Zsolt Fabók

Practical ideas on kanban, lean, scrum, xp, java, programming…

ALE2011

in story

ALE2011 was the first unconference I’ve ever attended, and I’m glad I did. It took me some time, though, until I managed to write a post about it. In my first version, I wrote about every session I participated in, because people were asking me to do it. They wanted a summary, but somehow that didn’t feel right. Then I got a brilliant idea: I would write about what went wrong there. There are several positive blog posts, so why not write a negative one? Let’s be the devil’s advocate! This didn’t feel right either, because I got so much energy and many good ideas from ALE2011. So I ended up with this version, which is a little bit of both.

The Atmosphere

Maybe it was during my first yoga class when Mukesh, our yoga teacher told us something very important. I can’t remember the exact quotation, but it went something like this: If you want to be successful at anything you are about to do, you need to surround yourself with inspiring, motivating and passionate people. If your environment isn’t inspiring, motivating and passionate, then find a new environment. Otherwise, you’ll stay in the very same state you are in now. This is exactly what ALE2011 was for me: an inspiring, motivating and passionate atmosphere. Unfortunately, my current environment isn’t inspiring or motivating and there definitely hasn’t been any passion for a while, but thanks to ALE2011, I feel recharged.

Focus on the Community

There was an other conference I really wanted to attend to. I checked their website on a daily basis, even submitted some abstracts. I believed that the conference was about the community - at least it was advertised as a community centric event. As time went on, I realized that I was wrong and the event wasn’t about the community, it was about ego and money. The conference had an open review process so that I could check the submitted abstracts, but even before the submission had been closed, newer and newer invited speakers appeared on the agenda, plus the organisers had their own slots. Nice. Before the submission closed, almost 65% of the slots were sold out and the rest of the places were distributed among other experts and large companies. Additionally, the entry fee was set too high even for Western European standards. Claiming that this was a community centric event was false advertisement.

After this bad experience, I was a bit skeptical about ALE2011 at the beginning, but everything changed after the first day. Hats off to the organisers. I have no idea how you did it, but the event was about us, not about you and not about the money: programs for spouses and kids, lightning talks for wannabes, dinner with strangers, invisible sponsors, and a hug for those who needed one.

Effort and Practicality

This was the first time I’ve seen a 102 in a conference. Usually, talks are 101 - introduction to a certain field -, and if you are interested in 102, you have to hire a speaker or google a lot to find out more. A 102 presentation most certainly requires more effort from the speaker, and most of the speakers put this effort into their talks. For example, Claudio Perrone spent one month with his presentation, because he drew all his slides himself. Gaetano Mazzanti has been collecting metrics for a year, Stephen Parry definitely put a huge effort into his Lean thinking talk, and Angel Medinilla was so passionate about that stopping doing estimation that I believed him and stopped doing it. Last but not least, there is no way that Chris Matts improvised his humorous talk about feature injection. And the list goes on. Plus, all these talks were pragmatical! I’m using the ideas from these talks every day since the unconference. Thank you folks!

Being in the Agile Ghetto

You may have noticed that I’m talking mostly about talks and speakers from the Lean or Kanban world. The reason is quite simple: every discussion about Agile turned into an Agile transition and Scrum discussion, even the open space about beyond budgeting! I understand that this topic is very important, but Agile isn’t just about Scrum and transition. Instead of Scrum, I would rather have talked about DSDM, XP, Crystal, or any renegade Agile practice.

We had a huge retrospective - imagine a retrospective with more than two hundred people - starting with Ken Power’s brilliant and funny rain dance. One outcome of this retrospective was that we should invite more programmers (remember Kurt Haesler’s great lightning talk about programmers) and managers to the event, because we are in an Agile Ghetto: we all know what Agile is about, but they need to know it as well. Unfortunately, we built this Ghetto, and we created an artificial gap between management and teams, so it would be great not to do it next time. Do you remember the heated discussion after Rachel Davis’ keynote, where she said that Agile would never work in an enterprise environment? We spent a lot of time talking about this, while I think Rachel wanted to talk about the future of Agile

My Lessons

I learnt a lot. The first thing I learnt is that I suck at participating in an open space discussion. I have to learn it somehow. I remember sitting at a discussion where Jurgen Appelo was collecting practical ideas for managers. Everybody was talking for minutes, while I could only say one sentence which took about 10 seconds. Well done, Zsolt.

By the way, Jurgen Appelo. My friends don’t like him. I tried to find out why, but they weren’t able to give a good explanation, so I had to see him for myself. It turns out there is nothing wrong with him and actually he is a nice and clever guy with a bit strange attitude. He said a very important thing during his lightning talk: ”I read”. After checking my notes, I realized that everybody who is successful in this business reads a lot! I don’t know how they do it, especially Jurgen. I think they found a way to make a single day 36 hours long. So, second lesson: read more, or build a time machine.

Finally, but not least, Claudio Perrone’s talk was so inspiring that I decided I’m going to learn how to draw, and Mike Sutton helped me realize that our local event could use some refactoring, so this will be next thing I’m going to do. It won’t be an ALE signature event, because the unconference is unique, and so is our event. I’ll leave the franchise business to the Scrum folks.

Closing Thoughts

Olaf and his team put the bar really high. They put it high for the other [un]conferences and for the next ALE event as well. It was great, thank you again, and see you next year.

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