XP Days Benelux 2010 revisited

Last week I went to XP Days Benelux in Eindhoven (the Netherlands).

I had high expectations which were totally justified. It turned out to be a great conference.
The program was very diverse, with a lot of duo presenters.

The first day started with an intro and some Za Zen meditation exercises. That’s right, all the participants meditated together. Quite surprising, but a great way to get energized.

Then it was time for the half-minute presentations where the speakers of the morning gave a brief summary of their sessions.  A lot of speakers prepared something fun like a play, a humorous talk,… which makes it easier to choose which sessions to attend.

I decided to attend Patrick Debois’ session ‘Devops, why should developers care?’.
He did a good job, using a lot of visuals, talking clearly and answering questions as understandable as possible considering the topic. My limited technical operations experience make it hard to understand certain parts of the talk, but I got the message and that’s what counts.

The next session I attended was ‘Complexity vs Lean’ by Jurgen Appelo.
I’ve been following Jurgen for quite some time and his talks have always been quite amusing. This one was not different.  In front of a packed room, Jurgen challenged Lean by questioning some general principles and explained how complexity science might contradict these.  A joke now and then made the subject a little easier to digest.  Job well done, he always gets me enthusiastic to explore complexity, chaos theory and CAS.  (Look at his expression in this picture, priceless!)

After lunch we got to see another batch of half-minute presentations. I decide to start the afternoon by attending ‘Agile community building – Using StrategicPlay with Lego’ hosted by Yves Hanoulle and Olaf Lewitz.  ‘How the h*ll are we going to create a shared model of the agile community by using Lego bricks?’, I asked myself.
 It surprised me how easy it was to build your personal vision with simple pieces of Lego.  I should have known, visualization is very powerful, and apparently even more when you step away from a 2 dimensional world and do it in 3D.
Yves and Olaf facilitated well and in the end we managed to build one shared model with the entire group. Check out the result in this video.

The last session of the day for me was ‘Story mapping in practice’ by Serge Beaumont and Marco Mulder.
I’ve applied story mapping at several clients but decided that it was time to refresh my knowledge.  The session had a good variety of theory and exercises. They really let us focus on building a walking skeleton first.  “How can your release quickly with a minimal set of features and still deliver the necessary functionality to the end-users?”  So there’s a touch of dimensional planning in it, a strategy I agree with in most cases. One thing I would add is to keep the cost of delay in mind when you’re putting together your minimal set of features.  A feature ‘audit logging’ might not make it in the skeleton if you don’t check out the costs (or regulatory fines) of not implementing it in the first release. To summarize, a smooth session with well facilitated exercises.

In the evening there were drinks and dinner, which gave the opportunity to get to know each other a little better.

Friday morning started again with mediation :-), thanks to Olivier Costa.

Then came the half-minute presentations. This time me and Laurens had to stand in front of the crowd as well, since we were doing our session at 11 o’clock.

I decided to attend the session ‘An introduction to value stream mapping’ by Jef Cumps and Philip Almey, colleagues of mine. 
The session went as I expected, a good mix of theory and practice were we would map the value stream of one of the attendants businesses. Unfortunately, the volunteer’s process was rather hard to follow which made the exercise more difficult than it should have been. Still I believe everybody got the message and were able to start mapping on their own.

Then it was the hour of truth for me and Laurens.  We got our stuff together and set up the room during the break.  I was glad so many people showed up, our room was packed with even some people standing in the back. The session ‘Fostering Continuous Improvement through Retrospectives‘ went smoothly.  We already performed it 3 times, so it was tuned based on previous feedback.  That’s what’s so great about the session, we actually facilitate 2 mini retrospectives in the session, about the session.  So we get a ton of feedback every time we run it which allows us to continuously improve it.  This time was no exception.  We got some great tips, for instance:

  • Drop the Japanese
  • Keep the Japanese 🙂
  • Make the part about Lean shorter
  • Mention that continuous improvement also exists in other area’s than agile and lean.
  • More sample retrospective exercises

Thanks to all participants for helping us to improve it and being so enthusiastic. You can take a look at the slides here.

I started the afternoon with ‘Flirting with your customers’, a session by Jenni Jepsen. The title intrigued me, so I decided to give it a shot. Jenny presented really well, in a relaxing, friendly style. Maybe she was applying it to the attendees as well, we’ll never know. We did some exercises, got to see a 8 step manual, and discussed in group. Fine session, good presenter.

And finally the last session I attended was ‘Team building using Theme Centered Interaction’, simply because the session ‘Agreeing on Business Value with Systems thinking’ of Pascal and Portia was already full. So I may have been a little disappointed when I entered the session. Nevertheless, the session was built around the model of Theme Centered Interaction which was apparently invented by a German Dr. Cohn (no, not Mike Cohn).  We got some theory, and did some exercises, I can’t recall anything else.  The message simply didn’t get through to me.  This is my feedback to the speakers Erik Groeneveld and Thijs Janssen:

  • Explain more about the goal of TCI
  • Keep the exercises shorter (definitely the acquaintance game)
  • Try to use more visual slides instead of bullet points (read Presentation Zen for tips and tricks)
  • Run it again to try out the improvements, the session definitely has got potential

And that was it, 2 great days of learning and knowledge sharing flew by. Congratulations to the organizers and volunteers!
See you next year.

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.

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