Olaf Lewitz


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White Nights in Trondheim

Written by Olaf Lewitz on 6/22/2010 2:34:00 PM

The beautiful city of Trondheim, Norway, June 4th, 2010 at 2am. This is how dark it gets there at this time of the year:

Since Trondheim is quite near the polar circle (500 km north of Oslo, on roughly the same latitude as Reykjavík), it does not get dark in June. It is very funny what these white nights do to your body, if you are not used to them: you need much less sleep than normally. Combined with all the impressions and inspirations of hundreds of people at a global agile conference...

Do you remember my Scrum ball? He's grown a bit since I took him to the Scrum Gathering last October, and now he's even more full of signatures. Last week I took him to Trondheim for the XP2010 International Conference on Agile Software Development. Since he's not as childish any more as he was last year, I could leave him in my room for most of the time. I had other social objects with me and didn't need to depend on this one to inspire conversations.

The rugby ball was not the only connection between my trip to Trondheim and the ScrumGathering in Munich last year. In Munich, I had met Mike Sutton and discovered we had a shared interest in the topic of diversity in groups. I was especially interested in ways to explore the diversity of a team to actively enlarge the solution space for any challenge the team has to face. If you're interested in the science behind this, visit Scott Page's
diversity page for more information or view the video of the Keynote he gave in Trondheim.

Mike and I decided to share and expand our knowledge of diversity exploration, had a few nightly chats on Skype — I distinctly remember a night where I sat in a hotel room in Vienna and he was in a B&B in Bath — and developed the plan to run a session at an Agile conference. Which we now did — but that session was only due on Friday. I arrived in Trondheim on Tuesday afternoon, so there's a little time to cover...

I spent Wednesday morning working together with a few other agile coaches to prepare a StrategicPlay workshop for their client, which I'll be facilitating at the end of the month. A Scrum training for 40 people will be held to boost an Agile transition of a multi-national software engineering group. My job is to open the participants' minds for the training. This is a challenging chance, I look forward to it very much and preparing the training was very inspirational.

In the afternoon there were sessions on Lean/Kanban, Code Quality, User Experience and a bunch of other interesting topics. In the evening, we all went to the Trondheim Student Society for a conference banquet, where Bjørn Alterhaug and John Pål Inderberg gave an awesome Jazz performance and funny insights on Jazz. What impressed me most where the seven characteristices of Jazz Improvisation:

  1. Provocative Competence Interrupting Habit Patterns
  2. Embracing Errors as a Source of Learning
  3. Minimum Structures that allow Maximum Flexibility
  4. Distributed Task: Continual Negotiation toward Dynamic Synchronisation
  5. Reliance of Retrospective Sense Making as Form
  6. Hanging out: Membership in Communities of Practice
  7. Alternating between Soloing and Supporting

These characteristics sound familiar to any agile developer. It seems that to be a good jazz improviser you need similar social skills as you do as an agile developer. Later, Bjørn and John showed us improvisation with an example. They put up this sheet of music:

First, they played the notes as written, and then they improvised based on the tune and the chords so we all could see the huge difference: a new piece of music emerged from their improvisation as we were listening. For further reading on the topic of Agile Jazz, read the excellent blog post by Ingvald Skaug.

After a lovely, typical Norwegian Dinner we went back into the theater room and saw a performance of a Death Metal band. Keep of Kalessin were on the Norwegian shortlist for the Eurovision Song Contest and only just didn't make it into the final: otherwise, it would have been hard for Lena ;-) Just one impression:

On Thursday, David J. Anderson opened with a keynote on Kanban. I'm just reading his new book on the topic and I will do more with it in the future, because it matches very well my approach to organisational change. You'll hear more about this. In the afternoon, I heard a brilliant lightning talk by Deborah Preuss
on Powerful Questions. In coaching, you often need to ask questions. To encourage innovative and creative solutions, some questions are better suited than others. A question leaving only Yes or No as an answer won't lead you far. A powerful question like “What possibilities exist that we haven't even thought of yet?” is more powerful and might lead to more interesting answers.

In the evening, finally the Open Space started. I was looking forward to this, as I don't like the classical conference formats very much, where one does the talking and all the others listen. An Open Space is a self-organised way of finding the right people for the topic you bring in. Everyone can propose a session, which is assigned a time and place and who ever shows up, participates. This sounds chaotic, but leads to the most interesting and unexpected results! I never did an open space of this size before, but it was very good.

I put up a session introducing StrategicPlay. Three people came (the session was at 11pm), which was perfect because I just had three sets of bricks with me. After a short warm-up I challenged them with this (powerful) question: How will you put inspirations of the conference into practice next week in your work life? This is some of what they came up with:

This model depicts a person looking through a wall (there's a transparent brick in the centre of the wall), past all known and unknown obstacles to the land where the grass is greener. The transparent brick symbolises what he wants to take home from the conference, to show his colleages at work how things could be better.

This is a model of communication: On the left we see two sides connecting on three levels. There was some specific model behind this, which I can't recall any more, but as you can easily see for the right model there is no communication possible any more, as the communication channels don't connect at all.

On Friday, Mike and I finally ran our Explore Diversity session. We had about 20 participants, which was cool since on the last day of the conference most people already had left and some sessions only had two or three. The session started with a challenge: “We are a team that can't say No to management. We need to explore our potential to improve on this!” This is the prezi we used to guide the session:

We had people write down ideas privately, to check if there were any new solutions inspired by our diversity exploration. Then in two strolls (sprints would have been to fast) we tackled the problem from two sides: one historical and one metaphorical. First, the participants should think of a situation in their past were they felt courageous, where they first stood up to an authority, be it parent, teacher or what ever. Then we asked them to draw a simple picture of that situation on a big paper canvas on a wall. These pictures were then viewed by the group, questions asked, and each one looked for new solutions to our problem.

Second, we let people think of a metaphor for the problem, like the ship on the top right of the picture, that's threatening a small boat (not in the picture). We let them draw this as well. After that, we collected new solutions to our problem: how to speak up in the next meeting, to present a model ship to the boss, etc. I found the results astonishing!

The last session I attended was a world cafe on the topic: What is an Agile Coach? We had very interesting discussions about this, but that is a topic for another post... I left Trondheim with a mind full of new ideas and a little sadness in my heart: this is such a lovely city, I will have to come back and enjoy the sights! 

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