Scrum Gathering 2015

By Duke Coulbanis, Marietjie McDonald and Johan Pretorius

The Gautrain stopped at Rosebank station… We walked the last 100m to the Hyatt Regency Hotel where Scrum Gathering 2015 was hosted. Registration went seamlessly and the coffee and snacks awaited. The hospitality at the hotel was exceptional.

The theme for the conference was “Unlikely Heroes”. We had it all planned out. Three agile managers and three different tracks – so if each of us could attend a track then Polymorph would to be represented in all sessions. And so we did – thus covered the entire conference. Two days, away from our day-to-day routines, dedicated to learning from our peers and also sharing the knowledge that we gained from our own experiences. A privilege and an opportunity to grow that we’re thankful for.

We’re back at the office with so much that we’d like to implement and share with you. Besides this introductory post, you can also look forward to posts relevant to each of the individual tracks:

  1. By Johan – IMAGINE: (Product & Innovation) Breaking through the sound barrier and saving the world by unleashing potential in yourself and your organisation by achieving more than what you imagined possible.
  2. By Marietjie – EMPOWER: (Leadership & Coaching) With great power comes great responsibility, let’s embark on this journey together and blast to supersonic speeds.
  3. By Duke – MASTER: (Pride in the Craft) Not all heroes wear capes. By honing our abilities and combining our super powers, we can go beyond the ordinary and become extraordinary!

There were three, informative and thought-provoking keynote messages. The conference was opened by Andrea Tomasini (@tumma72), one of the founders of Agile42, which recently merged with Scrumsense.  Andrea spoke about the difference between ‘scaling’ and ‘growing’ Agile, and the dangers of playing any kind of hero while an organization is growing in agility.  He also touched on the concept of an Agile Strategy Map – see his (very entertaining) slides on slideshare.

The second day was kicked off by Thato Kgatlhanye (@strugglingbilli).  This young woman told us some of her story and the story of Rethaka, her manufacturing concern (that’s right, she has nothing to do with software).  Yet still she applies agile principles, with a build-test-improve cycle being the foundation of how she came up with her product.  Keep an eye on this one, she is going to change the world!

It really seems agile principles are going everywhere – Toyota may have kicked things off, the software industry may have made it famous but now it’s spreading everywhere. At the end of the conference, Cara Turner (@Cara_Faye) told us about Project codeX, which teaches young South Africans how to code, how to do so in an agile way…  In fact, the education happens in a pull-based fashion!

Apart from the keynotes, the 3 tracks of talks and workshops, the 2 lean coffees, and the continuing, all-day coaching clinics that comprised the scheduled part of the Scrum Gathering 2015, and in addition to its 165 participants, there was also a 166th presence that manifested itself in-between events, where people mingled, networked and talked about their own circumstances, aspirations, and takeaways from the events they just experienced. This ‘spirit’ of the convention also gave us some interesting feedback in terms of our own application of the principles of agility and the way we do things back in our neck of the woods. Three of these nuggets of feedback are as follows:

Firstly, the concept – and implicit connotations – of the term ‘Scrum Master’ was challenged against the idea that in a Scrum Team there is no ‘master’ other than the Team as a whole. This and associated ideas were discussed in an interesting panel of Agility Practitioners, and the conversation is, undoubtedly, to be continued. Indeed, the Scrum movement is nothing if not self-inspecting and ever-adapting!

Another most gratifying realisation amongst attendees was the fact that there is an amazing, mature and home-grown Agility Talent right here in South Africa! There were only 3 practitioner/speakers visiting from abroad. Apart from them, the rest were all resident and practising mostly in Cape Town and Gauteng.

The last bit of feedback that we found expressed by attendee number 166 relates to something we may have come to take for granted at Polymorph. Specifically, in conversations with industry peers, our unique, remote company culture seemed to spark much interest and spin-off discussions in the corridors between conference events. It is obvious that remote work is not yet popular in South Africa, but there is definitely a growing interest in working this way, and capitalising from the benefits that remote work brings to the party. At the same time however, the pitfalls, and how to deal with problems that – at a first glance – could be resolved more expediently and efficiently between co-located colleagues remains the top theme of questions asked of us. It is, most probably, high time we present our story and experiences with our colleagues in the industry at future SUGSA events!

In conclusion, as we left the Hyatt Regency and boarded the Gautrain for the last time on our way back home after what was, in every respect, an amazing experience at the conference, we bring back to you these key thoughts:

  1. Never stop challenging the status quo in every respect. This allows us to test its currency and validity, and when that wanes, we have the opportunity to change.
  2. Always endeavour to change: Small incremental improvements, which are at the heart of being an Agility Practitioner, are ‘change’. While changing, keep the principles and values of Agility at the core, and do not be afraid to fail. Things we try might not work so let’s fail fast forward!

iii. Always remain grateful for our unique Company Culture, and safeguard it by continuously improving ourselves and sharing knowledge gained from failures and successes alike, and constantly seeking to learn from the experiences of our peer Agilists!

 

Thanks for reading. More to come soon!