Culture at the Forefront of SDEC 2012

Last week, I had the privilege of participating in the Software Development and Evolution Conference 2012 (SDEC) put on by Protegra. Over the past number of years, the Agile talks I have seen were amazing practical examples of how to use Agile techniques to gain productivity, capture customer feedback, achieve shorter iteration cycles, and deliver better quality software. At last year’s SDEC and at the Winnipeg Agile User Group, I listened to and told stories about how real teams have learned to use these techniques at their organizations.

This year, an overwhelming theme emerged from keynote presentations to lightning talks: culture is deeply related to the success of teams and organizations. Various methodologies and techniques like Agile, Scrum, Kanban, and Innovation Games facilitate and provide structure around culture, but you cannot achieve success by using the tools but ignoring the culture.

Joe Justice of Wikispeed revealed in his keynote that culture is the number one factor that differentiates his team of volunteers, that built a road-legal 100+mpg car in three months, from a larger automotive company, that can take years to evolve automotive design. He also shared that on a high morale week, his team is ten times more productive than on an average morale week, and it has little to zero productivity on a low morale week.

Luke Hohmann of The Innovation Games® Company highlighted in his keynote the cultural qualities that stimulate vision and innovation: creativity, imagination, collaboration, customer/grassroots feedback, and fun. Using Budget Games, the company facilitated a budgeting exercise with the City of San Jose, CA and over 100 of its citizens. They recently launched the Every Voice Engaged Foundation to help spread civic engagement in governments and non-profits.

Author of “Creating Time” and “Closing the Me-You Gap”, Vickie Gray led participants in hands-on exercises using the Core Protocols and demonstrated that communicating positively and effectively is a key aspect in productive team culture.

As the director of several self-organized teams, Chris Dagenais of Point2 Technologies shared his insights on cultivating a culture of trust and collaboration with weekly peer reviews, “promiscuous” pair-programming, cross-functional team members, and democratic engagement.

Passionate for context-driven organizational clarity, Adam Yuret hosted a Lean Coffee both mornings and as a conference session. The concept of Lean Coffee allows for mutually important topics to come to the forefront with a timeboxed, democratic system for driving discussion. I am interested in trying it more in both informal and organizational meetings.

During my Lean Coffee discussion with Mike Edwards and Gerry Kirk on influencing team culture, I was given two excellent resources: “An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide: Working with Organizational Culture“, and  “Resistance as a Resource“.

Mark Kulchycki and Alyson Teterenko shared their Agile transformation story at the Manitoba HDVC Research Centre, on how becoming agile helped them build their product, PSCAD, with higher quality and with shorter iteration cycles.

My own lightning talk, Team Building Tips (zipped Powerpoint package download), highlighted that to build a great team, you first need to cultivate and model a positive, collaborative culture, and take down cultural and organizational silos. In the panel discussion Agile in Different Environments, I joined David Alpert, Terry Bunio, and Frank Conway in answering questions and debunking the misconception that you have to throw away documentation, estimating, and planning in order to be Agile.

This year’s SDEC conference was interesting, thought-provoking, and engaging; I’m looking forward to more learning and discussions at user groups and meetups throughout the year. I was greatly intrigued by Adam Yuret’s description of an open space conference; perhaps that is something we can incorporate into next year’s SDEC!


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