Per Aspera Ad Astra – Agile 2015 Review

After a couple of weeks of much needed vacation, I am finally getting around to capturing my experience at Agile 2015! In a few words it was motivational, energetic, and I felt at home (my tribe). I am still riding my Agile <Insert Year> High and not looking forward to what some refer to as the “Agile <Insert Year> Hangover.” This is when you experience the high of the conference and all the energy and great sessions but then go back to work and face the realities that come with the work that we do. I can see this happening but have a more optimistic view because I have become more patient in my wise old age while assisting transformations.

Yahoo - Ad Astra Per Aspera

I think this hangover can be partly cured by thinking of the latin phrase, “Per Aspera Ad Astra.” The folks at Yahoo gave a fantastic summary of their Agile journey during their session, “Pulling an Elephant out of a Tarpit” at the conference. They rallied around this phrase throughout their transformation. It means, “Through Hardships to the Stars!” I think this helps one to stay grounded and aware that there will be hardships and challenges but one can come back to focus on the journey leading to the stars.

I felt like every session I went to there was something that clicked within me and/or I had something to take home and apply. As I entered each day I would look over the sessions and really struggled with picking just one. Most of the time I wish I could have been at 4 sessions at once. Below are my top 5 sessions and some of the ideas that resonated with me.

Top 5 Agile 2015 Sessions for Me:

  • Pulling an Elephant Out of a Tarpit” by Stas Zvinyatskovsky (@staszv) and Ed Kraay (@ekraay) – Stas and Ed from Yahoo told a great story about the hardships they faced through multiple attempts at agility. They believe they are now on the right path and shared their lessons learned. One of the messages I took away was that a transformation doesn’t happen over night and each organization is unique. They state they are now, “shipping WAY MORE FREQUENTLY, with WAY LESS COST, with HIGHER QUALITY, and HAVING WAY MORE FUN!” The following are some statements that resonated with me:
    • A crisis can really help a transformation occur quickly.
    • Involve everyone.
    • Be open to experimentation.
    • Break down silos and roles.
    • It is okay to fail just make sure failing isn’t fatal.
    • Make things simple, they were big on “Bringing Simple Back.” Decouple, wherever possible.
    • Embrace continuous delivery. Make releasing easy and do it often.
    • Don’t forget to retrospect and do something with the items that come out of the retro.
Yahoo - Pulling Elephant out of a Tarpit

Pulling an Elephant (Yahoo) out of a Tarpit!

  • Your Stories are Too Big! by Chris Sims (@ChrisSims) – Chris gave a great presentation on techniques he has used successfully with teams to break stories into small slivers of business value. I loved Chris’ comment, “I want to get teams addicted to DONE!” To help this he suggests getting teams to complete 4-6 stories a week. How do you do that? Use many of the methods in his presentation to break down a story into its smallest business value sliver. He has four techniques: Conjunctions & Connector Words, Generic Words, Acceptance Criteria, Timeline Analysis.
  • Three Things You Need to Know to Transform Any Size Organization into an Agile Enterprise by Mike Cottmeyer (@mcottmeyer) – Backlog. Teams. Working Tested Software. This was the drum that Mike beat throughout his presentation and it was great! He easily commanded the attention of the 300-400 attendees. He explained why each of these three things is important, what they look like at scale, what gets in the way, what needs to change and his theory on transformation. Finally he walked through different phases of an agile transformation (see animation below) starting with rebuilding trust by stabilizing the system. For more context see his slides linked above.
Phases of Transformation by LeadingAgile

Phases of Transformation

  • How Managers can Nurture Teams to Thrive by Selena Deleoise (@SelenaDelesie) – This talk was a nice mix of bringing our own experience to what good and bad managers do and Selena’s vast experience. She gave three all star leadership practices to help enable agile teams to thrive. Those were 1) Growing a Healthy Environment, 2) Servant Leadership, 3) Coaching. Along with the details of each of the practices (see linked brief above), my major takeaway was using the Satir Change Model during coaching engagements at all levels (i.e. individual, team, organization) to better set expectations. In an offline conversation with Selena, she thinks a good coach should significantly reduce the time in the trough of the Satir Change Model. This is the time between Resistance and Integration.
satir change model

Satir Change Model

  • Individuals, Interactions and Improvisation by Jessie Shternhus (@TheImprovEffect) – 2000 folks attended this and Jessie did a phenomenal job holding the room. The energy in the room during this keynote was amazing. She had us run through some fun exercises that you could take back and use immediately. It was also nice to get to know my table mates during the session while we ran through these exercises. The failure high five was one of my favorites. It is pretty simple, explain a recent failure to someone (can be a complete stranger) and then high five about it. She also drew some great parallels between the Improv manifesto and Agile Manifesto. They are very similar and now I want to join an Improv class to hone my coaching skills. Below is the screen shot of the similarities.
Similarities of Agile and Improv Manifesto

Similarities of Agile and Improv Manifesto

Here are some more sessions that were memorable:

The folks at Yahoo really summed up Agile 2015 nicely for me. Their saying of Per Astera Ad Astra drove home the message to not give up, amazing things happen after hardships. It has provided me a new found level of motivation to help individuals, teams and organizations move towards, what I believe, to be a more humanizing and rewarding way to work!

The energy of the conference was amazing! It felt great to connect with so many passionate people that I feel are trying to help the working world become a better place. I can’t wait for the next conference!

If you went, what were some of the major takeaway’s you had?

Until the next one, Per Astera Ad Astra!

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