Lessons Learned from Agile Open California

For two wonderful days at Fort Mason in San Francisco I was amazed, educated, and entertained. I have been a student of Agile for several months, it all started when I read an article by Jesse Fewell inviting PMPs to come help build the new PMI Agile Community of Practice. Since that time, my company has started several Scrum Team pilots and I have attended several Agile/Scrum classes. But Open Space is a format that stands alone. And nothing quite compares to Agile Open California!

Learners make wonderful teachers

It’s easy to think that we need to sit at the feet of an expert to learn… but Agile Open California was full of ordinary people collaborating together and learning from one another. There were no official presenters and no room filled with chairs facing a stage. This conference was an Open Space – where facilitators welcomed us in a circle, reiterating our theme and the guideline for Open Space, beautifully led by Ainsley Nies:

  • Whoever comes is the right person
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • Whenever it’s over, it’s over
  • Be prepared to be surprised

There was a predefined structure of session times and spaces. And people came up to a microphone to announce topics that they would like to host a discussion about, topics like Agile with remote teams, and Agile chartering. The topics were written on sticky-notes attached to a wall next to session times and places. People expressed interest by adding their initials. Soon we had a conference agenda and everyone moved to the space where there was a discussion of interest to them. And we also moved between groups during sessions. It was very freeing to know that it was “OK” to leave a session where I was not giving or receiving value! 

One big “ah ha” for me was realizing that I could learn as much or more from another fellow student – another learner. We each have so much information about topics we are interested in…so when we discuss and pool the knowledge we can discover new ideas and solutions quickly.

Great teams create great value

Last week, at Agile Open California, my perspective on teams shifted center a bit. I started to see that teams are more important than I was willing to realize. People want to engage, to build teams that learn and build trust, teams that know and help one another.  Hmmm, so it doesn’t usually work out that well just to shuffle team members around.  And once a team has achieved success, now I am learning that  ideally I can ask – what else can this team create or solve next. 

Teams that are performing well achieve something called Group Coherence, which is defined by Joanna Zweig as “the shared energetic state reached by a group of people that allows them to perform one or more tasks in perfect rhythm and harmony with great energy to overcome obstacles.”

As PMP’s we can help teams by enabling some of the ingredients that nurture group coherence, as described in this article http://www.agilejournal.com/articles/17-articles/893-group-coherence-for-project-teams-a-search-for-hyper-productivity

A type of team we learn about in Agile settings is called a Scrum team. Several good resources to learn about Scrum are here http://agile-pm.pbworks.com/2-Practices-and-Methods .  At #AOCA we learned and practiced many games that demonstrated the value of both Scrum and Agile.

What’s next?

Agile is a framework, a set of 4 values and 12 principals described here http://agilemanifesto.org/ . In the PMI Agile Community of Practice http://agile.community.pmi.org  we are opening a dialog about how to map Agile to PMBOK and beyond. As Project and Program Managers we are called to take a leadership role in bringing Agile ideas into our companies because in order to get things done, on time, we know that change is needed. It’s time to embrace Agile creatively, to pilot new ways of working that will deliver more value sooner and with less effort.  Join us!


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