Lean Agile Scotland pulled it off again this year with an extraordinary utility-filled program. Exceptional keynotes, engaging workshops, and insightful presentations provided three days of mind-blowing learning at the University of Edinburgh’s, John McIntyre Conference Centre. Lean Agile Scotland is remarkable in many ways. The absent speaker lounge combined with an open area and collection of comfy chairs and couches provides an excellent hallway track for speakers and attendees to stretch their thinking and gain new insights. Reflecting on the conference while traveling back to the US, five sessions, in particular, stood out for me.
Luke Hohmann keynote: “Awesome Superproblems”
Luke walked us through San Jose’s community-based budgeting process. The community successfully brought neighbors together to prioritize the city budget. Gathered around tables, agile coaches facilitated sessions where citizens took part in making budgeting decisions using realistic-looking cash.
A similar simulation occurred at Luke’s son’s intermediate school where eighth graders had full control for deciding what to do with $500. Because students spend most of their day at school, they are in a good position to know what they need – in this case, a water bottle refilling station.
Luke then challenged the audience to put our professional skills to good use within our communities to make a meaningful difference in this world. In particular, to help people partake in making the decisions which impact them. I walked away thoroughly inspired to facilitate something similar for my local school system.
Chris Matts & Nick Poulten: Organizing the Portfolio as if you wanted to succeed
From the minute the workshop began to the very last-minute, everyone was interacting in a simulation exercise where attendees play roles and process work through an overburdened system. Executives prioritize work. Product Owner’s estimated time to complete work. Team members create ideas for the work that execs approve or disapprove.
Together, we discover the bottleneck in the marketing dept, the performance increase from reduced work-in-progress, and how and when to move people to the work versus move the work to the people. I walked away thoroughly inspired to rehab my workshops with more interactive and engaging exercises. Thank you very much, Chris Matts!
Simon Wardley: Playing chess with companies
This session opened with the history of Wardley maps which included the astute remark, “People aren’t daft. They can’t see their environment. They don’t have a map.” Tis true – it’s hard to win at chess (or in business) if one cannot see the landscape. Hence, we launched into a study of what makes a map a map, and how to create one – Wardley style.
Wardley maps are visual and context specific. They have a consistency of movement and a position of parts relative to an anchor (the anchor is the customer in the workshop example.) For details, check out the Wardley’s book-in-progress. Big takeaways for me included the doctrine list (used to identify easy competitors), the gameplay list (patterns for beating out competitors), along with the guidance to reduce self-harm before attempting gameplay strategies. Wardley maps provided me new insight into gaining situational awareness in order to make better decisions.
Troy Magennis: Forecasting using data – how big, how long and how much
Leave it to Troy Magennis to give away practical, hands-on instruction on probabilistic forecasting. Troy demo’d his forecasting tools to answer three common questions:
- How big is this piece of work? (number of stories/work-items)
- How long will it take to do? (duration),
- How much? (out of everything desired, what will fit by date x)
In Troy’s words, “It’s about finding the right investment for what we need in order to hit a date and less about, just go faster.”
Numerous takeaways centered on helping people have the right conversations to understand things like:
- What features are responsible to expect versus what expected features need cutting after erroneous expectations get set.
- What order should work be started to get what we need by a given date?
In a world of uncertainty, Troy’s tools give people an alternative approach to faulty SWAG’s and estimation.
Cat Swetel: Why your agile can’t scale (and what to do about it)
Cat Swetel candidly takes on the problems of scaling agile. Specifically – the misalignment between Leadership and middle management and the lack of coherence between teams. One-way communication does not magically cascade down and out across the hierarchy because we don’t translate the “why” into the “what” very well. Somewhere in the stack, the message is lost between leadership and the teams and this is why agile doesn’t scale – people from different teams are unable to consistently repeat back leadership’s message.
Cat suggests playing Catchball – a method to clearly communicate and to enable good feedback loops of understanding. “If you want to scale agile,” Cat asserts, “you have to achieve horizontal coherence across the organization”. Hence the need for explicit prioritization and feedback policies to help ensure that we all work on the right thing at the right time. “Are we achieving horizontal coherence?” is the question to ask – continuously. I left Cat’s talk reminded of just how easy it is to miss-communicate across teams and the need for better conversations. Her actionable advice for improving alignment in organizations is well worth watching the 30-min video when it comes out.
Lean Agile Scotland fulfilled its promise – a remarkable experience of sessions that stretched my thinking and introduced me to amazing new ideas. In raw beautiful Edinburgh, bright minds come together.