Saturday, September 22, 2012

My NYC Agile Day 2012 Observations, or IT is All About Simplicity


On September 20, 2012, Ilio Krumins-Beens and I co-presented at Agile Day NYC. It was a wonderful energizing event with several hundred participants from all over the world masterfully organized by Joe Krebs and the team.  I was excited to meet Harrison Owen, inventor of Open Space, who presented at a self-organization track and also participated in the Open Space next day. I was excited to meet Dave Thomas. I follow Dave on twitter and always enjoy hearing his perspective, whether he talks about lean principles or  suggests to retire object oriented programming. Dave is always mind provoking, never boring. Another topic of interest was a participatory workshop of advanced social games led by Stanley Pollack who uses these games with NYC youth to promote friendship and overcome violence. And of course, it was exciting to present and to hear feedback from the participants.

All the presentations I listened to were outstanding. I attended keynote by David Thomas who spoke about a number of topics he is passionate about: lean, OOO principles, requirement elicitation, customer experience. However, throughout all his speech there was one major thought: seek simplicity, do not try to over-engineer - neither the process, nor the technology. According to Dave, OOP is unnecessarily complex, why can’t you use a flat data file or Atom feed? Why would you try to create a 1000-page requirements document if the users in a neighboring department have already automated functionality using excel spreadsheet? Open your eyes, look around. Be simple. Simplicity is organic. It is natural. That’s what we all should be looking for.

Surprisingly, this was the note of Harrison Owen’s presentation at self-organizing track, too. We, human beings, try to plan and control. We create meetings with long agendas and fail answering questions. What is the natural way for a meeting? Invite those who’d like to contribute, those who are passionate, those who are interested, and if they exist, they will come. Don’t bother bringing in others because they will not add value, they will only demotivate the ones you are actually looking for. Bring in those who WANT to contribute. Don’t answer, ask questions. 

The following day, at Open Space, Douglas from American Express asked Joe Krebs and me a beautiful question: “would they come if …?” Would they do it (whatever it is) if they were not paid for doing it? Would they treat you with such a high respect if you were not their manager? Would they work as hard if they did not expect a reward? 

Eva told me that Ilio’s and mine presentation stood out among others. I was surprised because it was a day of excellent presentations and asked why. The answer was “because you are not professional speakers. Because you speak from your heart and it shows.” Isn’t that the power of simplicity? Talk about something you care about in the way that you feel about it. Nothing more simple that that. Thank you, Eva, for this simple and yet so profound thought.

And finally, at a games session, Stanley Pollack taught us how to unleash the way we feel and not be afraid to show it. After five minutes of the “tossing bag” game where I was blocking the flow of throwing the bags which were falling all around me, Staley and Heang asked us what we felt about the team members. When throwing and catching bags, all I could think of not dropping them, but once asked the right question, I said that I think Marco who threw bags to me paused to let me catch up at the expense of having Maria (who was throwing bags to him) being upset to him for failing to catch, and I found that Marco very thoughtful. In addition, Monica who was getting the bags from me, never showed any disappointment that I started throwing her pairs of bags trying to catch up, and after couple of attempts became very skillful in this role. I liked that she did not show me disapproval nor gave up despite having to get a few bags from the floor. Just a few minutes spent with a group of people I’ve never met before, several brief conversations, couple of games, and there is one thing I know for sure: I want to be on a team with Marco and Monica. No complex interviews, no tests designed by psychologists, just a simple workshop, and in the end, I know who I am compatible with professionally and psychologically. We humans are complex systems, no question, but the way we feel, think, change, self-organize, is actually very simple. Because simplicity is organic for us despite all our attempts to create complex rules and regulations. Same thought again.

When I was leaving the Open Space next day, Mary Pratt told me something that perfectly concluded these two amazing days. She  reminded Ambika and me that Agile evolved from something that was called “lightweight software development methods”. No wonder simplicity was my tune throughout two NYC Agile Days. 

Thank you, Joe, Ilio, Heather, Dave, Mary, Monica, Ambika, Marco, Douglas, Harrison, Stanley, Heang, and many old and new friends that I met at Agile NYC Day and the Open Space. We share interest in Agile, desire to learn, and passion of sharing. What can be more simple than that?

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