Agile 2017 Wrap-up: What an Amazing Learning Experience

I could feel the excitement building for the Agile 2017 conference as I was putting the final touches on my presentation on my plane ride to Orlando. The moments of preparation and anticipation leading to this point were finally going to pay off, and pay off they did! I was so excited that I started immersing myself into the conference upon arrival. Here are some of my favorite moments of the conference, and how it related to my overall experience.

Sketching outside the box: Visual thinking for teams (Angie Doyle, Talia Lancaster)

My favorite talk on Monday was a presentation from Angie and Talia hailing from South Africa. I was treated with a method of the presentation delivery that was literally outside the box of traditional presentation delivery methods. There was no slide deck. Instead we were delighted with posters along the walls of the room explaining their content, and examples were demonstrated using their magic markers displaying their magic on the posters. We started out by showing ourselves how we could draw a chicken using basic shapes. Next the ladies showed their values of visual thinking in the form of the values of the Agile Manifesto: thinking in pictures over explaining in words, shared understanding over individual interpretation, see possibilities over analyzing problems, and embrace humanness over seeking precision. The remainder of the presentation showed us techniques to support their principles in the form of lettering, connections, people, faces, containers and basic shapes. We had a chance to try each technique.

I agree with all the values that Angie and Talia presented even though I still left with my limited talents of being able to draw basic shapes and lettering. They did qualify to the audience that both possess special skills to accomplish their magic. This explanation, being able to apply the techniques during the presentation, and my attitude of continuous improvement is fueling my willingness to try these techniques on my own. I really enjoyed this talk, and looked forward to the days ahead.

Shu Ha Ri: Creating Your Coaching Journey (Bernie Maloney)

I found this talk to be fitting for me since I am starting down a path to become an agile coach. I have also familiarized myself with the Japanese concepts of Shuhari, so I was seeking a way to apply these concepts. We started with the simple definitions of Shuhari: Learn, Bend Transcend, or crawl, walk run. I learned these as know the system, test the system, and be the system.

Coaching was paralleled to coaching an organization to become agile, and treat your coaching journey as a product. So create a backlog of resources you would engage, identify 5 topics that you will likely routinely cover as newbie questions, or ones that you wish that teams would cover because it would accelerate progress, and then come up with some topics for yourself, such as: What pains does agile raise for executives, what skills would you need to coach them, what might you leverage for distributed teams, and other tips you can offer others.Other tips I learned:

I guess the simple tips and the exercise within this talk were simpler than I thought. I have already been able to apply many of these techniques as a scrum master and training teams to become agile. I think that I am further along in my journey than I thought, but I still have much to learn

Mindful Agile: Listen like Buddha, build leaders like a ‘BOSS’ (Todd Wilson, John Nicol)

Listening is a skill I can always practice, because I can pick out times when my listening could have been better, whether it comes to listening to myself or others. Todd and John defined 4 levels of listening, from downloading to generative, and showed that levels of listening can be promoted throughout a conversation, and allow us to connect by opening our mind, heart, and will. They also gave us a laminated card explaining the levels of listening, and how to enter meetings with an intentional level of listening. The duo also explained levels of listening through several popular video clips including “What About Bob?”

While I found the delivery of the presentation to be a bit clunky, I did enjoys this talk overall. The laminated card takeaway was a huge plus not offered in any other presentation.

Hire Great People for Agile Teams using Interview Games (Jason Tice)

I was intrigued with what Jason’s workshop had to offer from the title, abstract, and sample slide deck. I enjoy games, I enjoy making possible connections when interviewing candidates, and I can apply my learning easier through a hands-on experience. I knew going into this talk that I was setting the expectations pretty high.

The setup for our experience was already a surprise to many of us. Jason had pulled a few volunteers from the audience before the presentation to portray product owner interview candidates, and we found out that one of these candidates was sitting at each of our tables. Our first game involved generic Rory’s story cubes. The idea was that the candidate was to roll the dice once and describe the life of a product owner. Besides the candidate our table consisted of three interviewers and two observers. I was an observer for this game. During the time-boxed event, the interviewee could arrange the cubes however he or she wanted, and then tell the story. The interviewers could ask questions, and then the observers reported their observations after the time box expired. The candidate said that he was uncomfortable and somewhat anxious during the process, but Jason explained to us that this uncomforting feeling was by design. Afterwards we were all in agreement that this game was very valuable to both the candidate and the interviewers to determine if this interaction was a good fit for all.

We switched roles of interviewers and observers for the second game, in which the candidate was handed 48 cards with actual interactions, concepts, or quotes related to agile teams. The candidate was asked to arrange each card into one of three sections of the table most desired (happy face), least desired (TPS reports), or not desired (trash can). The time box for this event was intended to be short enough so that the candidate was not able to finish arranging all the cards. Again, the interviewers were collaborating with the candidate to be able to evaluate decisions. We could see as the game progressed that the cards were starting to form logical groups, and the speed of the decisions from the candidate increased. Again, we all agreed that the game was valuable to all, and a much better method to interviewing than traditional methods.

The final game we played involved everyone at our table. We were given a large sheet of paper. The interviewer was asked to draw pictures that represented a perfect day as a product owner, however, the candidate only had 30 seconds to start the picture. After that, the candidate stopped drawing, and he described to an interviewer what he wanted an interviewer to draw in the next 30 seconds. This cycle continues twice more, and then the candidate took over the drawing. This cycle continues for us until the 4-minute time box expired. This game was a great shared experience in which we were forced to quickly collaborate on something that we all some knowledge, but not necessarily had perfect skills to accomplish the task at hand, much like the experiences in an agile team during a sprint. We all agreed that this shared experience was a great exercise, and one that we could all see valuable for an interview.

This session was easily my favorite. Games are a way that agile teams can quickly collaborate to form a solution for a problem, provide one another with a shared experience, and be able to draw out hidden assumptions quickly using a fun activity. This session was a fun and simple way to bring all out senses to the tasks at hand and be able to know right away whether this was a good fit. By the way, we all agreed that the candidate would make an awesome product owner.

Change Artist Super Powers: Leading Change in an Agile Manner (Esther Derby)

I enjoy going to Esther’s talks because I learn something new every time. She re-used some of her material from her talk in Path to Agility, but I always learn from her polished delivery techniques that seem direct yet smooth. I was looking forward to seeing her latest talk on mastering change.She summarized mastering change in three words right in the beginning of the talk: Center, Enter, Turn. Centering involved simply gathering information, and taught us ways to be naturally curious rather than blaming and jumping to conclusions. She further explained that blaming questions usually started with “why”, and to avoid those where possible. However, who, what, where, when, and how show a more curious attitude. She also warned that we should check our intent and assumptions, and remember the rule of three, that is, have 3 possibilities in mind before judging a situation.

She then moved to the “entering” phase which centered on empathy and observation. Esther showed us three types of empathy: emotional (acknowledging feeling), cognitive (knowing how one thinks), and POV (seeing how another sees it). She explained that empathy is important because the person you are engaging is experiencing some kind of loss when it comes to change.

Observation allows us to know our environment, how it functions, and helps us decide to choose actions and detect whether or not we are moving in a desired direction. This observation leads us to Turn, or experimentation. We were given 10 questions to consider when conducting experiments. Some were supporting our observation phase, but they also kept us in check to make sure our experiments were not taking an undesired turn or side effect, and how to ask ourselves how we can recover. On the flip side we could also be able to ask ourselves how to amplify or spread the experiment if things improve. However, Esther also explained the key to experiments is to find something you can act on now without permission, budget, or an act of god. Experiments are also intended to nudge the system and get fast feedback.

The techniques in this talk were obviously the result of many years of experience with change. I know that I will need some practice on my own should I decide to take on some of these techniques.

Impact Mapping – How to Make Value-Driven Prioritization a Reality (Mathias Eifert)

Impact mapping is a tool that has intrigued me since I discovered it, so this presentation came at a good time. Mathias’s talk started out with some basic scrum definitions, how the iron triangle turns into a funnel, and how we can turn “output” thinking into “impact” thinking. For example, instead of asking the question “how much is it going to cost to build these features?” into “How much do you want to invest in reaching this goal?” We then went into the specifics of the mapping, which always centers around “Why” or the goal. The divergence (options) and convergence (decisions) made from the map were other questions like who, what, how, etc. Since humans are terrible at assessing value, we create a list of value assumptions from the map, form user stories, pick the cheapest, fastest way, and stop when we are done. Other tools that were presented were creating feature buckets from goals (customer requests, customer delight, and metrics movers), and how to build our first map.I think that the tools and techniques used in this talk will be good to try on my next new product challenge, whether or not I am the product owner.

Resources: Dave Gray uses many techniques in the Visual Thinking presentation for iterative techniques like Visual Thinking, Culture Mapping, and Gamestorming.