Archive for September, 2011

A puzzled skeptics trip to ALE2011

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

As a frustrated and puzzled skeptic I went to the Agile Lean Europe conference to work on my frustration and puzzles. As a frustrated and puzzled skeptic I returned. To my delight with different frustrations, puzzles and some highlights.

Regardless of what I say next: creating a pan-european agile/lean event that is not tied to one of the schools of thought, nor any functional silo (looking at you, coachcamps and testing days!) is a major achievement. I tried to pull it off with about twenty other folks a couple of years ago, and failed (early, but nevertheless. It is not something I bake cake for ;) ).

First highlight: I found a community that welcomes skepticism without suffocating it. Thanks, amongst others, to @OlafLewitz and @ojuncu for open discussion on twitter beforehand, and to those who offered help instead of rotten tomatoes after I threatened to put trainers and coaches out of a job in a lightning talk :) . And those who took my call for more coaches combining hands-on work with coaching (too?) seriously. More on that in follow up posts.

Although many of the scheduled talks rehashed things I hoped would have vanished from agile / lean conference agenda’s to make place for new things, I was pleasantly surprised by a number of talks. (See below in talks)

Building a car using a distributed team.

Wikispeed is a collaborative, distributed effort to build a fuel efficient car (one that is also efficient at high speed, unlike some other fuel efficient car). Thorsten Kalnin described how they use whatever works to get there. At this moment that includes for instance aspects of kanban, scrum, using object oriented principles for mechanical engineering and finding storage boxes that can be rented for cheap, while still being suitable to do engineering work.

I’m listening to vinylbaustein’s wikispeed dreams while writing this. Finding new music at a conference, what do you want more ;)
Vinylbaustein – WIKISPEED dream – SGT01 mix by vinylbaustein

The inside wikispeed video is worth watching if you want to see more:

Your baby is ugly

Seeing Stephen Parry in action again, during his talk and afterwards during dinner. Olaf Lewitz has described other aspects of Stephens’ session. What I particularly liked was ‘your baby is ugly’ – get employees to analyze the companies performance as seen through their customers’ and describe that to their peers and managers (also mostly employees, lets’ not forget that). This is probably a lot more effective than outsiders saying that (e.g. Yours truly tweeting about how SAP is going lean but their products prevent their clients from evolving), and I guess it takes a lot of time and patience. Something I would like to try, nevertheless.


I stayed out of the Claudio Perrone’s A3 presentation after seeing the intro slides from outside which looked so heroic (Big Agile Transition), that I was afraid I would not be able to shut up during the presentation and heckle ehm excite. Turns out the rest of the slide deck is a lot more to my liking, including a pragmatic use of the satir change model somewhere in the middle. So I was wrong. Looking forward to see the video of it.

In the meantime I would recommend reading Toyota Kata by Mike Rother. I took it on the road this week and am pleased by how it does not try to make this kind of open ended coaching look easy, and uses storytelling plus questions to you, the reader, to show how this might work in your practice.

One more for the skeptic

It was only talks. Tip for next years’ organisers: if you want more hands-on sessions make some space for scheduled sessions that last longer than thirty minutes, some sessions that require preparation don’t magically happen in open space. Stephan Eggermont and I enjoy the challenge of seeing what of a three hour session we can meaningfully cram in thirty minutes, but we may be the exception. It seemed most people were watching as opposed to downloading the zip and following along.

I was looking forward to ‘exciters’, Walldorf and Statler from the muppets were given as example, and bar tables were placed in front of the presentations for people to heckle from. I haven’t seen that happen, and didn’t dare to either, preferring the safety of my twitter feed instead ;) . I asked Stephan Eggermont to heckle during my lightning talk, which he did, but I was so focused I didn’t hear him do it…

It seems the open space explanation left out the butterflies. When I described my open space experience to another participant at the end, he stared blankly at me. It also seemed mostly open space veterans where butterflying and bumblebeeing around, as well as applying the law of two feet (sorry, the politically correct wording used in the opening was so complicated I failed to remember it ;) . Shorter PC versions I’ve seen include ‘the law of motion’ or ‘when in doubt, move out’ ).

So I butterflied, mostly, except to host an open space session because someone wanted to pick my brain about session selection processes. The best suggestion in that session came from @LLillian, who stated the obvious thing I’d missed before: besides playing a perfection game, encourage session organizers to Ask for Help, to lower the barrier for new session organisers. Duh. Why didn’t I think of that before! Other than that, it struck me that few of the open space topics were original. It seems we have been struggling with the same problems for a couple of years. Maybe it is rotation of participants, maybe we are asking the wrong questions. Of course, I could have taken responsibility by posing a question as a session. It seems the stuff I’m struggling with right now is in a stage where I don’t know how to formulate the questions yet. It seems grumpy tweets, responses to that and hallway discussions help me move forward :) .

It will probably take a week or so to pinpoint my newfound frustrations and puzzles, at least I feel my time in Berlin was well spent. Especially now the QWAN Learning Community has some more first followers, I got over the scariest two minutes presenting I’ve done in quite a while, and I got useful feedback on the idea from various people. So thanks everybody for making it happen.

We are uncovering better ways of moving post-its

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Ten years after the agile manifesto I believe we’re better of with it, than without it. To me, it served as a rallying cry for those who were developing software to improve themselves by looking at what works in practice.

Remember? “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.”.

The reason this appealed to me, was that I was working at the time, and had been working before, with good willing, hard working people who advised others on building and delivering software, but they didn’t get their hands dirty (and if they did, their practices looked nothing like what they advocated for clients). With Agile, I believed we had a fighting chance to do better than what came before, prevent methodology wars by finding what unites us and market ‘lightweight methods’ a lot more effectively.

These days, when I travel to an agile or lean related conference (and even to some craftsmanship related events) most participants are full time managers or coaches, occasionally coding at night if they are so inclined. In the early days, if I would run into a fellow coach, it would be someone like me, who worked at all levels, with all stakeholders while also working hands-on with and in teams. These days, if I get cynical, it is, more often than not, someone who helps a team to move post-its better, either through kanban or scrum.

Not that the intentions behind scrum or kanban are bad (‘improving the world of work’ and ‘Evolutionary change for your technology business), it’s just that obsessing over the mechanics, such as the right way to move post-its or the best practice for stand-ups costs less energy than thinking for ourselves about how we work, and what we can improve.

As I’m leaving for ALE2011, which on the surface looks like it’s packed with post-it moving folks, I hope to be proved wrong and be surrounded by complex systems thinking hackers, like  I was at XP2001, just after the agile manifesto had launched. That ALE opens with a massive coding dojo gives me some hope.

Otherwise, it’s just going to be 3M who benefited the most from lean and agile software development ;)