Yesterday on Twitter Matt Heusser asked me “@erwilleke can you email me with the story of what you did at the ms ALM summit a few years back? I may need to pull that trick at a conf”. Rather than tweet it or consign it to email, I thought I’d make a post out of it, since it was quite fun
Act 1: The curtain opens on the view from the back row of the seating in the stadium/theater room at the Microsoft Conference center at their Redmond campus. Lights are low, esteemed speakers are doing their thing on stage. It’s about halfway through the morning of day two at the ALM Summit.
The twitterverse explodes the conference #tag with variants of “Enough about Agile, we get it: Use Agile. Now stop telling us to use Agile”. Our hero (me), looking at my talk scheduled for right after lunch, realized it was essentially “Why managers should embrace agile.” Not shaping to be a crowd-pleasing experience. Oh crap, said Eric, then started chatting about it with Chad Albrecht, who was sitting beside me. At some point I asked “Should I just throw out my talk?” and Chad responded with “why not?” (or some paraphrasing of that exchange). I talked to Keith Pleas, the event organizer, and got 2 minutes of time at the end of the pre-lunch talk.
I explained to the room what Twitter had to say and asked “How many of you want to hear me explain why managers should embrace agile?” and got perhaps one hand out of 200+ people. With this, I declared that I would convene my session after lunch in the lunch room, and for people to please stay at their tables and chat until it was tie for the session.
Act 2: Eric is standing at the front of a big room set up in 10-person rounds. The catering team is clearing away the last bits of lunch. The vendor/sponsor slide behind Eric has been replaced with Eric’s freshly minted title slide in black text on white background.
Having thrown together a quick deck explaining the mechanics of the Coaching Dojo I’d recently been exposed to at that year’s Agile conference (Rachel Davies, perhaps?), I introduced the crowd to the idea of an “ALM Dojo” allowing them to bring their challenges to a group of peers facing the same problem, then explore solutions through questioning from their peers. I essentially asked “Who has something around Agile or your current tooling that you’re struggling to improve?” and invited any takers to come up front to the microphone. My goal was 14 “seekers” since there were 14 tables. I got three or four immediately, so I had them start explaining their question to the room, then invited a table that was interested in discussing that challenge to raise their hands. As people showed courage to share their problems, more and more people were willing to share, so I eventually had to cap it. After every table had a seeker, we got started. A few people moved to be at tables discussing things they wanted to pursue, and we spent an hour talking about real world problems in groups of 8-10. Not everybody was engaged all the time, but I got enough of the room that I was quite happy with the results.
Perhaps I’d even put it on a conference program under the title “Free group-based consulting” or some such
Disclaimer: This is a 2+ year old memory. Assume some facts are incorrect, and respect the spirit of it all.