Sharing Experience through Speaking

Photo by Xava du

Photo by Xava du

A group of us sat in a row together. We wanted to listen to our friend Ryan give his presentation on retrospectives. This wasn’t the usual “how to facilitate effective retrospectives” talk either—this was his experience of focusing on one problem and using retros to experiment and learn from trying to solve it. Over the course of a year and a half. It was one line of code.

I LOVED IT. A humble and wise presentation on using retrospectives to do the very thing we dream they can do: enable a team to solve problems. It was honest and inspiring.

Ryan will be presenting this topic again at DFW Scrum tonight (July 16th). It’s an evening of experience reports in preparation for Agile 2019, and I’ll also be presenting the talk I co-wrote with Skylar Watson (“The Downfalls of Coaching in a Hierarchical Model”). Our papers have been published online here.

I hope you come support Ryan (and me) this evening at the meetup. More importantly though, I hope you’ll find your topic and volunteer to speak at a community event. We learn from reflecting on our experiences—good, bad, and ugly—that may inform what all of us can do differently tomorrow. Watch the below video for more of my thoughts on getting started as a speaker:

However how small, or mundane, or obvious it might seem, there is something in sharing your experience with others that can be incredibly powerful. We as a community grow stronger as a result.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Learning from the Agile Community

Photo by awee_19

Photo by awee_19

My first agile meetup was in April 2009. I was going alone and didn’t know what to expect. My experience with agile was limited, and I was shy. Awkward small talk while waiting in line for pizza. Uncertainty about where to sit. Gratitude when the session started because I could relax and listen.

Thankfully my shyness wore off, my agile experience increased, and I’ve since welcomed a number of folks to the Dallas-Fort Worth agile community. Local meetups and events are great opportunities to learn and connect with others. Many people—myself included—are relieved to discover that they are not alone in the challenges they face in agile adoptions.

I wrote about my community experience as part of Tips from the Trenches, a compilation of wisdom organized by Yves Hanoulle for Scrum Masters and currently available on LeanPub.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Inviting Others to the Community

Photo by Timo

Photo by Timo

Working with leaders has given me a deeper appreciation for how hard change can be in an organization. Alignment can be a struggle, and leaders often feel isolated as they face challenges supporting new practices and changing the workplace. Introducing leaders to the larger agile community provides them a sense of comfort. “It’s not just us,” I’ve heard. “Wow, I recognized some of the problems we’ve already solved.” Hearing others’ stories connects them to different thinking than their day-to-day office holds.

Some of my favorite user group moments have come from seeing managers excited about ideas they can take back to their workplace. Maybe they take photos of slides as a presenter speaks, animatedly whisper to a colleague sitting nearby, or send a text to coworkers not present—they’ve gained a morsel of wisdom that has unlocked something new and want to make it real. We’re headed in the right direction, we need to watch out for this obstacle, or we need to try this new thing—they leave thinking and feeling differently about their work.

Witnessing leaders share their stories and give back to the community continues the transformative effects. Authenticity captivates the group. Leaders own their agile journeys, claiming their successes and failures along the way. Learning happens for the leaders who are sharing as well as the listeners, strengthening the group’s bonds. By the end, we recognize one another as being part of the agile tribe.

This was originally published as part of a longer article at Apple Brook Consulting blog.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Ask Me About Agile Lunch and Learns in Dallas

Photo by Adam Simmons

Photo by Adam Simmons

It's been incredible visiting Phoenix, Indianapolis, and even Cornwall, Ontario this year meeting other agilists and sharing ideas--I love the conversations that start from one person sharing their experiences. However, this post is all about Dallas.

The agile community in Dallas continues to grow, and I want it continue to thrive. If your team or organization would benefit from a lunch and learn presentation related to an agile topic, please contact me. I would love to share my knowledge and experiences, answer questions, and get to know others in the local community. I've grown through my involvement in Dallas, and it's a joy giving back.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Starting a Community of Practice or User Group - Recruiting People

Photo by SHOTbySUSAN

Photo by SHOTbySUSAN

I’ve started a number of groups over the years—from communities of practice in organizations to public user groups and membership-based clubs—and I try to keep them as simple as possible to run. The most important step to take when forming a user group or community of practice is to just do it—efforts often fail because people feel like the new group must initially have a large participating membership.  Growth will probably be slow.  My guiding philosophy when starting a user group or community of practice is simply, “If you build it, they will come.”

The first step in organizing a user group or community of practice is forming a core group of leaders.  Consider the skill areas that you need help with and recruit others to fill those needs.  Some people are very social and outgoing but lack follow-through on tasks; others are great at getting things done but may be awkward socially.  What are your strengths?  Who can help you in areas where you are weak?  And who are you happy to spend time with?  Regardless of how many people show up to an event, you’ll be with the core group a lot, so pick people you want to see.  Leading a community of practice or user group is often a volunteer position, and you’ll want it to be fun and rewarding. 

Your group will probably remain rather small for a while—it takes patience.  Generally, the attendance at the first events is less than desired and may be disheartening.  This is natural, and hopefully you have other leaders to help keep your spirits up during this phase.  The core group that is active will remain small (less than 10).  You will have others that come and go, but not be part of the core group that is consistently there.  The smaller the time commitment, the larger the core group might be.

Past experience has shown that the two actions which produce the best results are to (1) start having events and to (2) tell the maximum number of people when and where these events are being held.  Every time someone new attends an event, take the time to get to know him.  I recently saw a fraternity brother at a conference that I first met at a local alumni event years ago—it was great to have had that connection established and share a new common bond!  If I hadn’t formed that group after I graduated from college, I never would have made that connection.  That’s why I love creating communities.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The Differences Between a Community of Practice and a Center of Excellence

Photo by Celestine Chua

Photo by Celestine Chua

If you are working in an organization, you might be thinking about how to share practices across agile teams.  Agile teams inspect and adapt over time, using retrospectives in particular to change their behaviors and practices with the goal of improving.  A team improving is great, and it would be awesome for that team to share what they’ve learned so that others can benefit.  To encourage good practices across teams, organizations often establish centers of excellence or communities of practice.  I recommend creating communities of practice, but what's the difference?

Communities of practice are groups of people with similar interests who share experiences with a common goal of improving.  People talk to one another and learn from each other.  All levels of expertise are welcomed, and all experiences can provide learning.  A community of practice can work together to solve a problem and adopt a common solution if the community agrees to do so.

In contrast, a center of excellence implies that a smaller group recommends (or even requires) certain practices or templates be used.  The leaders of the center of excellence have authority.  Experience sharing may not be welcomed if it is not aligned with the leaders’ views.  There is a sense that excellence comes from applying the same behaviors and practices across teams.  Maybe a center of excellence is a good starting point for an organization, but communities of practice hold more possibility for learning and applying of practices.

Am I saying that a community of practice is better than a center of excellence?  In my opinion, yes.  There’s goodness in sharing experiences and ideas as peers that comes from being part of a community.  The safety of community allows for deeper sharing and exploring of ideas.  Communities of practice support adult learning and promote ownership of ideas—what’s not to love about that? 

"Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I learn." --Benjamin Franklin

The differences between a center of excellence and a community of practice in your organization might not be as black and white as I describe them, but many organizations that I’ve seen are more comfortable creating centers of excellence than communities of practice.  Leaders feel assurance that only the best practices will be spread through centers of excellence.  Self-organizing communities are unpredictable and rely on some experimentation to encourage learning.  And that's precisely where the goodness lives.   Go ahead: embrace community.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Upcoming Speaking Events

Photo by Harmon

Photo by Harmon

I'm excited to share that there are quite a few agile events coming up in Texas where I will be speaking!  I continue to be amazed at the strength of the agile community, and I look forward to meeting new people and seeing old faces.

  • Dallas Agile Leadership Network - July 29, 2014 - I will be co-presenting with Ty Crockett on Creating Strong and Passionate Communities of Practice
  • 8th Annual UTDallas Project Management Symposium - August 14-15, 2014 - I will be co-presenting two topics with Cherie SilasBeyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach and Motivating People through the Language of Appreciation
  • AgileDotNext in Houston, TX - August 22, 2014 - I will be co-presenting two topics: Beyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach with Cherie Silas and Creating Strong and Passionate Communities of Practice with Ty Crockett
  • PMI Professional Development Day in Fort Worth, TX - September 12, 2013 - I will be co-presenting Motivating People through the Language of Appreciation with Cherie Silas
  • Houston TechFest - September 13, 2014 - I will be co-presenting two topics with Cherie Silas: Change Your Questions Change Your World and Beyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach

What upcoming events are you excited about?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

DFW Scrum user group - 2nd location added!

Photo by David Joyce

Photo by David Joyce

BIG NEWS! The DFW Scrum leadership team has focused our efforts to be an organization by the people, for the people, and of the people. Over the last two years, we have had various requests for remote MeetUps (simulcast, etc...) and actual satellite locations. Given that North Dallas may not be convenient for everyone and we have not been able to secure our quarterly location in Irving, we have decided to try adding a second location.

Starting with our July 15 MeetUp, DFW Scrum will now be held at two different locations across the DFW Metroplex. Our first satellite location will be in Southlake at the Sabre Headquarters-Solana (3150 Sabre Drive Room: A1-157 Southlake, TX). We have added a new member to our leadership team, Chris Palmer, to facilitate the 2nd location and are thrilled to have him onboard. Right now, the locations will likely hold different topics that suit the needs of the audiences in the locations. When we have large events (Agile Manifesto authors or industry thought leading speakers), we will work to simulcast the meeting so both locations can participate.

For now, when you look on our site however, you will notice two MeetUps occurring on the same date. We will try to keep the meetings to our 3rd Tuesday of each month and at our regular times of 6:30PM-8:30PM to afford better planning. Please be sure you look at the title of the MeetUp as the location will be the first piece of information in the title (i.e. DALLAS or SOUTHLAKE). We hope this helps those who are not always able to attend in Dallas participate in the agile community.  Our goal is to help you do better today than you were doing yesterday. 

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Continuous Learning through Communities of Practice

Photo by Pablo Tortorella

Photo by Pablo Tortorella

Continuous learning is essential in agile, and I think it is sometimes taken for granted.  I’ve noticed an attitude—complacency—that can show up after a team or organization has been following scrum for a while.  It’s as if the team or organization decided it has learned “enough” and can sustain itself at the level of knowledge it has.  Like they have arrived at the top of the agile mountain.  But I’ve found that if an individual or group is not pushing forward, then it is going to move backward. 

Thankfully I’ve also seen some motivated people seeking knowledge, sharing ideas, and teaching themselves new skills.  Establishing self-organizing communities of practice and participating in book clubs.  Striving for awesomeness.  Living the first part of the Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

For me, learning is a given.  I read constantly.  I take classes where there is interaction with other students, I attend conferences and user groups, and I blog—a significant amount of learning can be gained from sharing with others.  In fact, my peers and I have formed our own little community of practice.  We struggled to meet as a group when we planned purely social events, and we’ve had more participation since we made learning the agenda.  Our calendars are stuffed with meetings, and we all have more work than can fit in a 40-hour week.  We push ourselves.  And as a group, we prioritize learning into our busy schedules. 

Forming a coaching community of practice has deepened our relationships and renewed our energy for the work we are doing.  We are active practitioners and continuous learners.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

How to run a great user group meeting

Photo by Key West Wedding Photography

Photo by Key West Wedding Photography

I wish I could say that running an agile user group meeting is as easy as declaring, "woo woo hippie hippie agile time" and watching people self-organize a magical knowledge-sharing experience.  But after talking to people and thinking about the meetings I've attended, I must say: running a great user group meeting requires effort.

Let’s assume that you’ve crafted the invitation, taken care of the logistics, and people will be arriving for the meeting soon.  Here are my tips for what to do: 

  • Arrive early – Getting stuck in traffic and hitting technical difficulties happen, and you can minimize your stress level as an organizer by arriving early for the meeting so you can setup and relax.  This is a good time to eat some food and drink some water.
  • Make people feel welcome – Recruiting volunteers to open doors for attendees and direct them to the meeting space is a great idea.  If food and drinks are available, make sure attendees know where to find them.  Chat with them and introduce them to other folks.  Requiring people to sign in, provide their contact information, or introduce themselves to the entire group can be off-putting; focus on creating a safe environment first and foremost.
  • Allow time for networking – Whether it’s at the beginning of the meeting, in the middle, or at the end, make sure there’s time for people to talk to one another and make connections.  Many people show up to user groups looking for new opportunities or to recruit folks, and creating a community means relationship building.  I like to allow time at the beginning and at the end of the meetings for this to happen organically.
  • Give a brief introduction about the group and logistics – What is the group’s purpose?  Who are the leaders?  How can someone learn more about the group?  Where are the restrooms?  What else might someone need to know?  Keep it light.  Try to cover these topics and thank your sponsors in under 15 minutes.
  • Provide quality content – This is what drew the crowd after all!  The actual content portion can take many forms: a presentation, a formal talk, a facilitated discussion, an open space event, activities/games, or a combination of formats.  Keep an eye on the group dynamics and engagement.
  • Soak it in – You did it: you created an event!  Every new attendee is a win.  Every attendee who leaves with a new idea or something learned is a win.  Count the number of attendees, take photos, and enjoy your accomplishment. 
  • Stay a little late – Answer questions, thank people for coming, and clean up the space.  This is a good time to get feedback on the meeting and suggestions for future topics and improvements.

I'd love to hear suggestions on how to run a great user group meeting--please comment to share your ideas.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.