More Letters from Camp – Between Hogworts and the Holodeck: Agile 2013

Once in a while, if you are very lucky, you get a gigantic dose of brain candy. That was my experience at Agile 2013,  a five-day gathering of smart and thoughtful individuals working to find new ways to work, particularly in the realm of software development.

This was an enormous conference, twice as large as anything I’d been to and twice as long. There were more than 1,700 people registered for five days of non-stop idea sharing. In every time slot, there were over a dozen sessions to choose from. That didn’t count the unscheduled ‘open jam’ sessions and lively discussions during the breaks.

GaylordNashville2And don’t forget the parties. We were, after all, in Nashville. Music City. Honky Tonk Heaven.

It took place in a hotel that could pass for an amusement park. The Gaylord Opryland Conference Center is a massive biodome-like structure with islands, rivers, jungles and other distractions. Rooms are in at least five distinct buildings connected by meandering paths on several levels. It’s one thing to be lost in a new city. But to be lost in your own hotel? Every five minutes? Our hotel map would prove to be as important as our room keys.

This could have been a ticket to overwhelm. Instead, it was a most exquisite learning experience. Inspired by the Agile Manifesto, this is a community that spends its days promoting collaboration, pairing discipline with creativity, trying to create more people-centric work situations, and learning.

So what did I take away from this adventure that might be useful for readers of this blog? (more…)

Yes, it’s OK to say “NO!”

How to prevent the over-commitment that leads to overwhelm

This article first appeared in our newsletter in 2003. Still true!

Thought balloon NO

“No!”

It’s a small yet powerful word, one with big consequences. It’s a word that can improve our lives and make us more valuable to those we say it to – those we want to help in this world.

At the end of a week in which I – and the feelings I was experiencing – seemed to be on a non-stop rush from appointment to commitment to obligation to ordeal, I stopped to reflect on what was making me feel so beleaguered.

I examined my “To Do” list, and highlighted the things I really wanted to do. Almost all the highlighted items had fallen (or were they pushed?) to the bottom of the page. Activities that were important to me had, for months, languished, ignored and forgotten, beneath activities that other people wanted me to do. Ouch!

It had something to do with my reluctance to use the word “No.” A little reading and a lot of reflection showed me:

  • That NO is not a dirty word
  • How to say NO without feeling guilty
  • And why saying NO increases the value of the things we say YES to.

How does it happen?

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Lean Conversations 1: Can good communication reduce waste?

Lean Principles I’m getting lean. Alas, this is not about my body. It’s something I’ll call “lean communication.” I’m not about to preach on short sentences and plain words, though that can be part of it. I’m convinced that good communication reduces waste.

In manufacturing, the concept of “lean” describes practices that use fewer resources to provide greater value to customers. Anything customers don’t value enough to pay for is considered “waste,” something to eliminate. Lean practices originated in manufacturing in the 1940s, when Taiichi Ohno introduced them at Toyota. Over the years, they’ve been adopted and adapted in many contexts, including lean startups and lean software development.

When I look at the ideas I use with my communication coaching clients, I see a lot of overlap with lean principles, particularly those set out by the Lean Enterprise Institute. I’ve paraphrased them, but you can find the original version here.

1. Establish value from the customer’s perspective

This is my top tip for communication. I never tire of sharing it because it works so well. The audience for any communication might be considered your “customers.” The more you can make your communication about them and their needs, the more likely you are to be listened to, heard and understood. Whether you’re addressing one person or 100, in conversation, in presentations, in broadcast or in writing, you can almost never go wrong if you explain your point from the perspective of your audience. You make people care about your message by answering their question, “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) That’s the value will it have for them. When you talk about anything they don’t value – no matter how much you love it – you waste your time and theirs. (more…)

More Letters from Camp – Video Space Camp

VideoSpaceCampA long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was a television reporter. The radio people, with whom we shared a newsroom, called us “vidiots.” Were we insulted? No way! We wore the title with pride.

As someone in the business of face-to-face communication, I know I should be using video to share ideas. But memories of a world where smart professionals looked after shooting and editiing make me reluctant to wade into the land of do-it-yourself TV. So I was delighted to be invited to Video Space Camp, a full day of learning, brought to us by Vidyard. (It’s an amazing company I think of as “YouTube for real business.”)

There’s no way to capture a full day’s learning in a blog post, but here are the highlights, as seen through my lens. (more…)

Letters from Camp, Year 2 – Agile Coach Camp

AgileCoachCamp2013I have no idea why they call it “camp.” It’s held in summer, there are games and it’s fun. But you’re unlikely to get a sunburn at Agile Coach Camp. And there are no spiders – though we did build a web – literally and metaphorically.

The weekend attracts people whose role is to help introduce new ways of working, primarily in software development. Communication is at the heart of the work of the agile coach as he or she helps teams work in more human-centric ways. Coach camp invites them to bring ideas and questions to discuss with colleagues in a conference framework called “open space.”

The French term for “attend” is “assister.”  At ACC, participants truly do “assist.” We’re not watching a presentation; we’re part of a dialogue.  I am rarely in a situation where so many people are listening carefully to what others are saying. Nor did anyone seem to be trying to impress anyone. (This crowd may be hard to impress.)

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Camping in Open Space – But Not Outdoors

Sue’s Letter from Camp – Part Two

The format for Agile Coach Camp Canada 2012 was Open Space. I’d never been exposed to this type of event  before and, when I looked up how it works, I was doubtful. Self-organizing. Are you kidding me? I wasn’t sure I could handle an event with no agenda. I need structure, certainty, order. Or so I thought.

As it turns out, Open Space is amazing. What needs to be discussed gets discussed by people who need to discuss it.

Here’s how it worked. We had:

  • a good space – a hotel ballroom
  • a theme – introducing agile work practices
  • 80 or so people ready to learn, share, or both (Open Space can work with groups as small as five or as large as 200.)
  • a facilitator to help get things organized (Ellen Grove did a super job.)
  • empty walls, flip charts, tape, stickies, etc.

Unlike a conference where participants fit themselves into sessions and topics determined by conference organizers, participants create sessions on topics they want to learn about. (more…)