I travelled to Oslo last weekend, to take part in Agile Coach Camp Norway. This was an open space conference organized by some enthusiasts, not for profit. I became interested in going to the conference when I heard some other agile coaches tweeting about it. I’ve just started my career as a kind of agile coach, and I’ve always enjoyed the open space parts of other conferences I’ve attended. I hesitated though, since I have quite a technical focus. What clinched it was when Johannes Brodwall signed up - an excellent programmer who shares my interest in using Code Kata for teaching and learning Test Driven Development.
I was surprised to see Bob Martin in the hotel reception when I arrived - he had come on a whim since he was in Oslo that day. He spent some time on the first evening telling the story of how the agile manifesto came about, and his involvement. He’s an impressive speaker, even when improvising. Bob didn’t stick around for the rest of the conference, and he missed out on some really good discussions.
We began the main part of the conference with a “coaching dojo”, which Rachel Davies invented by analogy with a coding dojo. It was fun practicing coaching one another, and getting feedback from people who are used to giving good feedback. It really set the tone for the whole weekend.
After lunch, we had the open space opening session, and loads of sessions were proposed. I suggested 4, and ended up being very pleased I'd done them. I got some great feedback about a short coding dojo I ran - being coached in my facilitation skills was very valuable for me, and the participants seemed to appreciate learning more about the coding dojo format I use.
It turned out that Johannes and I weren't the only technically-focused people there, and we shared lots of ideas about code katas and teaching TDD. Everyone agreed that success with agile needs developers to change the way they work, and most struggle with TDD. "Parachuting" a trainer in for a couple of days might help developers understand they could work differently, but getting them to actually make changes is much harder. I'm hoping for some success with repeated regular coding dojo sessions with a team. I'll have to report back when I have more experience of actually doing this.
Another highlight was discussing using games for teaching agile, and in particular teaching agile engineering practices. Jon Jagger has his “cyber-dojo” collaborative programming game that he has released open source, and a “Kanban 1’s game” which he uses for teaching teams about limiting work in progress, and keeping work items small. We talked about the fact that many games are released under the creative commons attribution license, and coaches share them with each other. The games in themselves may take time and effort to create, but Jon and many of the other coaches there felt they don’t lose by sharing them, quite the opposite. They get feedback from others and help to improve the games. I wondered if they were worried about losing business to cheaper rivals who just took their materials, but people seemed confident that the skill of the facilitator is so crucial in the success of a game in achieving learning goals for the participants, that they would not lose out.
It was an intense weekend, with a couple of lovely walks in the snow, and good food together with interesting company. I learnt a lot about coaching and made new friends. I’ll be looking out for similar conferences in future :)