Category Archives: conferences

Agile Open NorCal: Requirements Discovery & Story Mapping Workshop

Chris And Jeremy Chris and Jeremy Lightsmith proposed similar sessions, and
so chose to combine them into one. About 15 people showed up for an
exercise-based session on generating requirements using the Story Mapping technique, which Chris first learned about from Jeff Patton. As I’ve done in the past, I served as the putative “client,” in my guise as editor-in-chief of
a newspaper—come on, you remember newspapers, those things the Brits used to wrap fish back in the olden days? (BTW, the New York Times is now a
mere 11 inches wide. I think this is the next step toward ceasing print publication, as it’s now conveniently laid out to be printed on your home printer.)

For the first phase, Jeremy interviewed me to tease out big
picture goals I had for a system to manage my work flow, from story assignment
to layout. “Trackability” was one, with the measurability factor being to lower the moment of “Oh s—t!”
moments per edition of the paper. Then participants broke into two groups and brainstormed for ten minutes to come up with a handful of goals for a fictional
new system for renting videos online, based on Netflix.

In round two, Chris interviewed me to determine the personas
involved. Then the groups reconvened and created personas for the users of the Netflix system.

In the final round, Chris conducted an abbreviated interview
tracing my work flow and breaking it down into rough-hewn user stories: “Assign a story to a writer,” “Assign a story to an issue,” “Submit story to art
department for layout.” After that, the groups worked on their Netflix user stories, and quickly got the hang  of
it: “Add to queue,” “Sort by category,” etc.

For being so brief, the workshop operated on two levels:

On one level, the process showed that user stories, however granular they may come, are best woven out of whole cloth, that context is king, and if you get the big picture from the horse's mouth (ugh, mixed metaphor–where's a copy editor when you need one?), your user stories will almost write themselves.

On another level entirely, the exercises introduced them to the concept of the Story Map as a big-picture information radiator that helps developers working on highly granular user
stories keep their sense of connection to the big picture, and especially to
the end user. You could almost call it an empathy radiator.

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Experiential Intro to Agile: First session of the day at Agile Open Northern California

We're just finishing up with Chris' first session at Agile Open Northern California, an experiential introduction to Agile. Chris led a group of 16 through two simulation exercises, then teased out the basics of Agile during the debriefs. Below is graphic facilitator Elizabeth McClellan's capture of the first exercise, where participants drew and folded paper party invitations–first using a wasteful batch and cue process, next using a more agile, incremental approach:


And here are the group's "aha" moments following the exercise…

Sticky Notes

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Are you coming to Agile Open California?

Last year, Chris was on the coordinating committee for Agile Open California, a grassroots Open Space conference for and by the local agile development community. This year, the privilege falls on me. I was bit by the Open Space bug last year, and have now been to several. The format lends itself to surfacing all kinds of ideas and expertise, and fostering the kind of feverish engagement that leads people to revolutions in their thinking. If you're a die-hard agilista, or just curious, please do join us this year on October 15 & 16 at Fort Mason, in San Francisco (there's a SoCal sister conference in September). If you register early (as in now), it's a mere $150, which is a pretty good price for guaranteed transcendental enlightenment.

Here's a blog post by David Carlton about a session called I hate Pair Programming that should give you a fair idea of the kind of content to expect. And below are some images to whet your appetite:

Agile Performance Reviews by Elizabeth McClellan

Artist Elizabeth McClellan captured many of the sessions for posterity.

Here people are swarming around the "marketplace," where participants have posted sessions they'd like to lead–or attend.

Chris in big hat

And here is Chris looking terribly dignified and businesslike.

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If I’m doing Scrumbut, does that make me a Scrumass?

By Hillary Johnson

… or, enough already! Is Agile dead, alive, stagnant, the future, the past, the ultimate, the end, the Will of God? Am I doing it right, wrong, backwards, sideways, on a boat, with a goat? Should I get certified by the Scrum Alliance, or the Scrum Horde? And should I even care?

Let me back up a moment, to an aha I had a couple of days ago, while attending the Agile Alliance's reception in San Francisco, which was fun and interesting. The Alliance asked us to form small groups and lob suggestions at their draft roadmap. They were serious about it, too: each group had its own board member to listen and facilitate, and the groups' maps were collected to be used in the planning session on the 'morrow.

One fellow in my group worked for a company that is a leader in successful agile practice and has been for years. He said he wasn't going to Agile 2009 this year, nor was anyone else in his company. The main reason he gave was his feeling that the content of past conferences had been pitched too much at entry level practitioners and the adoption process, and that the cultivation of an expert community of practitioneers (as opposed to a community of consultants), wasn't given priority.

At the Orlando Scrum Gathering, the Scrum Alliance took a lot of well-deserved audience heat for making  "Scrumbut" a featured theme on their new website, including scrumbut curriculum (to their infinite credit they listened and acted, and the Scrumbut content is now gone). Meanwhile, the Scrum Trainers had their own, separate conference after the Gathering–but maybe they should have blended in for the benefit of all. Don't get me wrong, I loved every minute of the Scrum Gathering (full disclosure: Chris and Ainsley Nies organized the Open Space). My point is that I think that talking up to the audience, and thus raising the bar, is important to obtaining true buy in, and solves the same problems scrumbut is aimed at addressing. Think about it: when was the last time you listened to someone who was talking down to you, even if they were right?

Everyone wants to be a part of something cool that works. People sweat for two years to get an MBA because it offers them the path to a bright future,
not because someone told them they were an ass if they didn't; likewise, when all is said and done,
people will learn to practice agile because it makes them better,
faster, stronger, smarter, not because it fixes something broken. Accordingly, I think that the conference that sets aside the corrective, remedial
tone and charges forward into the truth, beauty and complexity of a
brave new world is the conference we all want to go to.

Diana Larsen
said we'd all be bowled over by the program at Agile 2009, and I
believe everything Diana says, so it's possible I'm just talking out of
my scrumbut and this has already come to pass.

Speaking of conferences and smart people, I get to see Kay Johansen tonight at our Agile Games Party (If you're in Portland, come join us!), and I'm looking forward to talking to her about the AgileRoots conference she's co-organizing in Salt Lake City in June, which also sounds packed with top-flight talent. Good times!

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What I learned at Startup Weekend SF: Agility is the state of nature

What's a good mother/son spring break activity? Why, going to Startup Weekend and spending 50 hours building a company with ten total strangers. Perfect because my 17 year-old vastly prefers the company of adults to that of other teenagers, and because he's been on the high school treadmill for so long that I thought it would be nice for him to see what the light at the end of the tunnel might look like–that the world of work can be a rather thrilling place.

Several years ago, I visited the very first Y Combinator class of college-age founders when they were only six weeks into their startups and was astounded at the number of fully functioning products. Turns out six weeks is an eternity, way more time than you need to build and launch a startup!

This weekend, 150 of us crammed into a giant room in Microsoft's Market St. facilities. We were given lots of food (thanks to Sana of Women 2.0) and very little direction. After a free-form round of idea-pitching, with coaching from the lovably dyspeptic Dave McClure (our team-member Han Pham describes his style here), we were cut loose to self-organize into teams.

Tyrone and I were interested in Connor Lee's idea for a venue-rating site for event planners (easy to build in a weekend), and Julian Bryant’s pitch for a site that would allow people to interact around pending legislation. As it turned out, Connor, who had legislative experience Tyrone and I all joined Julian, along with developers Marcus Phillips and Philipp Pfeiffenberger, SEO/Social Media/Web Marketer Aris Vlasakakis, marketing gurus Sherbeam Wright and Mariam Ishpahani, journalist Han and a couple of others who came and went over the weekend. Julian emerged as the natural leader, as well he should being a former Senate intern and Georgetown Law grad with a startup around language learning.

I have worked as an employee or long term contractor on three tech startups, one VC funded, one angel funded, and one bootstrapped. This team outshone them all in terms of raw talent, intellectual horsepower, organization, distribution of skillsets, commitment and efficiency. And we were not alone. In all, 23 teams had working demos or prototypes to share on Sunday evening, and a couple had actually launched fully functioning products (I was using Snoozemail in my gmail inbox before the evening was out). There could be no better demonstration of the power of self-organizing teams than this display of exponential creativity and productivity.

Marcus and Philipp–both Y Combinator alumni if I'm not mistaken–were curious about Agile, and we talked about it a little bit, but there really wasn't time to talk about anything but pushing our product out the door. What I found enlightening was that their native values, instincts and practices were inherently Agile. Being Web 2.0 guys who work in Ruby and Python, they have never been exposed to Waterfall. (The only team that did anything resembling a Waterfall process was the one team that had absolutely nothing to show on Sunday, having spent all their time creating specs.)

This makes me think that perhaps the best way to promote Agile is to take a cue from crime prevention and literacy drives: don't focus on reforming those who have already been "lost" to Waterfall methods; focus instead on preventing the destruction of our talent pool in the first place!

Our team, christened "Democlarity," divided rather quickly into two right-sized sub-teams (also quite Agile). Tyrone went with the bus dev side, working on business planning, market research and content creation, while I went with the development side–the first time I've ever worked on a project and not been the writer/editor. I did some HTML wireframing, then turned my attention to CSS styling while the devs blasted in the functionality.

We had technical difficulties here and there–the wifi broke, version control broke, my host account where I was hosting images while designing went down at a critical point. Marcus and I paired on merging the disparate html files, then Philipp and I paired on some last minute CSS (he is 10x faster than I am, so my main contribution was saying things like, "Can you make that greener?").

Everything  got done, and Aris and Marcus had time to practice their demo pitch. We weren't live online, but we were certainly way too cool for powerpoint, and were able to show a site with functionality and an amazing amount of depth.

Aris and Marcus rocked the demo, with Phllip driving the mouse so they wouldn't have to break their patter, and we disbanded feeling like we'd accomplished something fairly spectacular and been a part of something pretty important. The Democlarity team is looking forward to a reunion in a month, and plan to continue developing what we started in an open source-ish sort of way. In the meantime, a demo of our site should be up on fairly soon.

Tyrone went back to swim team practice today, and I'm back at work too. But I learned more about teams and teamwork this weekend than I did in the previous year–and that's a year in which I wrote an Agile training manual and helped organize the Orlando Scrum Gathering's Open Space Conference. I'd highly recommend the startup weekend experience for anyone who is seriously committed to working on or with software teams–the pressure of an insane deadline like that compels you to strip everything down to the purest, simplest form: communication, decision making, work flow, product features, everything, and conversely, it also leads one to discover the enormity of one's own personal resources. We were like those people who, in a crisis, lift a car off of a person. Heady, empowering stuff.

This weekend was Startup Weekend World, with 50 cities participating. There will be another soon enough. Hope to see you there!

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Peak Bagging at STPCon

Today at STPCon Chris led two interactive sessions, one on Most Effective Ways to Improve Software Quality, and another on the  Makings of a Great QA Leader. Both sessions used the Group Wisdom Without Groupthink method to brainstorm and then rank ideas based on the collective experience of the participants. 

For me, the unexpected highlight of the day was the lunchtime keynote speaker, chemist and adventuress Arlene Blum. She described her all-female ascent of Anapurna, and her crusade to remove toxic fire retardants from children's clothing, claiming that the latter was the more difficult project by far. As she told stories from the various phases of her life, I kept having to pick my jaw up off the floor. The STPCon organizers are to be applauded for such a breathtaking choice of speaker. Just the kind of stimulation one needed to dive back into afternoon sessions.

As promised to the participants, here are the results of both workshops, ranked by how many votes they received:

Most Effective Ways to Improve Software Quality


  • Test environment that resembles production


  • Understanding high level business needs before development starts
  • Clearly document requirements


  • Agile–Involving customer early and often
  • Group effort, teamwork
  • QA and dev pairing and collaborating through design
  • Communication between business users and development
  • Opt-in for project teams
  • Finding champions for the product (end users)
  • Good simulation tools


  • Sprint review demo
  • Detailed info on defects/review with developers
  • Thinking about testability early
  • Avoid requirement creep
  • Knowledge-based testing by QA
  • Dev spec process
  • QA & Dev reporting to same manager
  • Recognizing impact of architectural decisions
  • Investing in analysis of automation
  • Clearly defiined mission statement and ccollective buy-in
  • Not caring about test results (bad/avoid)
  • IT governance process to oversee development

Chris led the same session last year, so it is interesting to compare those results.

Makings of a Great QA Leader


  • Balance of work and fun
  • Effective communication
  • Empowerment


  • Understands the big picture
  • Personal integrity
  • Trustworthy advocate
  • Respect


  • Effective and informed questioning
  • Customer focused
  • Keeps their cool
  • Remains impartial in problem solving
  • 1:1 peer focus
  • Recognizes strengths
  • Hiring better people
  • Open to suggestions
  • Attention to details
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Notes from PCamp: Agile 101, more Learning Games & World Cafe

Chris led three sessions at PCamp the day before we left for the Scrum Gatheirng: Agile 101, the ever-popular Agile Learning Games, and a new session with Ainsley Nies called "PM Principles, Values and Practices," a World Cafe session that delved into ways for PMs to apply the Agile Manifesto to their roles and areas of expertise.( I stayed home with a sore throat, bleh.)

This was Chris' first time running a World Cafe session, and it sounds like we'll be using that format more in future. The World Cafe website looks like it was designed by someone wearing a Che t-shirt and crunching loudly on GORP–so to spare you the kumbayaa lingo, I'll summarize the process:

World Cafe

First, the facilitator breaks the room into groups of three or more, then sets them to exploring a set of related topics, one per table. Each table/topic has a "host" whose job it is to stay with the table and provide continuity, which the others rotate between tables every 20-30 minutes. Each round lasts 20-30 mintues at a time (three rounds is about right for a 90 minute session). The idea is that those who travel between tables will cross-polinate ideas between the topics and bring fresh perspectives. In the last round, people have the option of returning to a previous table or continuing on, so that there is opportunity for closure and continuity.

I can see this working  well when all groups consider the same topic, too, as it's interesting to see the variation in people's answers on a single question.

As promised to the participants, the slide deck from Agile 101 session are posted on the PCamp Wiki. Enjoy!

And if you want to learn how to build Agile learning games, Chris and Elisabeth Hendrickson will be teaching a class in Portland May 1st.

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Relaxing After The Orlando Scrum Gathering

Chris and I are at Disney World for a few days of R&R after hosting the Open Space at the Orlando Scrum Gathering, but the park will have to be pretty supercalifragilistic to compare to the conference, which was wonderful. So much engagement–250 people there, and yet it felt intimate. I left feeling I had got to know more people than I'd normally meet in a year. Check out the wiki to get to know some of them yourself.

There was a large PMI presence for the first time ever, and despite some joking by the Scrummies about feeding them to the alligators in the hotel's atrium, a lot of positive, productive interaction occurred–there was a meeting of hearts if not quite of minds… yet.

Speaking of the meeting of hearts and minds, on Monday, March 23rd, we'll be back in the Bay Area and Chris will be leading a full-day workshop on agile project management at the SD Forum offices in San Jose. Lots of experiential learning in this one. We have had a great response, and you'll be joining a group that includes PMPs at large and small companies, as well as job-seekers looking to add marketable skills to their resume.

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All the Open Space topics @ Scrum Gathering Orlando 2009

Here, just to incite envy among the far flung, is a list of all the sessions posted on the Open Space market wall in Orlando. Disclaimer: These were handwritten, and often hard to decipher, so some titles and names are my best guess at spelling, and some sessions  may have been added or changed after I took my notes. Feel free to amend in the comments if you know better!

  • How to size the backlog with diverse product and team member skillsets – David Fox
  • Backlogs aren't perfect! Use story maps – Andy
  • Discuss issues in multiple distributed offshore teams with FTE – Anon
  • Dual Managers vs. IPM and ICSM on teams. Does it work? – Deb C
  • Empowered scrum teams – Lee Heuser
  • Transformation (what does this mean to an organization and culture) – Anon
  • Scrum metrics and myths – Pete Behrens
  • Fixed Price! Is it me or Agile/IP is a different thing altogether? – Anon
  • Scrum and large number of external dependencies – Jorge Hernandez
  • How do you coordinate large projects? 1st steps in scaling scrum – Dan LeFebre
  • PMI (a pre-set session)
  • What is the best way to organize your backlog? – Grover Trunell
  • Scrum Anonymous – Steve Fram
  • Where is QA gone? Regression platform test – Philippe Huert
  • Applying scrum frameork  to solutions that aren't software exclusive – Anon
  • Scrum Must Die! – Tobias Meyer
  • How do you manage managers that are die-hard micromanagers? – Alfred Kauser
  • Need feedback on design visions for releases – Raffi
  • What are right sized user stories? – anon
  • Beyond open space: what else can we do to innovate scrum gathering formats? – Krishan
  • Virtual online scrum training and conferences – Dan Greening
  • Wht is a certified scrum coach? – Roger Brown
  • Creating executable specifications – Warren Elliott
  • Interactive games for teams – Tobias Meyer & Chris Sims
  • How I found Courage as an agile coach – Siraj
  • How to incorporate front end/user interface design into scrum planning – Michelle J
  • Anti-PMI – Anon
  • Is the burden of technical debt dragging you down? – Philippe Kruchten
  • How do you handle daily scrums when daily attendance isn't realistic? – Ram Bhat
  • Effective approaches to sizing work across projects – Luis Morgas
  • Sprint Artifcats – Denise Richards
  • Secret Scrum (when the customers don't know) – Jody
  • How can you capitalize software development costs with scrum? – Jason
  • Sprint reviews: who are they really for? – Bob Schnitz
  • Scrum and HR/Organizing for Scrum – Marites & Mikael Boman
  • How to be a good scrum master? Boris Gloger
  • SW Engineering in the 21st century – Alistair Cockburn
  • Discuss and help improve small companies using scrum and CMNI – Anon
  • Testing (traditional QA/QC) When does it happen? – Anon
  • I want to learn how to tell if my product's enterpise quality within scrum – Ken
  • Product owners: representing a diverse stakeholder community – Lowell
  • Impelenting using comic strips to start tough conversations – Mike Vizdos
  • How to write agile contracts? – Anon
  • Becoming a certified scrum practitioner – Anon
  • Scrum on the boundaries – Michael Madden
  • Backlog granularity and business value – Anon
  • Scrum tools – Jody
  • Use cases vs stories – Luis Morgas
  • Games creation session – Alan Cyment
  • BV engineering – Joe Little
  • Agile analysis (grooming backlogs) – Luis Morgas
  • Meeting others: Let's play werewolf! – Anon

People are tweeting the conference with #scrumgathering, and they're being pretty good about posting their notes on the conference wiki.

That's all, folks! Having a wonderful time, wish you were here!

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Is there such a thing as Agile Project Management? Gosh we hope so…

… because Chris is leading a day-long public workshop on Agile Project Management on March 23rd, at the SD Forum offices in San Jose.

The question, however, is one being hotly debated between Australian PM guru Pat Weaver and assorted commenters on his blog, in a post titled Agile is NOT a Project Management Methodology. Weaver claims that "Agile is not an IT project management methodology any more than choosing to use pre-cast concrete in preference to brickwork is a construction management methodology."

He goes on to say, "What is lacking in most commentary I’ve seen on Agile is any sensible discussion on using Agile within a project environment. The critical changes to scope management, change management, cost management and time management needed to effectively deal with the fluidity of Agile, within the constraints of a project, need discussion."

Ah, good point. This is just the kind of stuff we hope to address in the workshop. How does Agile work in conjunction with project management–and how doesn't it? Weaver actually hints that traditional project management may not be all that compatible with Agile–although in a subsequent post on Managing  Agile Projects he goes into some rather brilliant detail analyzing just how agile and PMBOK can work together, concluding ultimately that they can and do go together quite well: 

…align the PMBOK to an Agile project delivery method and the overarching PM process will enhance the probability of success. Treat an Agile project in the same way as a traditional Waterfall project and the PM processes will guarantee failure!

Intrigued? Read the rest of Pat's writing, then come on out for the class! We promise to elucidate further, and cover all of the finer points of applying project management techniques in an agile environment, including:

  • Estimation
  • Release
  • Prioritization
  • The rhythm of
    iterative development and delivery
  • The flow of
  • Roles and
  • Communication
    on an agile team
  • Empirical
    process control
  • Agile metrics
  • Simple tools for managing agile projects

To register for the class, click here. If you see Chris or me at P-Camp, or SD West this week, hit us up for a flyer.

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