Wording Agile Open feelings

I’m recovering from two fun, intensive and moving days at Agile Open :-) . During the conference, at one of the temperature readings we held, there was a little discussion about the usefulness of session writeups. Since there were many experiential sessions, it is very hard, or maybe impossible, to put into words how it felt to have been there. The same probably holds for this conference as a whole. I’ll try to give my impressions here, with quoted conference photos kindly collected by Marc Evers.

The closest I could come in one word is special. In the closing temperature reading participants appriciated the open atmosphere, where they listened and where heard, as well as respected. Seeing the level of engagement of everybody inside and outside the sessions, we succeeded in creating an open environment, safe for experimentation and risk-taking.

To my pleasant surprise, the conference turned out to be even more self-organizing than I hoped. Before the conference, we weren’t exactly sure on how to run the opening session. The main goal of that have all participants to co-create the conference program. One of my biggest fears beforehand was that not everybody would have noticed that Agile Open is an open space conference, where the participants are responsible for the program. In a way, we created a sort of hybrid between an open space and a planned conference, by creating an ideas for sessions space on the conference wiki.

It turned out that my fear was on the mark, as about five people reported they weren’t aware of the open space character. Pleasantly enough, they didn’t feel this was a problem. It feels natural to start an agile conference with a planning game. They immediately took to the idea and participated actively in selecting the sessions.

photographg of participants reading the session descriptions

Deciding which sessions to vote for is hard…

The way to vote and prepare the program emerged during the opening session. We envisioned this would be the moment to create the program for Friday as well as Saturday. After arranging sessions for the first day on two tables (one table per room) we found that the most popular sessions were scheduled on day one. The participants decided to have another planning game at the beginning of day two, so we could use what we learnt on day one, and choose the sessions we felt most strongly about on that day.

I facilitated the opening session on friday, the temperature reading in the afternoon and co-facilitated a few track sessions. I was quite exhausted after that, and excellent conversation at the bar. As Rachel Davies points out in her weblog we succeeded in moving the usual bar conversation to the sessions. I partook in conversations on music, fashion, philosophy, history and friends that couldn’t make it to agile open, amongst others.

On Saturday, I overslept, falling straight back to sleep after switching of the alarm clock. I believe this turned out to be a good thing, as the conference became more self-organizing. I couldn’t facilitate the planning session like on day one. On the other hand, I was scheduled to co-facilitate two of the most popular sessions on day two – Balancing Act on thre of the Satir tools and Structured Crystal Ball Gazing, on scenario planning. Vera Peeters phoned me to ask what I wanted to do. Both Nynke Fokma and I didn’t have the energy to do a long session, so I asked Vera to put on either one of the sessions.

What happened, was that one session was planned in the final slot, but not decided which one, so we could delay the decision whether to run Crystal Ball Gazing or Balancing Act to the last moment. That was cool. We felt that the playful, experiential and active nature of Balancing Act would fit most at the end of the conference. I’m glad we did that, since it was a lot of fun!

photo of flipovers with the saturday schedule

Balancing Act / Structured Crystal Ball gazing session back to back on the lower left

I gained some more experience in facilitating with several Satir tools. On Friday and Saturday we held a temperature reading to appreciate each other and things that were accomplished, as well as to gather information to steer the conference, and the future after it. For me it was a good exercise to facilitate more temperature readings.

photo of the temperature reading on friday

half of the circle during the temperature reading. I’m the only one not laughing, on the left. Probably focusing…

In the last block on Saturday afternoon, we ran the Congruent Action part of the Balancing Act session. We had a blast during this session. I had prepared it with Marc Evers and Nynke Fokma, and they asked me to be lead facilitator. Scary. Exhilarating. Rachel Davies agreed to be co-facilitator as well. We were well supplied with facilitators :-) about one in five. And then we had Vera Peeters, who spontaneously performed some skillfull covert facilitation, keeping participants on board who otherwise might have left.

Make no mistake, this was a scary session, since it involved mime acting with strangers. We first let the participants explore coping stances in pairs(blaming, placating, superreasonable, irrelevant and loving / hating) as described by Virginia Satir. The facilitators demonstrated most of the stances, and then we let the other participants experiment.

photograph of participants trying out coping stances, Marc Evers and Rob Westgeest in front

Trying out the coping stances. Not sure what Rob and Marc are modeling here, but it looks fun

After this round, I was not completely convinced we had everyone on board. That changed after a round of questions. I asked how miming the coping stances felt, and if the participatns experienced a ‘favourite’ stance – some stances feel more relaxed or natural than others. In the final round, everyone was very much involved, even though it was more difficult. We asked the participants to we split in two groups to model the eXtreme Programming values. Below is a picture of one of the groups modeling an XP value. After twenty minutes rehearsal we let each group perform, and have the other one guess which value was shown. Can you guess which one is shown in the photograph below?

photo of participants standing in a circle, looking in one direction, waving their hands in that direction as well

This would look better on film, where you’d see the hands waving…

That was great fun! After this, it was time for the closing. I felt a bit sad that it was over, and at the same time very glad for having co-organised it. Marc is already thinking about follow-on events, and judging the reactions of the other participants, this seems worth wile to do.

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