Monday, 27 December 2010

Styles of events run by London communities

There has been a huge growth in technology events taking place over the last few years, especially where I am based in London, UK.  As well as major conferences through the year, such as JAXLondon, QCon, etc, there are a wide range of communities and user groups now well established.

There are a range of event styles that all these community groups run, so here is a breakdown of the most common event styles used

Smaller / evening events
Many communities run events for a few hours on an evening and they may include they following session styles.

Lightning talks
The concept of lightning talks is to present a number of short presentation by different people at a snappy pace.  The talks can last from 1 to 10 minutes, although its common to have 5 minute talks.

The timings can be managed strictly with someone shouting out when time is up and the presenter having to immediately stop.  It is useful to have a count down or some indication of time remaining for the presenter.

To keep the pace of the lightning talks when presenters swap over, either no slides are used or all slides are loaded onto a single computer in advance.

Lightning talks are a great way to cover a number of different topics, or introduce ideas that may be at a tangent to usual topics.  As talks are short in nature, this format is great for those new to presenting to try out

It is common to include lightning talks in other events such as open spaces and unconferences, or as a warm up to a longer talk.

Thunder talks
Similar to the lightening talk but lasting longer (as thunder lasts longer than lightning in nature).  Thunder talks often last for up to 20 minutes.  Thunder talks are often mixed in with Lightning talks.

Pecha Kucha Night
A Pecha Kucha Night events consist of around a dozen presentations, each presenter having 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds.  Each presenter has just 6 minutes 40 seconds to explain their ideas before the next presenter takes the stage.

Pecha Kucha night is very popular with artists and other creative people for showcasing their works.

Ignite event
Ignite is similar to Pecha Kucha, this time participants are given 5 minutes to speak on a subject accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are automatically advanced.

Speed geeking
Borrowing the concept of speed dating, speed geeking allows several small groups to get intimate talks.

Presenters are spread around the edged of the room and the audience is split into small groups, one group per presenter.  When signalled, each presenter talks to their group for 5 minutes, answering any questions along the way.  Each subsequent bell the groups move to the next presenter until the groups have seen each presenter.

The biggest problem with this style of event is presenter tedium.  If there are 10 presenters at the event, the presenters have to give their talk 10 times.  However, this kind of event is good for those presenters who want to improve there presentational skills with deliberate practice.

Longer / all day / several day events
There are many events that run all day or for several days, usually over a weekend.  These events may include lightning and thunder talks, etc.

An unconference is a facilitated event in which the sessions (talks, workshops) are created and given by those in attendance, rather than an organised list of public speakers.

Facilitation provides a basic structure for the day, for example how many sessions are going to be held during the event and how long those sessions should be.  

Attendees take one or more cards and write down the sessions they want to run, placing them on the schedule board created previously by the event facilitators.

An open space event is quite similar to an Unconference, although typically even less facilitated.  The event is facilitated 

Hack Day
A hack day is an event where developers, designers and people with ideas gather to develop one or more projects.  A hack day may include some up front talks around a topic of the hack day, or presentation of one or more ideas that will be developed during the event.

At the end of the hack day (or days) it is common to have presentations of the hacks to the audience of peers and even awarding prizes.

Open Conference
Open conference organizers seek to open access to the conference for attendees by elimination of cost (relying on community support and sponsorships), they also provide community access to archived presentations and discussions through similar licensing agreements.

Additionally, attendees are encouraged to become participants in a collaborative community that supports and grows the conference--even to derive new open conferences.

Foo Camp and Bar Camp are other examples similar to the unconference, open space, open conference event styles.

I am currently an organiser for several communities, including the London Java Community, Graduate Development Community, London Scala user group, Limited WIP Society and Ubuntu-UK.  I have organised open conference events and facilitated open spaces and found them a great way to share knowledge throughout a community.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

XPDays London 2010 - an amazing event

| XPDay 2010 Wiki | XPDay 2010 feedback page |  

The 2010 XPDay in London was an amazing experience and my thanks go to the organisers and all the many people that gave great open space sessions and experience reports.

Not since the 2009 Lean & Kanban exchange at SkillsMatter have I been so engergised after an event (and I have been to quite a few great events this year). I feel I have learnt so much in these two days that it will take me all the holidays to digest (and blog about) everything.

The open space format worked very well for me and produced some great sessions. A great job by Mike Sutton for introducing the open space approach in a very clear way.

It was amazing to see so many people wanting to talk about such a wide range of subjects and it was often a challenge to decide what to go to, but as Mike made clear, it was easy for us to move between sessions.

I enjoyed giving my experience report on Taking kanban to the masses, where I describe some of the practices I have used to help convey understanding of the kanban method and how to visualise your work effectively. Hopefully will be able to catch up with the videos of the other experience reports on the website. I liked the idea of having one organised track, to give you some up front idea of what could be covered in the open spaces.

As for the venue itself, I liked just using the upstairs rooms of SkillsMatter, it seemed to maintain a closeness throughout the two days and helped create a safe environment for people to share their thoughts and ideas. Good food for lunch too, especially the pasta.

The biggest challenge we had with the event was people judging the popularity of there talks. As the venue had one smaller room there was a few occasions where we had to swap. Perhaps we could do a quick raise of hand for those interested in a talk when put on the wall, so that popular talks are put in a big room.

I am really looking forward to the event in 2011 and would be interested in getting more involved, perhaps even helping organise the event.

Session Hightlights
There were so many great sessions on the day that I did not get to see everything I wanted. The session highlights that I remember so far and will write more on are as follows

Kanban 1's Game with Jon Jagger
Forward Internet 25 release per day with no unnecessary overhead
Ideal University course - lots of philosophy, learning how to learn, etc...

There are many more, including a few by Benjamin Mitchell that should be up there.  I did missed out on the session about personnas by Sarah Lawfull, so will be looking for a write up about that one.

Reading list for learning Kanban and Lean

On my way to understanding lean concepts through the use of Kanban, I have found books by the following authors invaluable:

Eliyahu M. Goldratt
Reading The Goal was a fantastic journey into thinking about lean without getting bogged down in anything technical.  The Goal is a great novel and a long way from a dull technical book, it really gets you thinking about the core ideas behind Kanban.  Following with a more specific book on the Theory of Constraints defines the lessons learnt in The Goal and adds ideas on how to manage your own constraints in the system.

David J. Anderson
David J. Anderson is one of those leading a march towards Kanban and Lean adoption in software development and his Kanban book is a great guide to applying Kanban to your existing process and identifying opportunities to improve.

Alan Shalloway et al.
The Lean-Agile software development book includes the experiences of the authors extending agile practices into the wider organisation by adding lean techniques to the mix.

Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams had a fascinating way of looking at the world and always came up with brilliant ways of conveying that vision.  The way that Douglas would talk through Dirk Gently about the interconnectedness of all things really did grow my ability to engage in system thinking.  Reading the two Dirk Gently books: Dirk Gently's Holistic detective Agency and The Long dark tea time of the soul will help get you in a lean thinking way.

There are of course many other good books on Lean, but these are the ones that have suited me best so far (although there is still a lot to read).

Introducing change effectively - All in, but not all a once

When it comes to managing change then what ever practices you decide to adopt, its preferable to take an "all in" approach, in that you get as many people involved as you can.  This does not mean that you have to adopt everything all at once, but helps you understand the big picture of change within your organisation.

An all in approach gets people involved from all aspects of the business (including revenue generating customers), so you understand the most important issues surrounding change within the business.

An all in approach helps you set meaningful goals that support the business value (e.g. your customers) and aim to extend that business value (e.g.. more customers, happier customers)

For example, if you make a decision that scrum has benefits for your organisation, it is better to get more people on board with adopting the idea of scrum than it is to adopt a full blown implementation of a scrum based process for a select few.

Although scrum is a framework, to get the most out of scrum you need to implement that framework in a way that increases the agility and effectiveness of whole company.  It is too challenging to go from nothing to a full blown scrum process in one day (or one sprint) as this would be too much change for most companies (unless you are already agile in all but name).

Adopting XP practices also take time to bed in, whilst most of these practices are pretty straight forward and easy to get going, they take a little longer to become natural and comfortable.  Adoption will be much smoother if there is an all in approach where everyone can see the point of these new practices (overal goals and values)

Adopting Kanban is relatively low impact at first as you are not trying to introduce change into your practices, you are simply trying to visualise and expose the relevant details of your current working practice.  Using a Kanban method approach to represent everything thats valuable with your practices in a way that is engaging to work with and highly representative takes time and should continue to evolve as your practices evolve.