takeaway was a session that I had not originally planned to attend.   I started at a session about enterprise agile transformations, and just wasn’t feeling it. Since we are encouraged to utilize the law of two feet, I moved on.  I stumbled across a session called “Agile Family”.   It was about how to apply some Agile/Scrum principles into your family.  It was fascinating to hear what others are doing in their families like stand ups, scrum boards, and dot voting to set priorities for the day. Not only did it inspire me to put to test more of the principles of agile in my personal life (Our family now has a scrum board and votes on what we do Sat/Sun!), it also helped me reflect back towards how I can use them better in my professional life. I also attended a few sessions where people presented ideas for new agile methods by taking rituals/practices from other frameworks and melding them into one. It was quite valuable to talk to others in the industry and be reminded of what’s most important.

This is a picture of the “Schedule Wall” that was used for showing when/where each session was.

AgileOpenWall

Across the conference center you will find flip charts with tons of brainstorming notes from sessions.  Even if you missed a session you can just want around during a break and snap pictures of what people created.

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I want to use agile, but my organization doesn’t want to

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Fear not agile warrior, you are not alone and help is on the way.  They are many situations where someone just knows that agile could help or even change the face of the entire company if utilized…yet someone or many people within an organization are opposed to the idea.  So what should you do?  First off what are some reasons someone would be against agile?

  1. The’ve been on a team where agile was used, and failed.
  2. They don’t know enough about agile or have misconceptions.
  3. They don’t believe agile is right for their organization/product.
  4. They’ve worked with an Agile Coach/Scrum Master/Consultant that was not very good at their role.  Yes, not everyone does their job well…even in the wonderful agile community.
  5. They are from the past (I kid…I kid! That was an IT Crowd reference)

Now for the part you really came to this blog post for: What are ways I can help my organization adopt and/or support agile?

  1. Start emphasizing agile principles in whatever work you are doing. As a consultant that works on a wide array of projects with a variety of methodologies, I’m often tested with how to apply principles on a personal level. Getting out of the theoretical and nitty gritty practical application is a great exercise towards see if/how agile could work at your organization. If this is something you feel is “out of your league” or you just don’t have the time to do, it’s OK.  There’s other ways to makes strides towards becoming more agile.
  2. Propose solutions to problems from an agile perspective but without using agile lingo. Some people are just turned off to agile terms and immediately roll their eyes when you say “backlog grooming” or “daily scrum”. But if you are able to problem solve using agile principles you could begin to win over even the harshest of critics.
  3. Create a mini scrum board for tracking your own work. I heard a story of a person who was trying to advocate for their company to adopt agile, and started doing a scrum wall in a shared space.  Pretty soon scrum boards were up all over the company.  Some were labeled “Inspiration wall” or “Wall of vision”.  Everyone from IT to Sales was using them. Baby steps can be better than no steps, right?
  4. Contact consulting companies. See if they would be willing to share about agile within your organization.  Some consulting companies will do this for free because it’s a great way for them to help your cause, as well as demonstrate their expertise in this area should you need their services down the road. Or see if they are willing to just share free resources with you.
  5. Join user groups and contribute to the agile community. There have been times where my primary daily function was far from an agile focus, but I was able to stay energized by attending local groups or writing blog posts in my personal time.  Also, sometimes effective reflection comes when you are looking in from the outside.
  6. Find a new opportunity.  (Please take this with a grain of salt as it’s just my opinion.) This for many reasons isn’t the first option anyone would like, but it may be the right solution. As the industry seems to be moving more and more towards adopting agile, it’s less likely that a company is just flat out rejecting agile. It could be that they proclaim to use agile but it’s very broken or dysfunctional. These kinds of situations can cause stress if you are a firm believer in the agile principles. But is the disappointment or stress consistently outweighing the rewards or satisfaction experienced? If yes, it may be time to look for new opportunities.   Robbie Bach wrote a relevant article you may find useful called “Knowing When To Walk Away

What about you? What advice would you have for someone in this scenario?  I’d love to hear what other people have done or are doing.

Planning tool: Pointing Poker (website)

What is it?

Someone developed this handy website for online Planning Poker sessions. Their website says it best “Online, virtual and co-located agile teams use this application during their planning/pointing sessions to effectively communicate points for stories.”

https://www.pointingpoker.com/

Pros:

  • It’s FREE!  It’s hard to be overly critical of a free tool right?
  • You can set custom point values.  this is useful if you want to simplify your backlog grooming discussions.
  • It’s fast to setup a session and requires no authentication.  In my opinion you want to spend as little time focused on getting into the tool as possible.  No credentials or software = a breeze.
  • Enables remote team members or distributed teams to work together.
  • The timer is super useful for keeping on track.  Until you press “Clear Votes” the timer keeps going.

Cons:

  • The interface is a bit outdated.
  • If you are concerned about security, this may not be the tool for you. While it’s not required to put sensitive or specific information on the site, all one needs is a session ID to see the contents of a session.
  • You can make your name whatever you want when you join the session.  Follow me on this one.  Depending on your team’s sarcasam-o-meter you could see some interesting names join your session. 🙂  If you are trying to run a smooth session with multiple people it could be a little clunky until you figure out who’s who.

Conclusion:

I love the tool, and have yet to find anything that works as well as this.  Well done!

Screenshots: