This year, Mile High Agile expanded to two days, and I had the honor of co-chairing it with the AMAZING Colleen Johnson. I will forever be grateful to Colleen and the Agile Denver Board of Directors for inviting me to bring a “new” voice to the event, regardless of my lack of prior conference-organizing experience.
BEHIND THE SCENES — Scaling MHA
The Mile High Agile 2017 (MHA) organizing team includes members who have experience producing this event, and half of the members, like me, are new to the committee and have never organized this conference. The Agile Denver Board of Directors specifically designed the team to include new conference organizers to embrace new perspectives and build a bench of capable conference organizers for years to come. It was a smart move on their part considering the same 15 people have amazingly put on six prior conferences, all of which sold out well before the event!
What the board did is similar to how many successful “home-grown” Agile teams scale their culture and practices. Here’s how that worked: they self-organized a group of capable and dedicated leaders, learned together over the past six years, then seeded each area of this year’s event with that experience. The new people were able to lean on the experience of the seasoned planners, while also stretching and growing ourselves as we took on responsibilities we’ve never handled before.
SOLD OUT — What Makes MHA a Sell-Out
This year’s event, held May 22 and 23 at the Hyatt Regency Denver, was very successful! In fact, we sold out for the seventh year in a row with 800 attendees. (Compare this to the Global Scrum Gathering in San Diego held in April this year with just over 1,000 attendees).
The Mile High Agile conference is successful, not only because of the hundreds of dedicated volunteers behind the scenes, but also because it attracts notable keynote speakers. This year we welcomed Joshua Kereivsky, founder and CEO of Industrial Logic, author of an award-winning book, “Refactoring to Patterns” and “Stop Using Story Points”; Dean Leffingwell, known for creating the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe); and Melissa Perri, founder of Produx Labs and Product Institute. They each presented engaging, thought-leadership talks that elevated our conversations around Agile in our world.
Joshua Kereivsky’s keynote was titled, “Modern Agile.” The description was, “Genuine agility is enormously effective in helping us achieve our dreams. The trouble is, Agile has grown into a complex tangle of roles and rituals, frameworks and tools, processes and certifications. We need a return to simplicity. Modern Agile is here to help.” Joshua set an excellent tone for the conference, asking us to return to simplicity. He shared that Modern Agile is defined by four guiding principles:
#1: Make People Awesome
#2 Make Safety a Prerequisite
#3 Experiment & Learn Rapidly
#4 Deliver Value Continuously
If we can understand and practice these four principles, we will get better results, faster. And that’s one of the many reasons we’re agilists!
This year’s theme was “Elevating the Agile Organization” and one of the tracks we developed to support this theme was called, “Agile Beyond Software”. We had presentations about applying agile to marketing, corporate strategy, billing, credit and collections; how it’s used at John Deere and, remarkably, how a 13-year old uses Scrum at home.
I say remarkably, because it really was remarkable. Aaron Vadakkan presented “Saved by Scrum” to a full house and the attendees could not get enough of his presentation. He told stories about using Scrum to make his home life more productive and, more importantly, more fun. While it’s true that his dad, Manoj, is a Certified Scrum Trainer, the presentation was clearly all Aaron’s and he owned it. One of his slides said, “Scrum helps me to do the right things, the things right, and the things faster with frequent feedback.” Twitter-world posts featured multiple pictures of Aaron talking and of his slides. Colleen Johnson, conference co-chair, wrote “Next time you feel nervous about public speaking – remember that this 13-year-old just presented ‘Saved by Scrum’ to a full room. #MHA17.”
Mile High Agile produced tracks for every interest. In addition to “Agile Beyond Software,” we offered tracks on Leading Enterprise Transformation; Product Ownership; Organization, Culture and Collaboration; Technical Practices; and Agile Fundamentals.
I am particularly pleased with the Product Ownership track (full disclosure, I was a track co-chair :)). Richard Lawrence had a great track concept: to create a story arc of the track itself. We started with challenging assumptions, peaked with backlog refinement and closed with proving the Product Ownership efforts are creating real value. The speakers, Mathias Eifert, Keith Klundt, Richard, Paul Rayner and Chris Shinkle, elevated the discourse for Product Ownership. Paul Rayner taught us about Event Storming. Lisa Crispin quoted Paul in a tweet, “Need to be comfortable w chaos” and later “event storming allows us to have conversations among tech and biz people in a non-technical way.” As a business intelligence consultant, I second the need to get the right people in the room to facilitate great conversation and quality decisions.
INNOVATION — MHA Isn’t Afraid of Failure
Mile High Agile offered something very new this year: a second day called Open Space. Even though many of us have participated in really awesome Open Space experiences over several years, it felt risky to bring such an unusual format to Denver for the first time AND add a second day to the conference. But, the board was fearless and wanted to give the attendees a new experience.
Of the Open Space attendees, 70% of those attending said that this was their very first Open Space experience. It wasn’t mine; the most recent one I’d attended was in April at the Global Scrum Gathering in San Diego. I thought it went really well and looked forward to our event at Mile High Agile.
Open Space is difficult to describe. I didn’t really understand it until I participated the first time years ago at a conference. It’s short for Open Space Technology (OST) and is a participant-driven conference event. Instead of a committee making decisions months ago about what would be discussed and presented, which is what we did for the first day, in Open Space, all participants are “committee-members”! If you had a topic you wanted to discuss, you presented it to the entire attendance and, using – what else? – a Sharpie, you wrote it down and stuck it on the wall. After 65-ish people followed suite, the topics and leaders were assigned a meeting location and attendees stepped out to attend them.
Folks really liked the Open Space. One agilist said, “I met more of the right people in the open space…” Our survey gave the attendees an opportunity to weigh in on its success: a majority of respondents said they would like to see us offer it again. (No guarantees, of course, what’s in store for next year’s Mile High Agile Conference – After all, it’s a self-organizing, agile committee that will create it!)
PERSONALLY SPEAKING — MHA is Fun
I gave MHA lots and lots of volunteer time. I had some challenges as a newbie, but, it comes with the territory. The time and occasional headaches were so worth it. I worked with awesome people. I improved my management, communication, and coaching skills. I learned new things at every meeting. And I got to geek out on analytics by writing the conference survey and analyzing the results. I loved this part of the job!
FINALLY — Don’t Miss MHA 2018
Mile High Agile is an excellent agile conference. For your time and your money, it offers quality speakers and presenters. Plus, the networking and relationship-building with the Greater Denver Area agile community is truly inspiring and encouraging. One of the survey respondents wrote that the conference is awesome because “…it’s a gathering of hundreds of people with the main interest in performing better together.”
In summary, this is a conference you should put on your schedule next year. You can volunteer. You can submit a session. You can register, attend and be further educated, inspired and you can even make some new friends. To stay in-the-know, join Agile Denver !
- Saved by Scrum: You can check out Howard Sublett’s interview with Aaron here.
- Join Meetup.com and find your Agile Group! Meetup.com
- Get a full description of Open Space. Read Jake Calabrese’s post at Agile For All.