I want to start by saying that Agile 2011 is a wonderful conference.
It wasn't since the heydays of the dot-com, when I was living in San Francisco in the late 90s, that I attended a conference that was so well-organized, so full of contents and with such large an audience as this one.
I highly recommend it to anyone who was uncertain on whether they should attend it or not.
People, people, people.
As my specific area of interest in Agile, aside from the mechanics, is the role and business relevance of human dynamics, I was pleasantly surprised by how much emphasis Agile 2011 has put on this topic.
Here are the highlights, according to my personal taste (and please keep in mind that I've seen just a small part of this content-packed conference)..
"Why care about positive emotions" - Opening Keynote by dr. Barbara Fredrickson
I was pleasantly impressed by the fact that an international IT conference, sporting 1600+ attendees, chose emotions as the subject of its opening keynote.
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson is a psychologist renowned for her work on the role of positive emotions as a transformation agent in people's personal and professional lives.
In her talk she supported this claim with scientific data about the neurological effects of positive emotions.
From the keynote description: "Dr. Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues have found that positive emotions literally change the way the human brain works, widening people’s perspectives, and their outlooks on life. According to Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, this shift in mindset drives people to discover and build new traits, skills, and resources, and over time become better versions of themselves."
Whart I pariticularly liked about her work is that she openly ruled out the concept of "positive thinking", that is putting on a fake smile on a negative emotion, and rather suggested to create a mindset for positivity by:
- being open
- being appreciative
- being curious
- being kind
- being real
Also, I liked the fact that she explicitly mentioned meditation – a specific and ancient kind of meditation called "loving kindness meditation" or just "kindness meditation" – as a way to increase the benefits of positive emotions.
If you are interested in learning more about this meditation, I would suggest the book "The Tibetan Book of Yoga: Ancient Buddhist Teachings on the Philosophy and Practice of Yoga", by Geshe Michael Roach, for a western-oriented introduction to this technique.
To learn more about the work of Barbara Fredrickson, check out her book "Positivity".
"An introduction to Non-violent communication (NVC) for Agile coaches" by David Chilcott
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a conflict-management approach developed by Marshall Rosenberg and it's one the of tools that I have in my coaching toolbox.
NVC is based on an empathic, judgement-free understanding of others, while at the same time maintaining our own centering.
It also includes being able to express our own needs openly, free of feelings such as shame or blame, and being in contact with our emotions and real needs.
Then again, I was pleased that such topic was presented at an Agile software development conference.
If you wish to learn more about NVC, I'd like to refer you to the book "Nonviolent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg and also to his institute "The Center for Nonviolent Communication" for more information.
"Refactor your wetware" by Andy Hunt
Although I didn't personally attend this workshop, I heard very good comments about it (surprise, surprise!).
In his book and in the session, Andy talks about bits of cognitive science, neuroscience, learning and behavioral theory.
In the book he also covers the topic of focus and, guess what, he too talks about meditation!
In short, that's another recommended reading for you.
"Facilitation & Communication in Agile Teams" by Michelle Sliger
Finally, I'd like to mention this session by Michelle Sliger.
Although it was part of the bootcamp and, therefore, at a somewhat introductory level, Michelle managed to convey the importance of self-organization vs. micromanagement, as well as of communication and facilitation in Agile teams.
We surely had fun with the exercises but, most of all, I was pleased to see that these people-related skills are now considered as some of the basics for healthy Agile teams, skills that are as important as the technical ones.
About my own session
For being my first time at the Agile conference, I would say that my session went well, although I must also say that I did better on other occasions.
I was caught off-guard by the level of active participation from the audience, as well as from their proficiency and interest in the subject; in short, a very good and very challenging crowd.
People started asking many questions mid-talk and I decided that, rather than following the plan, I would make myself available to address the specific issues that people brought up (of course, when those could be of general interest).
The time I had planned for the talk was already packed with information and exercises, so sixty minutes turned out to be really not enough to also take on so many questions.
I had to rush it at the end and I had to leave out one or two points but, by answering questions, I covered more than I originally planned for.
Well, next time I'll know better about the Agile conference and its audience!
Finally, I would like to thank all the people who attended and those who provided me with valuable feedback on how to make this talk even better.
And a big "thank you!" to Jenni Jepsen from goAgile.dk, who was so kind to play around with me in demonstrating some of the concepts and exercises.