After the last edition of ALE conference, we were looking forward to joining it again this year.

ALE is an event dedicated to people interested in Agile practices, but trust us – it’s not an ordinary conference. ALE is all about co-creation and this year we had a chance to experience it fully. The agenda was quite simple – it just didn’t exist. At first it was quite confusing and we felt a little bit disappointed, but after some time we saw the value in sessions designed on the spot and engaging with people who really had something to share.

All three days of the conference (or rather, “unconference”) were filled with open space sessions, lightning talks and lots of casual conversations. This year’s conference gathered about a hundred participants (which was significantly less than last year in Sofia, Bulgaria but more than enough to have a mix of different personalities, experiences and insights) who brought up dozens of interesting topics. So, here are a few we captured.

Liberating Structures

Teams work better if each member is engaged in what they do. Unfortunately, sometimes they may be under-engaged.
Liberating structures, presented by Sylvia Taylor, is a set of 35 tools that can be used in various situations to help solve this problem.

Imagine a large meeting, where some of the people feel disengaged because they feel they don’t have enough influence or confidence to speak out. You can use the 1-2-4-ALL method to get everybody’s thoughts on a topic. First, everyone’s presented with a topic. Then they form pairs and share their thoughts with each other. Once that’s done, pairs join into larger groups (of 4 people) and again, everyone shares their thoughts. Finally, each group prepares a summary of the most important thoughts they’ve heard and share it with the whole group. This way, nobody feels left out. Also, there’s no way to avoid participation, as everyone’s opinions are required.

Another suggestion is discussing topics that are not obvious. Imagine asking a group “How do we increase engagement in our team?”. It may not be treated seriously and you may get only obvious answers.
Now, let’s try answering an inverted question; ”How can we make the team less engaged?”.
It instantly adds more fun to the problem and you’ll get a whole bunch of creative answers. Then, all you need to do is to use the answers generated to work backwards to come up with effective solutions.

Agile Coaching Canvas

On the last day of the ALE, Alexey Krivitsky had a session on the tool he created and uses in his practice. Alexey presented us with Agile Coaching Canvas – a tool that can help Agile coaches, Scrum Masters and team leaders to find out what the current challenges, pain-points and areas for improvement in the teams are. Once that’s done, it helps to identify and focus on what really matters.

During the session we were asked to rate our projects on the scales mentioned in the canvas: Business and Customer Involvement, Teamwork and Team Health, Organizational Evolution and Maturity & Engineering and Release Process. To make it easier, all categories had four questions to help us reflect deeply on the topic. That’s the “Navigating” part of the tool. Once that was done, we were asked to imagine what our project would look like in one year. It was all about dreaming, and dreaming big! There were no constraints and we were encouraged to imagine all the things that might go better and smoother – that was the “Visioning” part, a pure coaching activity. During the session we didn’t have a chance to cover the last part – “Detailing,” that focuses on creating action points and a structured plan. I suspect most of us left the session with a desire to finish the canvas for ourselves.

Thanks to Alexey, Agile Coaching Canvas operates on a Creative Commons license so you can get all of the materials here. And you should!

Industry Buzz

A few hot topics kept appearing over and over again. There was the regular “agile coaching” stuff – how to be a good agile coach and how to deal with problems. Multiple open spaces and conversations also touched on the closely related topic of agile transformations.

An interesting topic that was creating buzz was Clean Language.
It’s a technique with quite a long history (exists since ‘97), used both in therapy and coaching. The main idea behind it is to ask questions that don’t influence whoever you are communicating with (your colleague or mentee), which means following their symbols and language. This way you let the coached person stay in their world when reflecting on things.

Also, there was a workshop by Allan Rennebo Jepsen, that generated a lot of conversations afterwards. Mob Programming is an extended version of pair programming – the whole team (not only a pair) sits down together to solve a programming problem. There’s a “driver”, whose sole job is to type what the team tells them to type. And then there’s the rest of the team whose job is to agree on the exact code that’s going to be written.
The thought-provoking observation here is that doing Mob Programming is an extremely easy way to figure out what’s dysfunctional in the team. If there’s an authoritarian leader, you’ll see it. If there’s a conflict inside the team, you’ll see that too.

Summary

We’re looking forward for the next year’s ALE and in the meantime we have a few inspirations to turn into action.

We somehow missed the Clean Language workshop, though it seems like an interesting topic to dive deeper into. It appears as though the concept already exists in the IT world (eg. as ubiquitous language defined by domain expert in Domain Driven Design), but understanding it on a deeper level could benefit us with both consulting work as well as when dealing with teams internally.

The other must-do is Mob Programming. We’re always curious how our teams work together. Recently in u2i we’ve been playing with The Empathy Toy by Twenty One Toys to see how we communicate. Mob Programming seems to be another fantastic tool to utilize, so we’ll definitely give it a try.

Speaking of The Empathy Toy, Kasia Ryniak delivered a short session on how we can use a tool primarily designed for the classrooms in the IT world.

Once again, thank you for the wonderful time together and see you next year!

Rafał & Kasia