Reflections on Lean Agile Scotland 2012

The Lean Agile Scotland 2012 (lascot12) conference has just ended. In this post I will be setting down my thoughts about the event while they are still fresh in my mind. Lascot12 is only the second Agile conference I have attended. The first was the London Scrum Gathering almost a year ago (I wrote about my experience of that event in this post). That being the case I will make some general comparisons between the two events in this post.

First up a big thank you to Chris McDermott for organising the event. Something like this was needed in Scotland and he made it happen.

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Some general stuff next. The venue was an inspired choice: Our Dynamic Earth. It is an interesting building nestled beside Salisbury Crags which is an awesome setting. The conference facilities were top notch with good facilities, catering and the like. The overall organisation was superb and Chris’ team of helpers did a great job and kept everything flowing smoothly.

Next to the schedule. The conference was two days long. Each day started with an hour long key note. Thereafter two tracks ran throughout each day each with seven 45 minute speaker sessions interspersed with breaks and lunch.

Here is my first comparison with the London Scrum gathering. The gathering was a lot bigger. It had a whopping seven tracks over two days followed by a day of open space which had at least as many parallel sessions. This gave attendees a huge amount of choice. However, I found that this had its draw backs. It was tricky to pick the sessions I wanted to go to and, in hindsight, I discovered by comparing notes with other attendees that I inadvertently missed some very good sessions. At lascot12 I only had to choose between two different sessions in each slot. This made it much easier to decide what I wanted to go to. Even better is that all sessions at lascot12 have been videoed and will be made available online soon. For example, I missed the “Chaplin’s Craft” session but am looking forward to catching it on the web later.

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Having less choice is only truly an advantage if the sessions that are on offer are top notch and have variety. I am happy to report that the overall quality of the sessions was rather high. Likewise the topics covered a wide range of subject matter including coding techniques, team building, testing and war stories. I liked the fact that this was an Agile conference and not just a Scrum conference or a Kanban conference.

One thing about the sessions in general that differed from many of the Scrum Gathering sessions was that they were not as hands on. In many of the Gathering sessions I got to try stuff out and they were generally more interactive. In London I recall trying out new techniques in groups, roleplaying difficult conversations and, in one memorable session, we were taught team building via the PC game Left 4 Dead. The lascot12 sessions were, in the main, a little more passive although we could ask the presenters any questions we liked (time permitting).

So what sessions did I attend? My mission at the conference was to find out more about what makes a successful team. This guided my choice of sessions towards those that were team and people centric as opposed to those focussing on technology or process. Of the sessions I attended the following are those that I believe have informed my ongoing quest the most:

Individually Smart, Collectively Stupid – David J Anderson

This was the day 1 key note. Do people sometimes behave in one manner individually and in another contrary manner when acting as a collective? That was the point of this session and I would have to agree that it does happen. With examples ranging from Olympic cycling to the “Rangers Situation” (kudos to David for bringing that up at a conference taking place in the central belt!) this was a humorous and thought-provoking key note. It has led me to challenge one long held belief on my own project regarding release size.

Leadership on all Levels. Why? And How? – Florian Eisenberg

If nothing else this session won the award for the best slides. Minimalist circles and lines can sometimes convey so much more than a flashy slide set. The slides weren’t all the session had to offer, however. Florian delivered a presentation detailing how we can foster an environment where leaders naturally emerge. I took a number of lessons from this session.

People Patterns – Joe O’Brien

The more I ply my trade as a Scrum Master the more I find I have to really understand the people I interact with. This session was packed full of tips to aid us in understanding our fellow humans and how to engage with them productively. And Joe was hilarious while at the same time educating us. My main lesson from this one: I shouldn’t listen to the voices in my head.

Respect for People – Liz Keogh

This day 2 key note was a tricky session for me. There were so many things that Liz said that really resonated with me and yet there were a fair few lessons I did not agree with (see below when I talk about Scrum and Estimation). This session was all about the things we do that can be respectful or disrespectful to people. Disrespect can be so damaging within a team that we should do our best to avoid being responsible for causing it. However, causing disrespect is such a minefield that the best tip was that we should forgiving of those that we feel have disrespected us. This session is proof that you do not have to buy into a whole session to be able to garner useful information from it.

People: Your Most Agile Ingredient – John Peebles

John’s session concerned great teams. I believe a great team is one that delivers for their customer while at the same time having fun and enjoying their work. Have I ever worked on a great team? Sometimes the teams I have been a part of have been like that for periods of time but never consistently. John made it clear that it is possible to build a great team and imparted some of the practises he uses to bring teams on. It gives some of the rest of us hope.

I mentioned above that this wasn’t a Scrum or Kanban or “anything really specific” conference for me. If anything Scrum got a bit of a kicking in some of the sessions. Estimation, on the other hand, got a harder time again. If Scrum got a metaphorical beating then estimation was led down an alley and shot in the back of the head by some of the speakers. Now that is cool with me. I don’t believe in having sacred cows in our industry and we need to constantly challenge our beliefs as to what is the right thing to do.

No, the only thing that bothered me was the exaggeration of how bad Scrum and estimation were in the field with the intimation that it was that way for everyone. Rhetorical questions like “who wants to spend two hours in estimation every sprint?” and “who wants to spend a day release planning every 3 months?”. Well nobody wants to and from personal experience I know not everyone does (15-30 mins for sprint planning and 30-40 minutes for release planning is typical for our team – preparation is everything).

I do currently practice Scrum and our team does do estimation on the release and sprint levels. I do believe that both can work. I do believe that they are useful. I also think that it, like anything else, they can be misused horribly. It is my job to ensure that this does not happen.

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The final thing I would say on the subject is that my disagreements have a massive caveat. There were many things I disagreed with at the Scrum Gathering last year and now I’m doing a lot of them (Full Time Scrum Masters? Pah! Oh wait, now I am one…). I won’t rule anything out this time. I not so naive that I do not believe that there are always better ways of doing things. This is why I went to the conference in the first place: to find out about the better ways, to be persuaded.

In closing I believe that lascot12 was a great success. I really want there to be an lascot13. If there is then I will definetely be there.

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