Saturday, September 24, 2011

Summary of Agile 2011 Conference

Too much good stuff. With 14 sessions to choose from for each time slot, and many more hallway conversations, I walked away with a head full of knowledge of new things to try, new areas to dig into, and new people to collaborate with.

The first problem, though, was realizing that I had to choose between 14 talks. That's correct - 14. Although one is able to see this reality on the website (and they did a great job with Sched), it just doesn't hit you until you're picking that first talk from the handout. A great lesson for me in the value of coordinating in advance with others from my team in order to cover all the sessions we're interested in. I heard several people mention how hard it was to choose, and being a little late in deciding can sometimes mean missing a seat in the room.

My first session was Pollyanna Pixton's Collaborating with Non-Collaborators. What a great way to start off the conference. A knowledgable and experienced agilist and comfortable speaker. And she started off with a graceful approach of trying to understand why  someone might be a non-collaborator. My biggest take away was a grid she showed us (which is available from the links to her site). For one type of non-collaborator, "Passive Aggressive," she said "They are characterized by over competitiveness, lack of respect, self-preservation and personal agenda." I think I've seen that person more than once. How do you handle them? Her list was:
  • Don’t engage in a power struggle 
  • Wrap them up in process 
  • Don’t let them dodge accountability 
  • Make them step into their responsibility and make it the only possible step 
  • Make them commit in public 
  • Take the fun out of being dysfunctional 
  • Ask how they want to solve it
  • Don't let them be a manager
Her handouts also included a lot of self-evaluation, which I realized that I don't do enough of. I'm too busy taking inventory of client's issues to stop and notice mine. She said "You cannot fix people, you can only fix process." Check out her book Stand Back and Deliver: Accelerating Business Agility to dig in more. You can also watch a video of Pollyanna speaking elsewhere - the keynote at Agile Development Practices on Collaborative Leadership.

My next session was Michael Spayd on Transformation Path to Enterprise Agility. I got excited when it looked like they were going to do some live coaching, but I was waylaid at the break and never made it back to see if they did. It sounds like there was group work that was rewarding. For more in this area, check out Spayd's and Lyssa Adkins' training The Coaching Stance.

I finished my first day with a lively and fun group at Karl Scotland's Red Bead Experiment. Karl played the manager well, and the lessons of how management typically behaves, and what actually works, were clear. You can watch a version of someone else facilitating the red bead experiment on YouTube - You can watch Karl speak about kanban, or find out more about him on his blog.

Tuesday started out with a bang as I was blown away and greatly impressed with Jez Humble and his session on Applying the Lean Startup Model to the Enterprise. Jez understands the process, issues and value up and down the layers from dev to executive, and his insights bumped up his book Continuous Delivery on my wishlist. You can download the presentation. Biggest takeaways from his sessions:

  • Going agile must include DevOps. Building everything swift and smoothly, yet not being ready to have it go live swift and smoothly (much less keeping it running) is not success. 
  • Amazon has a saying of "You build it, you run it." Treat services being built as products and align full dev+ops teams to align, stick to and support those services. 
  • The Lean Startup mentality that "the feature isn't done until the learning loop is completed." You can get a good overview of Lean Startup by opening two tabs to listen to Steve Blank talk at SXSW while clicking through the same presentation.

The next session was my lightening talk on strengths (lesson learned - don't cram 1 hour of information into 8 minutes). For more (and better) information on strengths, visit the strengths tag on my blog.

After that, I went to my old colleague Aaron Sanders' session at Ten Tales of Positive Change. It's great to hear success stories at different levels, in different context. It's a very transferrable form of experience, strength and hope for all of us in the trenches about ushering in change with teams and organizations.

I then facilitated my other session, Narrative Coaching, with great help from colleague Skip Angel. I continue to come back to the value narrative brings on a non-prescriptive approach, finding and strengthening areas of success, and curious listening. I gave away a shirt with the classic Narrative saying, "The person isn't the problem. The problem is the problem."

Wednesday began with great insights and references to help with people and change. BigVisible coach Skip Angel discussed What are we supposed to do with these managers NOW?. Here's the summary I pulled from it:
  • Option 1: They need time to process change
    • Everybody processes change differently
    • Ask:
      • What's in it for me?
      • Am I gaining more than losing?
      • Will I be supported by the change?
  • Option 2: Change Roles
  • Option 3: Not Everyone Fits
  • Option 4: Willing to re-invent yourself?
    • More people go down this road.
    • We want managers to move from "Directing" to "Catalyzing Leadership" (from Bill Joiner's book Leadership Agility, which I heard referenced several times at the conference)
    • Be a sparkplug
      • Directive Catalyst
      • Analytical Thinking Systemic
      • Move from "Either/Or" to "Both/And" thinking
      • Unilateral Control Mutuality and Collaboration
      • Deterministic Chaordic. (Scary)
    • 9 out of 10 times, your ideas aren't as good as a team decision
    • Be flexible, adaptive
    • Be Possibility-oriented
    • Be Self-reflective - Thing learned the most - somewhere along the way, you have to learn that you don't know everything. That you can learn and grow. But there are expectations that you have to know everything (this was powerful for me)
    • Move to Helping Teams instead of directing or managing teams.
    • Teach and supporting to say "No."
    • Protect the stakeholder
    • Make team feel safe
    • Build capabilities
    • Partner with the ScrumMaster
  • Where can managers support teams?
    • Minimize Waste - Partial work, finding info, delays, over produce, extra steps, defects, handoffs
    • Create collaborative environments
    • Invest in Learning - provide Formal Training, give Research Time, set up a Community of Practice, Set-Based Design
    • Change the Organization
      • Evangelize, educate, show proof
      • Recognition and rewards
  • Everyone needs to understand the strategy (don't make it need-to-know). Get everyone involved, and in particular, what is THEIR PART!
  • Culture of Learning - The Fifth Discipline (another book I heard mentioned more than once), not a culture of fear. Mistakes are OK and encouraged. We learn from them.
  • Optimize the whole, not the parts.
  • Reduce delays in the process (and this could mean starting from budgetting and allocation).
  • Everybody needs to solve the problems (systems thinking) that impact effectiveness.
  • Agile will help, but cannot address all challenges. That's why we need people in these management roles. Rather than a coach solve all problems, managers do. 
  • Agile is not a "dev" thing, but a significant organizational change.
  • Agile is not a destination, but a journey.
  • Agile needs strong leaders within the organization to make a difference. 

That ended my sessions at Agile 2011 because I left early to return home and attend The Leadership Summit (you can find my summaries of those sessions on my blog, too). In between sessions, my time was spent in great conversations with Mark Kilby, Mike Cottmeyer, Gerry Kirk, a very fortunate and mind-filling "DevOps 101" hallway talk with Patrick Dubois (his site has lots of video presentations), a Senior Vice-President from a large investment company going agile, as well as Sean Buck, a presenter and head of the agile transformation at Capital Group. And there was a breakfast for CSC's and CST's where I got to meet trainers and coaches from around the world.

Sessions that I heard great things about or wish I could have attended but couldn't (either because the room was full or I was double-booked) included:

Some good reviews of the conference:

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