Sandra
By Sandra Clark
Head of Project Management

Learning to tweet at the Agile NZ conference

Two major things happened on the 1st and 2nd of September: I attended the AgileNZ 2015 conference and I learned to tweet.

The second part may sound ridiculous, but it was a big hurdle for me. I am surrounded by fabulous tech people who tweet beautifully and prolifically. I couldn’t tweet to save myself, so I saw the Agile Conference as a perfect opportunity to face my fear and learn. I received great advice from Cara Hill - follow the conference Twitter account and hashtag, retweet and build up to your own tweets - and I followed this advice to the letter.

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So what makes a good conference? Is it the venue, the food, the coffee cart, the people, the speakers? You could arguably say all or none of these things if you don’t come away having learnt something. Luckily for me, this was a good conference for all of the right reasons. I leant something tangible that I could bring back to my team. “Float a trial balloon”.

The opening to the conference was an attention grabber; I knew we were in for something special.

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Edwin Dando introduced the conference theme: “Agile Transformation”. Our mantra became “people not process”. Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd (Agile Coaching Institute) delivered an inspiring opening keynote, “What it would take to have an Agile Enterprise”. A very slick presentation on organisation value cultures (or altitudes) and quadrants (I, We, It, Its). I thought it was disappointing though that less than 10% of enterprises worldwide have reached the desired altitude of Adaptive Agile (teal). Michael has a new book coming out soon, Coaching the Agile Enterprise, which goes into this in more detail if you are interested.

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A favourite session of mine was “Visual Facilitation” by Lynne Cazaly (Twitter). I liked her first instruction: stop tweeting and start doodling. We were each given a notepad, pen and a drawing lesson - we were off to a good start. Lynne asked us all an oft repeated Dr Phil question: “how much fun are you to live (work) with?” Followed up with, “what type of communicator are you?” Do you cause bleeding ears syndrome, do you drone on like War and Peace , are you a train wreck or do you bring sweet clarity to a meeting? “Some people brighten up the room by leaving it” - no-one wants to be this person! So how do we become better, leaner communicators; the sense-makers? By drawing, of course! Encouraging more doodling, more visual interaction. Visual facilitation is a key part of many Agile practices, it improves communication within teams, deepens engagement, and increases retention. This was a great session with many useful takeaways.

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More good advice followed from Anthony Boobier of Nomad8 on “Breaking Bad” (news that is). Bad news is always hard to deliver to a client, but what if it is ‘news’ or ‘feedback’ and what if it is delivered by the team, not just you? Suddenly it’s not so hard or scary after all. It’s all about context. If we are constrained by reports, documentation and expectations, and if the news is a surprise, then yes, bad news can be hard to give and receive. Sprint reviews are a perfect forum to give feedback, user stories enable us to show measures to support our feedback; “no one ever shouts at the board”.

Sometimes though, things do go bad, so it’s important to face reality and own up to a mistake rather than reinterpret reality to fit the plan.

By creating a safe environment for feedback within your team it will make it easier to own up to a fail. I like the idea of a Fail Wall, celebrating our failures in the same way we celebrate our successes. If there is transparency and acceptance of this it will create a culture of constant learning. A wise woman told me once, “fail forward fast”.

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Erwin van der Koogh shared with us his “7 Habits of Highly Effective Organisations”:

  • Trust people
  • Embrace failure
  • Be brutally honest
  • Create autonomy at all levels
  • Think big, stay small
  • Simplify all things
  • Relentless customer flow

How do you score?

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Dipesh Pala’s session could have mistaken for relationship counselling. Surprisingly a relationship breakup and breaking up user stories have quite a few things in common: they are both risky, have dependencies, are complex and expensive, and we may lack confidence as to how or when to do it. Hmmmm. And like leaving a bad relationship, Dipesh encouraged us to think about breaking up user stories as an opportunity, not a risk. Thanks Dipesh, great advice!

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I’m not going to comment on all of the sessions I went to (you can check my Twitter account for that); in summary: it was a great two days, I got to hear some inspiring talks, I met some great people, I learnt some new stuff and I overcame my fear of tweeting.

Tweeting stats: 11 tweets + 10 retweets = overall doubled my tweeting history. Victory!

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