XPDay – Reflections and Thoughts by Chris Matts

At the post XPDay drinks session I realised that the easiest way to think of the XPDay organisation was that I was the Scrum Master and Steve Freeman was the Product Manager. He made the decisions and I kept an eye on implementation. We used Real Options rather than Scrum as the approach to organising XPDay.

Please leave comments about what you liked and disliked. Also ideas for next time. We will discuss them at the retrospective (Date to be confirmed).

A brain dump of things that spring to mind about XPDay…

1. The organisers, Nader Talai (Operations, Finance, Sponsors and Registrations), Marc Johnson (Technical Track), Julian Kelsey (Technical Track and Magazine), Steve Freeman (Quality) and I (As little as possible) were all regulars at XTC. This made it easy to organise meetings. We simply went off in the corner for ten minutes.

2. The nice venue added significantly to the pleasant atmosphere. It was so nice to be in a bright, naturally lit, space. I love Giovanni’s comment “This is the nicest basement I’ve spent two days in”.

It has already been suggested that next year might be held upstairs in the even nicer part of the building.

3. We had a complaint at the end of Day One that the “Technical Track” room was unpleasant. Nader arranged for the rooms to be switched for Day Two. Next year we should get feedback at lunch time.

4. Free entry reduced the operational overhead and gave the organisers more freedom on who could attend. Once the registration closed we had a policy of “XTC Regulars – Past and Present” could still be added to the registration list.

5. One hiccup was that the Lean Startup Meet Up site told people to register via the XPDay eventbrite page. However a number of people registered on the Lean Startup Meetup. In future, we should ensure that people cannot register in anyway on other sites.

6. We deliberated did not print delegate names so that no one could tell who had signed up and who just turned up on the day. Delegates wrote their own name badges. We provided material so that they could create a fresh badge for day two. Delegates were encouraged to write their twitter name on their badge (something copied from #ALEBerlin).

7. Steve’s requirement that all attendees write a five line experience report as a barrier to entry would appear to have worked. The general feeling was that most sessions were fairly advanced. It was felt that people new to Agile might have struggled with many of the sessions as they assumed a high level of knowledge. We will do something similar in the future.

8. We had hoped to provide the opportunity for someone to use XPDay as their first open space faciliation. Rachel did a fantastic job of facilitating the open space on Day one and mentoring and coaching Phil Parker. Phil Parker then did an amazing job of facilitating Day Two. I would like to see a master and Padawan run next year’s open space. I hope other conferences do the same to grow the number of open space facilitators.

9. The open space closing session was expertly facilitated by Phil. Phil asked people to share a learning and make an appreciation. He also asked people to tweet using the #myDailyThankYou tag. Phil projection the twitter stream for the tag as people were speaking. I found it very moving. The idea of using #myDailyThankYou as an appreciation came from Yves Hanoulle in the post #ALEBerlin discussions. I hope to do it again. It meant the end of conference generated a very positive stream of tweets.

10. I enjoyed the half hour walk from the venue to XTC. It forced us to get some fresh air and exercise.

11. I loved Rob Bowley’s “title sponsor” talk. He simply thanked the organisers and the other sponsors. Very cool.

12. The end of day one keynote worked well bringing everyone together before we went for drinks. I think most people were tired from the sessions and it provided an entertaining and informative end to the day when everyone was tired.

13. Last year we had no technical sessions. We learned that the last responsible moment for technical sessions was before the conference. This year we had a good selection of technical sessions. I think the track set the tone for the conference as a place for software practitioner’s. Having the technical track set up allowed for the spontaneous “Enigma” session at lunch on day two.

14. We did not create a schedule in advance. The technical sessions and experience report time slots were chosen by the presentors on the morning.

15. On day one, we used a first come, first served approach to proposing sessions. Day two, we put those sessions we had commited to the presenters (Technical Track and Experience Reports) on first. It went smoother on day two because of this as we did not have to tell people not to propose sessions in technical track or experience report rooms.

16. I thank Michael (@arsagilis) for a conversation that means we need to be clearer about the purpose of XPDay sessions. They do not exist to answer a question but rather provide a way of meeting the people who can help with answering the question. If you find an answer, its a bonus.

17. We committed to let people who had prepared a technical session or experience report the opportunity to deliver it. There was no commitment from the presenters. A few had to drop out but it did not cause any extra work as we did not have a programme.

18. We did really badly at letting everyone know what was going on. Need to find a way of communicating better that requires little or no effort.

19. Manning reception is a great way to meet people. Might offer the role to first timers next year so they can meet more people. Perhaps consider an ice breaker for first timers during the registration period.

20. Some people missed the big names you often find at other conferences. Some did not. It was suggested that XTC could organise more opportunistic XTC nights when big names are in town. Or get speakers on subjects of interest. The room at the Bishop’s Finger lends itself to talks.

More to come.

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14 Comments on “XPDay – Reflections and Thoughts by Chris Matts”

  1. My thanks to everyone involved in XPDay for making its such a great opportunity to meet folks and chat. I liked the venue (although not the location, so much), and concur on the idea of maybe taking things upstairs next year.

    My thanks also to Chris for this post, the preamble of which has allowed me to crystallise some of my own reflections on the event (hereunder; perfection game format):

    What I liked: the sense of community; the chance to meet and chat, particularly w.r.t. sharing my know-how with others and helping folks learn; the inclusion of folks from other disciplines e.g. Lean Startup.

    My score for the event (maximum of 10): 5

    What would have to change for me to score it at 10? More frequent and more effective means to share know-how; more of a sense of “moving the London Software Community along, changing the state of play in the industry, for the better.” Aka A Game-changer (cf http://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/game-changer.asp#axzz1ebXRJuBh ).

    Other observations / suggestions:

    Purpose: What was the “Product” which the organisers intended to deliver? Was this vision actually delivered? What was the manifest purpose of the event? I am unclear on these questions.

    The event seemed much like a regular XTC Tuesday evening, although bigger and with an absence of beer. In this I felt – and continue to feel – that we all missed an opportunity to achieve more that just some nice chat and some more-or-less random learning opportunities. I have some ideas around this topic, should folks wish to share. What do you think?

    HTH

    – Bob @FlowchainSensei

    • Lovely questions Bob.

      What is the product?
      For me that would be “better people” (with the risk of people misinterpreting better)

      As a participant
      I want to learn about new things, deeper my knowledge on things I already know
      so that I can help my clients to be better at delivering value.

      Feels cheesy and at the same time, it feels that the story format works for this.

      I kinda like the idea of a bigger XTC. That is good publicity for XTC, which seems like a smarter way to teach people then a 2 day event.

    • Hi Bob

      Thank you for your comment. Love the questions and would most definitely like to hear your ideas. Comments here would be ideal as we intend to leave this blog as a resource for next year’s organisers.

      Others can comment on their visions. My vision is to create a space where people come together to learn from each other. A “pull” based conference where people come with questions rather than answers. The conference which has enough experts that a high quality conversation can take place. Rather than have the full conversation at the conference, the conference is a place to start conversations and a place to draw them to a conclusion before they move off in a different direction. I think there are enough conferences where people are “pushing” material on the audience that we do not need to satisfy that need.

      The purpose of XPDay has changed over the years. It has always been a place for people interested in Agile to come together. Initially it was the only place where you could go to find out about XP and Agile, and get some cheap training. There were more formal presentations and training. Putting an agenda together was a lengthy process. Once your name was on the rosta it meant you had the official stamp of approval of the programme committee. There are now more effective alternatives for training but people still want to come together. I wanted the people who attended the conference to choose the material. (I know other successful conferences have an individual who choses all the content. They are successful too but require more work from the organisers.)

      Last year the XTC Trustees (as someone suggested as a name) agreed that we would offer a free event funded by sponsorship and topped up with funds from XTC. This meant we could be more flexible in how we organised the conference as the emphasis was less on making money and more on creating a better event.

      Last year I realised I was unhappy that XPDay happens once a year and does not really have any continuity. My vision is to have a number of XTC evenings and events that culminate in XPDay next year. Now that we have a better venue, I hope we can get guest speakers as XTC did in the early days. I think a start would be a list of people/topics that members of XTC would like to hear talk/hear about. We can then nab them if they are in town, or find someone to present on the topic. (Note to Nader: Need to find a wiki)

      Thats my view.

  2. Wow, it sounds like a hell of a great conference. Congratulations.
    So your great way of organizing a conference also ended up with a great conference. Nice.

    I don’t understand my involvement with the #MyDailyThankYou. For me you invented that.

    I love the pairing on the facilitation. I hope more OpenSpace conferences adopt this.

    • Yves

      I originally came up with #myDailyThankYou. Agreed. However, you were the one who suggested it for appreciation cards. 🙂

      We just did what you suggested but removed the physical card and replaced it with twitter. (Actually we asked for both appreciation on post-its and twitter but no one did any physical cards).

      Chris

      • hello Chris,

        Ah, now I understand. yes I made the link between #myDailyThankYou and appreciation cards.
        I think you also chould mention Ivana who made these cards for ALE

        I was moved by all the appreciations on twitter.
        I hope people keep doing it.

        And another nice idea for interactive conferences that typically have less tweets during the day.

  3. […] XPDay – Reflections and Thoughts by Chris Matts […]

  4. Nat Pryce says:

    Hi Chris.

    One thing I missed this year that we introduced to XP Day a few years back was summaries of the sessions at the close of the day. That lets everyone get a taste of what has been happening in the sessions they could not attend. The “law of two feet” guideline is ok for when you want to move from one session to another, but when the sessions are all good you miss out on so much. We added a closing session at the end of each day in which someone from each session (not the presenter) would briefly summarise it for people who couldn’t attend it.

    • Nat

      Good point. We will make sure we re-introduce the summaries next year,

      Chris

      • xpdays benelux experiemented with a new way of doing this, we had a timeline board for a continuous retrospective (where did we steal this from?? ). And we combined it in the closing session to look at the board with a webcam and discussed this.

        The jury is still out on this, it’s a new and refreshing way, some people found that the closing sessions took too long. Other loved it.

        It took me a while to like it, now I appreciate it. and i personally want to see more of that.

      • Yves

        An interesting thought. Build a retrospective timeline throughout the conference and mine it as part of the closing session.

        I hope that the other European Conferences take it up and refine it as a practice so that it is nice and shiny by the next time we run an XP Day.

        Chris

  5. illicitonion says:

    I’m finally going to get around to some ramblings of my thoughts:

    Things I really liked:
    * Incredibly interesting, switched-on people. I think the experiences question on the application may have helped here a bit, I liked that the questions were there, and it got me in the right mindset.
    * I walked away with a lot more questions than I waked in with. There were a lot of great conversations, and I’m still trying to work out a lot of the answers, the questions are following me around to other nights in pubs with geeks.
    * The mix of sessions. I didn’t turn up to XPDay expecting to go to a role-play workshop on conversation, but I’m very glad I went.
    * #MyDailyThankYou. Especially when we just started going in a loop (“pass to your thankee” is a great idea, but there were far too many people for it :))

    Things I didn’t think worked so well:
    * The pseudo-open-space. I’ve only been to one other open space event in the past (CITCON this year), but I felt that the open space at XPDay didn’t bring anything to the table. It led to a first-come-first-served approach, with what seemed to be roughly a pre-planned schedule, in an unscheduled (hence confusing) way. Either a real open space (people re-arranging, people voting, people deciding from all the options), or a scheduled event with a few open slots for suggestions on the day, in my mind would have worked pretty well; what we ended up with felt somewhat staged and confused.

    Thanks for a great couple of days, everyone involved!

    • Hi Daniel

      Thank you for the feedback.

      The pseudo-open-space was created because we had no technical tracks the previous year. When we asked why, it was because technical sessions take longer to prepare and people wanted to make sure they had a slot if they did the prep…. Next year we need to be clearer that two rooms are not-open-space and the rest is standard format open-space, either that or try another format.

      “pass to your thankee” was certainly one of those great ideas that failed fast. 🙂

      Many thanks

      Chris

  6. Neil Kidd says:

    Hi,

    Absolutely loved the conference – it got me all fired up – a good thing!

    About the only improvement for me would be videos of the sessions I didn’t see. Obviously some sessions would not benefit from being filmed, but many would.

    Many thanks to all involved,
    Neil Kidd


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