This week I am at the Agile 2017 Conference in Orlando, FL. Each year around 2,500 agile practitioners, speakers, vendors and people just curious about agile gather to share ideas, acquire skills, and see what’s new in the agile world. An element of the conference I love is the sheer diversity of the sessions.
Here are a couple of my favorite sessions so far:
- First, the opening keynote by Former Nuclear Submarine Commander, David Marquet who gave an entertaining, and idea-packed account of how he helped turn the worst performing submarine crew into the best in US Naval history by moving decision making powers downwards.
His story is also documented in his book “Turn this Ship Around” and recounts how he stumbled upon the power of self-directed teams after he had trained extensively to take over the command of his first submarine only to be switched to a totally different type of submarine at the last minute. Now, faced with not knowing all the answers, or even what half-the buttons on the bridge did, he was forced to defer to his subordinates.
What separated his actions from others without all the answers was his encouragement and ability to spread this deferral of power to the people performing the work that led to improved moral and better performance. It was a fun presentation that told an important lesson that not only is it OK to admit when you don’t know something, but also a respect and empathy inducing action.
- On Tuesday morning, I attended an unusual session called “Art for Agilists – A Visual Thinking Warmup” by Alexandra West. Alex is a creative director for TV and former art curator with a background in art history not agile or IT. I was hoping for some ideas on how to better illustrate project concepts since I am a visual thinker and tend to picture things in my mind before I begin to describe them. Therefore, any new ways to depict ideas are always welcome. However, what the session was really about was quite different but no less useful.
It was an introduction to Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) which is a technique used by organizations such as the C.I.A. and Harvard Medical School to improve creative thinking skills and team building through a carefully facilitated discussion of art. Alex projected images of art onto the screen and asked us the question “What’s going on in this picture?” people would call out what they could see and offer suggestions about what they thought was happening in the picture. More observations were called out and occasionally Alex would ask “What do you see that makes you say that?” or “What more can we find?” to prompt new suggestions. She would acknowledge people’s ideas and paraphrase their responses, remaining open to any ideas and linking thoughts together.
We all had a great time chatting about the images and I was waiting for the big reveal, to be told what the images really meant, but it never came. Our experience was the VTS process in action, there are no right or wrong interpretations of the pictures. The whole point is to become comfortable with ambiguity as group and accept the diversity of opinions non-judge mentally. These are all critical skills for building effective teams and VTS is a great technique to do before a review activity like a retrospective where we hope to draw out diverse views in a non-judgemental manner.
Sessions like these are why I love the Agile 2017 Conference. You can go from gaining new stories to back up already know principles to discovering new techniques to add to your repertoire. The conference still has 3 more days and I will bring up another update later in the week. #agile2017
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