A.L.E.2011 – The relationship factory

I’m still landing after last week’s #ALE2011 unconference in Berlin. The organisers did an amazing job of hosting a truly memorable event with people from ALL over Europe and even the (very) odd interloper from the U.S.A. ( <- Brian, Another example of taking the piss ).

ALE is short for the “Agile Lean Europe Network”. Network is probably a better term than community for Agile and Lean. A network is formed of nodes (People, Companies) AND the relationships between them. Agile is the learning machine that operates on top of the Agile / Lean network. In order to learn from another node, you need a relationship. If you ask people “What is the opposite of a good relationship”, their obvious response is “a bad relationship”. The correct answer is “No relationship” as you can still learn from a bad relationship. There is no learning from a non-existant relationship. The success of a learning community is due to the relationships within it.

For me, ALE2011 was successful because it facilitated the creation of new relationships and the deepening of existing relationships. This happened in a number of ways, some organised, others spontaneous.

  1. I had the opportunity to spend time with people I knew well and people who I now know better.
  2. The Conference started with Jon Jagger’s Coding Dojo to get people talking. The message from the start was audience participation.
  3. The open space was the only thing running at the time. It did not compete with any other sessions. You could not hide from interaction with your fellow attendees.
  4. There was no trade fair activity.
  5. Dinner with a Stranger encouraged people to speak to new people.
  6. The sessions were not tutorials or workshops but rather quick presentations to inspire conversation in the open space, over dinner and in the bar.
  7. No one was SELLING!
  8. Lots and lots of hugging. Franck asked if it was German thing, or a British thing which prompted lots of blank looks. Someone said “Its an Agile thing”.
  9. Lightening talks provided everyone with an opportunity to take centre stage.
  10. The audience could change the programme. The lightening talks were extended by thirty minutes based on a two sentence interaction.
  11. Lots of talking points, like the map of Europe with pins, and the Post-It note pictures.
  12. Groups ate lunch together in the hotel.
  13. The kids and spouse track bought something very special to the atmosphere of the conference. It felt less like work. More friendly somehow.
  14. The stars of the conference were the participants rather than the speakers.
  15. We had Marcin, Marc, Oana, Franck, Ivana and Olaf to act as emotional glue.

#ALE2011 reminded me of the first two Agile Development Conferences in Salt Lake City back in 2003/2004. I spent some time trying to think of why. I have to thank Brian “The Token American” Marick for helping me see through the noise in my mind. At the most timely moment, Brian mentioned a book in which the purpose of conferences is suggested as a place where “experts can come together to form collaborations” and “people can be energised for the future”.

What made ALE2011 successful were the same things that made ADCv1/2 (Agile20xx v0.1) a success. The expert practitioners had time to talk and form collaborations. Time to learn what people were interested in beyond the stuff they are known for. Time to explore the possible areas of collaboration and whether you want to collaborate. In short, time to form relationships. 

Agile20xx serves two purposes.

  • Provide a meeting place for expert practitioners
  • A trade fair.

Those engaging in the trade fair do not have the time to renew the relationships or build new ones. Agile20xx does the trade fair well and hopes the practitioners can look after themselves. The reality is that many of the practitioners at Agile20xx are there for the trade fair. Practitioners from Europe, Asia and South America travel all the way to the USA (and submit to invasive search by Homeland Security) to talk to themselves. Something that may not continue now that we now have a place in Europe where we can do the same without the jet lag.

Agile20xx needs to consider whether it only wants to be a trade fair. I hope that the future organisers of Agile20xx learn from ALE2011, otherwise we need to create an Agile Lean Americas Network with ALA20xx as a place where “experts can come together to form collaborations”.


This post is dedicated to those who made ALE2011 happen… Alex,  Aleksey, Andrea,  Catia, Christian,ChristianeEelco, ErikFranck, GregGreg, Ivana, Jaume, Jens, Jule,Ken, Marcin, Marc, MarcMicheal, Michael, Mike,Monika,Natalia, Nick, Oana, Olaf, Pablo, Sergey, Sven, Will and Wolfgang. ( I stole the list from here )

Thank you Jurgen for lighting the match that set fire to this group.

Special thanks go to Monika and Oana for giving me the opportunity to show I can “respond to change”.

Very special thanks and to Olaf for being the linchpin and showing me a slice of life in West Berlin.

About theitriskmanager

Currently an “engineering performance coach” because “transformation” and “Agile” are now toxic. In the past, “Transformation lead”, “Agile Coach”, “Programme Manager”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, and “Developer”. Did some stuff with the Agile Community. Put the “Given” into “Given-When-Then”. Discovered “Real Options” View all posts by theitriskmanager

6 responses to “A.L.E.2011 – The relationship factory

  • Yves Hanoulle (@YvesHanoulle)

    >Lots and lots of hugging. Franck asked if it was German thing, or a >British thing which prompted lots of blank looks. Someone said “Its an >Agile thing”.

    nah, it’s a trust thing.

  • Olaf Lewitz

    Thank you, my friend, for being part of it.
    Have another hug!

  • Marcin Floryan » I’m back from Berlin

    […] I lived on the other side. If it was still there, I wouldn’t be allowed to meet our “Token American” let alone follow some ideas created ten years ago in USA. It really moved me, we are so […]

  • Steve Freeman

    Perhaps you might also want to reference XpDay which is intended to address similar cultural issues 🙂

  • Lisa Crispin

    ALE2011 really sounded wonderful, and I’m grateful to all the participants who have tweeted, blogged and vlogged about it. Can’t wait for the videos!

    I’ve attended all the XP/AU, ADC 2003/4, and Agile 20xx conferences. Quite a streak, but I plan to break it next year. I feel I’ll get more benefits from smaller conferences (I hope ALE 2012 doesn’t grow too big!)

    I think you’re being a little hard on the Agile 20xx conferences. Part of the problem is how big they have grown. With 1600 people this year, I couldn’t even hope to run into all my old friends, though I got to make a lot of new ones. They did some fun things such as Dinner with a Stranger. I’m not into the vendor expo either, but some of those companies have supported the agile community – of course, to their own benefit, but still. Someone has to pay for the conference (and Agile 20xx is so expensive, even with all the sponsorship, which to me is a big problem).

    I have fond memories of ADC 2003 & 4 also, but they were pretty much the same model as Agile 20xx. They were just much smaller, because the agile community was small, and there were two Agile conferences in the U.S. Many of the same volunteers who helped organized those also organized Agile 2005 (the first ‘combined’ conference) and subsequent years (Todd Little was chair of Agile 2011, for example).

    I think diversity is good in conferences. I think some good messages got to a wide audience at Agile 2011. For example, lots of people got to try Language Hunters, and Linda Rising’s closing keynote had a big impact.

    But personally, I’m sticking to smaller conferences next year. Hope to see you at ALE 2012, if I can cram it into my schedule!

  • Anarchy with a Purpose—a Model for Emergent Awesomeness « OlafLewitz

    […] Chris Matts and Liz Keogh developed a technique that I learned from Liz in a BDD tutorial (she’ll do another one soon near Berlin). It’s called Feature Injection and it’s a way to pull valuable capabilities and features from your vision and goal. Without realising it, we organised our sofas according to the intended capabilities of ALE2011: […]

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