Agile Open Northwest 2008

Last year we held an open space in Portland at the Kennedy School focused around the theme, “Agile for real.” The response was so positive that we’re picking up the conversation again at the Seattle convention center March 18 and 19. I’m happy to get to renew connections with folks I met last year and excited to meet some new folks and hear their agile experiences. Attendance is limited to 100. Registration is filling fast. We’ve kept the price low ($100) so that even if your company can’t afford to send you, you might still attend. Most who’ve registered so far are from Seattle, but this is a northwest regional conference. So expect a few of us from Portland and elsewhere in the northwest to show up, too. And maybe even some folks from further away. We hope to see you there!

Agile Open Northwest was for real

Last week for two days at the Kennedy School in Portland 100 people discussed agile software development at the Agile Open Northwest conference. Open spaces don’t have a set agenda; instead people propose topics around which they have a passion. That’s the beauty of an open space— the agenda is formed on the spot. We’re talking, not just listening. Conversations and sharing are key. I enjoyed Dale Emery’s session where he led us in reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham and we discussed how to overcome resistence. I learned about the role of games and simulations in training and had fun playing a couple. Thanks Elisabeth! And I felt the pain in a session where we discussed how to sort out differences of opinion on a dev team.

Open spaces aren’t just someone talking and everyone else listening (although some sessions were more one-sided exchanges of information than others). The place was abuzz with conversation. As one of the hosts for the event, I was nervous about whether enough people would show up and whether they’d have enough to talk about for two days. I shouldn’t have worried. People were engaged, excited, rejuvenated, and happy but tired at the end.

Is there a secret sauce that makes an open space work? Probably no one factor is “the secret”, but there seem to be several key ingredients. First, the open space needs to be “open”. People need to be encouraged and empowered to take responsibility to make the conference what they want it to be. There is a structure into which open conversations can be fitted. At the beginning, attendees propose topics and session times which are posted on a big schedule board. People are encouraged to get what they want out of any session. It’s perfectly OK to vote with your feet and leave a session to attend another, or to flit from one to another. It’s OK to sit out and just hang out for a while (I got tired and needed a break on that second afternoon). And throughout the conference new sessions were proposed and times reshuffled.

A good facilitator is invaluable in setting the tone and expectations. Diana Larson, another conference co-host, convened the open space and ran the daily news and closing. She was fabulous. It helps if the open space has a theme or burning question to explore. For us, it was “Agile for real.” Originally, we thought it should be posed as a question. But we left it as a statement that could be interpreted as a challenge— what does it take for agile practices to really work. Get real.

A comfortable location helps. The Kennedy School had a funky charm that is hard to match in a convention center or hotel. Coffee, tea, and bottled water were available throughout the day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included so people didn’t have to break their stride to find nourishment. Finally (and this was really nice), there was wireless and computers were provided so people could record their session notes on the conference wiki or check on email.

While the face-to-face discussions are over, things that came out of the open space continue. The Portland XP group is being revived; an open space is being planned for the bay area; the next generation of testing frameworks is kicking off serious discussions… It may be over, but stay tuned for Agile Open Northwest 2008. This was too good to be a one time event.

Agile Open Northwest

I wanted to let folks know about the upcoming Agile Open Northwest Conference January 30 and 31 at the Kennedy School in Portland, Oregon. As one of the conference co-hosts, I’d like to invite you to come and converse with 100 other eager folks on agile development practices, pitfalls, problems, and challenges.

When we started creating an open space conference last fall, we didn’t know whether any one would show up. Well that’s not been a problem. So far, over 80 have signed up. Space is filling up fast. We’re limited to 100 due to the size and space restrictions at the Kennedy School.

If you aren’t familiar with how an open space works, it may seem like an unstructured event, but in actual fact it is highly structured–only that structuring happens at the conference. During the welcoming/opening of the conference, attendees are invited to post a topic they’d like to discuss. Each one and a half hour session will have the opportunity for several concurrent topics being discussed. Each day the “scheduled set of topics” can be rearranged–when new items are of interest, they get posted on the visible schedule (which is created at the conference).

Given the mix of attendees, I expect quite a range of topics to be discussed, ranging from how to manage distributed teams, to how design fits in, how certain tools support agile development, how testing and q/a fit in, how to effectively engage customers and collect reqts, etc., etc. But this is all speculation on my part because the people who attend will post topics they wish to discuss.

One highlight of our conference will be a Co-Evolution Picnic, co-hosted by the Eclipse Foundation. Ward Cunningham will launch this progressive conversation on the future of tools and methods in a participatory panel format called a “goldfish bowl”.

I look forware to meeting you there!