I attended the Scrum Gathering Las Vegas last month, and I wanted to share some of what I learned. If you have not attended a big conference, I'd recommend the experience because it's interesting to see the variety of topics being discussed and meet other agilists from all over the world.
There was a session at the conference on Dispersed Teams by Michael Tardiff that I thought was really good. It was a lot of simple concepts, which I think made me like it more. He suggested having teams meet face-to-face for 3 weeks at the beginning of a project and periodically during the project, relying on video conferencing when they are not geographically co-located. And creating physical photo walls or posters to hang in the offices to keep that reminder that you're working with humans. I work with a few dispersed teams, so now I'm introducing some of the ideas to them.
I also went to Angela Druckman's Paging Dr. Scrum session on Diagnosing Problems in an Agile Organization. It made me realize that I'm strong diagnostician, but I'm trying to become more of a coach. It's challenging for me to see problems and the fix because I need to focus more on the people as people and less on a system-view of the world. With multiple teams to coach, it's easy to fall into the trap of seeing a problem and wanting to see it solved quickly--the hard part is getting the team to recognize the problem and find their own solution to it.
I really liked Mike Cottmeyer's session on Program and Portfolio Management. I've read about SAFE, but he made it more approachable. Some of my coworkers went to his session at Agile 2012, and I'm glad to now know that he admits the whole framework is dependent on having predictable teams. Given the environment we're in and some of the third-party dependencies, our teams are not predictable. Now when I review the teams' metrics, it's much clearer to me that the teams need management to focus on removing some impediments to get them more predictability.
Without a doubt, the most memorable session for me was Agile Superpowers presented by Jake Calabrese and Stephen Starkey. We explored various agile "superpowers" (a.k.a. meta-skills), and I had a breakthrough a-ha moment that bonded me with another attendee in the session (we've emailed a few times since then). I hope to keep applying superpowers to my coaching.