Confessions of an ALE2011 attendee

Last week I went to Berlin for the very first Agile Lean Europe conference.

ALE2011 was one of the many ideas that originated during the World Café session hosted by Jurgen Appelo during XP2011 in Madrid.  As I’m a lazy fellow, I suggest you read the history of ALE2011 in this blogpost from Olaf Lewitz, instead of me writing it down.

I was involved in the organisation of ALE2011 on the community sofa, and I can assure you this was a crazy adventure.  Planning a conference with more than 40 organizers can be quite chaotic!  But thanks to some natural leaders like Olaf & Marcin the chaos evolved into self organisation.  They shared their experience of organizing it during the conference in a session.

On Tuesday evening I flew to Berlin after a day of work at my client’s office.  When I met the other participants in the hotel bar, I could already feel that this conference was going to be special.  There was excitement in the air.  Something new was going to happen!  I also understood the success of eXtreme Tuesday Club, when UK agilists explained me that this was exactly the format of XTC.  Having a good time together in a bar, drinking a beer and sharing stories.  This is why I believe the Agile Belgium Drinkups have a good future ahead of them.

On Wednesday morning, the conference officially started with a warmup session by John Jagger.  He involved the entire audience in his cyber dojo, which was quite an achievement, knowing that there were more than 200 people in the room!

Next was a keynote by Rachel Davies. I really like her style. Very down to earth and honest.  One message she brought was that Enterprise Agility may not be possible at all, a statement that I hear more often popping up in the community.  It was strengthened later in the conference by Brian Marick during his lighting talk, stating that we ‘Europeans’ can choose to quit these big enterprises and start up a business of our own.  Especially since we have a healthcare system 🙂

In the afternoon Open Space, I proposed a session about healthy KPI’s, a problem I’ve been struggling with at clients.  Adopting agile is fine, but do we just keep our old KPI’s?  I feel that in most organisations theser are no longer suited and trigger the wrong behaviour.  We experimented a little bit with using trends instead of single point measurements, but without a good feeling.  On the last day, Dave Snowden reassured us during his keynote that KPI’s are not useful and should be left aside.  Maybe that’s a little harsh.  I’d prefer what Bjarte Bogsnes said during his keynote about Beyond Budgeting.  A KPI should start from a goal and be revised constantly.  I will experiment with this in detail to figure this out.

On Thursday evening we had a dinner with strangers. The concept goes as follows:

  • The organization reserved places in several restaurants across Berlin.
  • You sign up for a restaurant and have dinner with people you haven’t met before.

I went to a Spanish restaurant with 6 other conference attendants and had a great time eating tapas and chatting late in the evening. (watch the sparkle in our eyes!)

This proved to be a great way to meet new people.  It should be part of every conference!

Friday started again with some sessions and an open space.  After lunch we listened to some more lighting talks and did a conference retrospective.  Ken Power did a great job facilitating.  I was quite honored that he used one of the exercises of my blog, called retrospective starfish.

The event was closed by a keynote from Dave Snowden and a thanks to all organizers.

In the evening I flew home with Yves Hanoulle, who made the trip much more enjoyable by being quite the storyteller.

I didn’t get to see much of the city, because I didn’t want to miss a second of the conference.  Here’s a picture of ‘Checkpoint Charlie’, the one place I visited in Berlin.

The ALE conference had a great first edition.  I’m looking forward to next year.  Who knows, maybe it will be held in Brussels!

Second and Third Agile Belgium Drinkups

Following the first Agile Belgium Drinkup in June, we held the second and third in July and August at the Delirium Café in Brussels. Fewer people attended, but insightful and interesting discussions happened anyway. Here’s a quick overview of what happened:

Second Abdup July 13

Second Agile Belgium Drinkup gathered 7 people from different horizons. Developers and Coaches. We exchanged some of our concerns and experiences on how to bring Agile practices into the day to day life of a freelance developer. We had an interesting discussion about ways to make a customer understand that he won’t necessarily need everything from it’s backlog to launch a project.

Alain Ravet suggested to use belgian comics for that purpose. He uses a story from “Le petit Spirou” or “De kleine Robbe” where his mother asks him to choose some teddy bears he could give away to poor children. Of course he says he wants to keep them all, that they are all important to him. His mother then asks him which one he would grab if the house was on fire and he could only take one with him. And she goes on and on, making him imagining all kinds of situations until there are two piles of teddy bears, the ones he really likes and the ones he doesn’t really need. Here’s a picture of it, in french, if anyone has it in dutch, I guess it’s ok to post it in the comments.

Teddy bear backlog

If you want to read the full comic, it’s in album 7 Demande à ton père/Vraag dat aan je papa!

Of course it might be awkward to show that comic strip to customers, but it is a nice starting point if you are looking for inspiration for a small workshop a talk or whatever…

Third Abdup August 17

Another holiday Agile Belgium Drinkup, gathering 4 people this time. We forgot to send an email to the mailing list, which didn’t help. But still, again, interesting things happened.

We raised the tricky question. If you are new in the community or a newly graduated student that would like to apply in a company being Agile, or if you are more experienced and are looking for a job related to Agile, in which company do you actually apply? Should there be someone writing down a list of Agile companies in Belgium? Not really.

So what can we do then? There was a suggestion from Pascal to add some job board to the actual Agile Belgium blog. Companies that really want to find some Agile aware profiles would pay a fair amount to have their offer published on the Agile Belgium job board. Of course this is just an idea, and we need to know if some companies would be interested, and at what price.

So, taking actions! Pascal volunteered to write an email explaining the idea. Email that we would send to companies in Belgium that are related to Agile in any ways. We’ll engage in further development if there are companies interested. If you want to help, we are trying to build a long list of companies that are or might be interested in Agile, if you know such companies, drop us an email.

When is the next Agile Belgium Drinkup?

The fourth Agile Belgium Drinkup will happen on the 14th of September, still at the Delirium Café at 7 p.m. You can already register here we hope to see you there.

See you next time!