I just got back last week from SFAgile2012 conference where I talked with a group of smart people about eliminating silos in a “whole team” kanban and the power of lean coffee.
As is usually the case when I attend conferences that align with my values; it felt as though I had been transported to the very best parts of my twitter stream. Putting faces to people once known to me only as @OlafLewitz, @MattBarcomb, @LisaCrispin, @JitterTed, @DavidJBland, @Zspencer and @hogfish during the conference and even got to meet @marlenac at the press club monday night and visit with my favorite tester @testobsessed.
I could write about the excellent keynotes:or the sessions where we played with legos to help us learn Cynefin or the fact that some exceptional people like Steve Rogalsky actually changed the content of his late conference sessions to incorporate things he’d learned during the conference.
But instead I’m going to write about why I present at conferences. The answer may come as a surprise but I present at conferences to learn. I’ve yet to discover a better way to learn a subject than to present it to others. There are many examples I could give of brilliant people attending presentations of mine and completely blowing my mind with their contributions. But before that happens I use anxiety to learn from my commitment to present. I have no fear of speaking in public. I have an intense fear of wasting people’s time by yammering about things I don’t understand in front of them. This fear is a big reason I am such a huge fan of open space conferences. Specifically the “rule of 2 feet” which states “If you’re not learning something or teaching something use your ‘two feet’ to leave the session and go elsewhere.” I think conferences, tutorials, open or closed space should have this rule clearly posted on every wall of every conference.
I do not make powerpoint slides and prepare a script to present, I just freak out that I need to make sure I’m as knowledgeable about the subject as I am make myself. I use sticky notes to help anchor my talk and ensure I don’t forget anything critical, but otherwise I’m generally on my own. This seems to work reasonably well when I know what I’m talking about. Consequently there is no better way for me to dive headfirst into a subject than to promise to teach it to a room full of people. My fear of wasting their time will keep me obsessively researching till the minute I walk into the room.
So what did my sessions at SFAgile2012 teach me?
In this case I feel like my talk about removing Silos needs more ideas and to lose the “kanban” label. I am eager to give that talk again about removing silos in organizations regardless of the methodology being used. This is an important subject that deserves attention and not to be obfuscated by attaching it to a given methodology. Silos are harmful to alignment and collaboration regardless of what system is being used to get the work done.
During the three days of SFAgile2012 I hosted a lean coffee every morning at the Blu Cafe at 7AM. On day one we had 10 attendees and as always seems to be the case the level of discussion was first rate. Steve Rogalsky introduced the topic of selling lean to CFOs, Jabe Bloom shared his upcoming talk for GLASSCON and bounced some ideas around how to address 200 government employees about introducing experimentation and lean to their organizations. Jim Benson talked about “Agile in a can” and respect for people. On day 2 we had almost 20 people and day three lots of folks showed up. As is usually the case I wish I had recorded or taken notes to share with those 3 lean coffees.
On Wednesday I presented the power of lean coffee as a session for the conference. I realized too late that while I had prepared an extensive discussion about facilitation patterns, cynefin, and some pitfalls inherent in the process I had missed the most critical aspect of the presentation. I realized that nobody had to teach me how to do lean coffee. The best way to learn lean coffee is to do lean coffee. I decided at that moment that if we had time after the talk we’d break into groups and have lean coffee.
I conversed for nearly 45 minutes about lean coffee wth the group before we split into two lean coffees. During those 2 lean coffees I was reminded of some antipatterns and things I should’ve included in the talk. Ultimately I think the lean coffees were the best part of my session. I bounced between the two lean coffee tables and found it incredibly difficult to observe all the passionate discussion while not diving in myself. My talk was just before the lunch break and each table stayed at their lean coffees well past the end of the session. A sure testament to the power of lean coffee to engage people.
I’ll never again give a 45 minute talk about the things I’ve learned facilitating lean coffee. I’ll present a 15 minute introduction to the process mechanics before breaking into lean coffee groups. After an hour of lean coffee I’ll bring it all back together to discuss facilitation patterns with an audience that has greater understanding and get feedback on those people’s observations of running their own first lean coffee.
During SFAgile2012 I taught myself that silos are a problem many people are interested in solving and that I need to give more thought and research on eliminating them. I also learned what I believe to be the very best way to teach an advanced lean coffee facilitation course. Lean Coffee teaches itself, and once folks have learned from Lean Coffee they’ll benefit greatly from additional facilitation patterns and stories of past challenges.
I learned a ton from the sessions I attended and look forward to writing about them in future posts. I would also like to thank the organizers of SFAgile2012 for the invitation and hope they enjoyed my contribution.
I would also be grateful for any feedback people wanted to give me so I can do a better job on this blog or in future conference sessions.