J I McFadyen Engineering

Supporting Collaboration

After the volcano

So was Open Volcano 10 a success? Did a new groundbreaking idea emerge during the day? Simply put: yes and no (or at least I didn’t come across one).

Open Space Volcano Edition

There was a real energy about the day that seemed to come from not only the calibre of the speakers stranded in the UK but also the very real passion and enthusiasm of everyone present. Topics were wide-ranging: covering coding, environmental factors learning models and more.I’m sure there’ll be blog posts and tweets appearing on each session and will appear on the blog soon, as such I’d rather focus on what thoughts and ideas I can take away from the conference and how they’ll impact my thinking.

Plain language

Throughout the day I heard acronyms and buzz words used with abandon, meanings were left to the audience to either know or track down. As a profession the IT world is littered with these, but do we really need to talk about the Dreyfus model or NLP*? Can we not talk about levels of competency and conscious use of language? That isn’t to say these things aren’t very relevant and bring great value to what we do, but we are a group of practitioners, not academics; refer back to your source but don’t assume that we’ll immediately know what you are on about.

If we want to bring more people into the agile fold we need to talk their language, not expect them to learn our language and those of half a dozen other fields that we are currently referring to and experimenting with.

What is Agile?

We just had a whole conference about Agile, but each person you talked to seemed to differ in opinion about what is was, based not only on experience but also what influential thinkers and blogs are talking about at the moment. I’m now more aware that my concept of Agile probably differs from yours. To me Agile is more a brand than a state you can reach, you are never going to “be” Agile.

The community is evolving everyday and even if you reach some quantifiable level of agility today, tomorrow the theory will have moved on. This thought has led me to reconsider “Agile adoption” – what is it and when has Agile been adopted? That is something I’ll definitely have to look further into.

Evolutionary community

During one session Chris Matts said that a “gap” in Agile was its lack of recognition as a learning community. If I understood his point, it falls back to the idea that we are a Community of Thinkers, from Liz Keogh, Jean Tabaka and others (one of which may have been Chris?). We, as a community, are progressive thinkers, we should push the boundaries of what we know and bringing other industries knowledge to the table and seeing how we can re-use that. Re-use is what we are good at, right?

While I agree with Chris I don’t believe it goes far enough, we are an evolutionary community using both experiential learning and study to constantly advance, or change, the boundaries of what we know. We aren’t only learning new things to deliver better software, we are using those same things to re-examine what we already do and improve how we improve the delivery of better software. For me the word evolutionary becomes an important part of how the community views itself, inspect and adapt is still a cornerstone of what we do – at all levels.

Is a learning community enough?

Following on from Chris’ thoughts about how we are a learning community, it hit me later (too late to run a OpenSpace, though I may bring it up at the CoachCamp in a week or so) that while a learning community is great, what we really need to foster is community that actively helps others to learn as well. That is not to say that mentoring and coaching doesn’t happen within the community, just that I don’t see it actively encouraged – many people I look up to and respect are readily approachable at conferences, but it’d take a whole different level of confidence to ask them if you could shadow their work.

Maybe I just live too far out in the sticks and it all happens in the bright lights of London, but I’d like to explore the possibilities further.

As ever, the best part of the conference were the coffee breaks.

* Both NLP and the Dreyfus model are the first examples that popped into my head, by no means were they the worst offenders I heard during the day.