Category Archives: events

Unsolicited feedback and a pony: the view from inside an Agile2016 track team

When I was a struggling aspiring speaker at the Agile Alliance‘s annual flagship conference, I was frustrated and wished they would tell me more about how to make my proposal conference-worthy. Now in my second year as a track team member, I understand better why they didn’t.

The conference

The Agile20nn conference has been happening, as best I can determine, since 2002 and today it’s one of the largest of its kind. Agile2016 in Atlanta will attract about 2,500 attendees and dozens (hundreds? not sure) of speakers and volunteers across 17 tracks. Size makes it easy to offer something for everyone. Managing an event at this scale is non-trivial!

The outside

Pony

I’m still waiting for the pony.

I made my first session proposals to Agile2014, and received pleasant form rejection letters at the end of the selection process. I was frustrated, and wished for several things: feedback to know why I hadn’t been chosen; coaching to improve the quality of my future proposals; and a pony.

The inside

As a track reviewer for Agile2015, I initially wanted to be more proactive about providing feedback to submitters, and I was confused and a little frustrated when program chairs and track chairs asked us not to. The good news was, they’d added a new Help queue/coaching option which allowed interested submitters to request more detailed guidance from dedicated volunteers. But I still didn’t understand why we were so strongly cautioned against providing feedback to submitters who hadn’t specifically asked for it. Why shouldn’t we offer to be helpful?

This year for Agile2016, I’m track co-chair for Leadership. Now I’m one of the big meanies asking my new track team volunteers not to give unsolicited feedback to submitters who don’t use the Help queue/coaching option. Based on last year’s experiences, I think I understand better why we don’t.

The numbers

I served on two tracks for Agile2015: Leadership, with 13 team members evaluating about 100 proposals, and Collaboration, Culture, and Teams, with 16 team members evaluating about 200 proposals. We try to ensure that at least 3 team members provide a detailed evaluation for each session. (Evals are private, shared only within the track team.) The majority of proposals come in right at the submission deadline, so it can be a scramble to get everything read and scored and evaluations written in the 4 weeks before our teams’ decision deadline.

Bottom line: sustainability. It’s really tempting to want to give detailed feedback early in the submission window, when proposals are coming in at a trickle and there’s plenty of time to read and ruminate. Later, as we get busier, we won’t have time to offer unsolicited help.

There’s an element of fairness as well, because if we give detailed unsolicited feedback to some submitters who haven’t asked, we really ought to give similar attention to all.

The quality

The entire submission system is open, so if you create an account you, yes you, can read all of the proposals that have been submitted to the Ready queue. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you’ll find that not all submitted proposals merit serious consideration. There’s a minimum quality bar that some don’t meet, and there’s evidence every year that some submitters didn’t read the instructions.

Bottom line: discretion. As a reviewer, honestly, if I think a proposal is irredeemably terrible, I don’t feel great about saying so to the submitter, and I’m not sure it’s a kindness for them to know when they haven’t asked.

Also, redundancy. When the submitter didn’t follow readily-available advice, there’s no sense in typing those same advices again, and certainly not if they haven’t asked.

The expectations

Each of my tracks ultimately approved just under 2 dozen sessions, out of 100 and 200 proposals. This means there are a great many proposals, even decent ones, that won’t be selected no matter what the submitter does.

Bottom line: realism. It doesn’t make sense to invest so much of our volunteers’ time giving feedback that wasn’t asked for and won’t change the outcome.

I also worry that unsolicited feedback would create incorrect expectations for the submitter—”if I do this I’ll be selected” or worse, “they must really like me”—and make them even more frustrated later when they still don’t make it.

The people

Track teams are made up of passionate human agilists, which means we have great diversity of opinion and often score the same session quite differently. The track teams’ selections are recommendations to the program team, who have the final say. There is no single person who knows the truth of why a proposal was or was not accepted, and there’s no single piece of feedback that could guarantee acceptance this time or next time or ever.

Bottom line: variability. To be meaningful, we couldn’t provide feedback from just one reviewer—we would need a diversity of opinions from a few reviewers, a track chair, and perhaps a member of the program team too! Now we’ve got conflicting feedback. What’s a submitter supposed to do with that?! And because track teams change every year, it might not be an accurate representation of what they should do next time.

The alternatives

If you care about becoming a speaker at this conference, there’s actually quite a bit of advice already out there, and there are some solid resources for you to help you give your proposal its best chance at success.

  • Read the program team’s guidance. All of it. Then read it again.
  • Read the provided sample successful proposal. Is yours as robust?
  • Choose your track thoughtfully. Read your track’s description and goals. In your proposal, clearly spell out how you align with those goals—don’t make the team guess.
  • Look through previous years’ successful proposals. Go to the submission system for past years, locate the Tracks page (Agile2015, Agile2014), select an individual track, scroll down to see the list of their accepted sessions for that year, and click any session to see its complete proposal—the published abstract and the submission-system-only program team info.
  • If you want help, ask for it! That’s what the Help queue is for. Use it!

I’m thinking about another blog post describing my submitter journey, and some of the other stuff I tried and figured out that helped my proposals. Stay tuned!

I spoke at TechEd!

I'm speaking at TechEd Europe!

Pre-conference seminar #12, “Enterprise Agility Is Not an Oxymoron”, all day on the Monday, in Madrid, BY MYSELF. That’s right, no Steve-shaped security blanket.

The worst part about giving the same pre-con twice with different speakers is having to compare the (insanely competitive) speaker and session rankings afterward. The good news is, I did OK! by myself. Not amazingly great like we did together at North America, but genuinely OK!

If you’re interested in learning more about how I teach Enterprise Agility, check out my Events page for upcoming webcasts and live workshops, or contact Northwest Cadence to request one. Cheers!

Where’s Cheryl?

Lately, Cheryl’s mostly heads-down on a long-term client engagement.

But, if you’re a fan of my quirky public speaking style and want to stalk me* virtually or in person, I can help!  Check out my new Events page for a complete list of upcoming public & private webcasts & in-person appearances.

When I’m traveling, I’m always on the lookout for a nerd dinner or user group meeting I can crash, so let me know what’s up in your area!

(*That’s a joke.  Please don’t really stalk me.  That’d be weird.)

Getting Personal with LIVE Events at the Microsoft Store

Come to the Microsoft Store in Bellevue and let me talk at you about ALM.

It’s impossible for me to talk about our new Coffee Talk LIVE series without also mentioning how much I love my little brother.  He’s been in retail management about as long as I’ve been in IT, and he’s really (objectively, I swear) good at it.  So last fall when he joined the team of the soon-to-be-opening flagship Microsoft Store in Bellevue, I knew they’d picked a winner and I hoped he had, too.

(I’m still getting used to the fact that he’s got a blue badge and a @microsoft.com address and I don’t.)

I loved learning all about the Store from an insider’s view.  I turned out for the festivities on that crazy opening night in November, with Dave Matthews playing outside the front doors and the mall overrun with geeks.  You definitely don’t see that every day.  My house filled up with handy, reusable Microsoft Store shopping bags in all four colors.

The day I had my job interview with Northwest Cadence, I swung by the Store afterwards.  My brother was just getting off-shift, and he let me decompress over sangrias at the Bellevue Azteca.  (Don’t judge.)  Then I waited, and waited, and waited for things at NWC to settle down long enough for them to call back and—by then, honestly, unexpectedly—offer me a position.

Fast-forward just a bit to my first assignments here at Northwest Cadence: delivering our ALM Catalyst series of webcasts on a variety of Visual Studio 2010 topics.  Perhaps some of you reading this newsletter heard some of my sessions.  Hi!  How’d I do?  Studying up for the series was tough, since so many of the topics are new to me.  I’m grateful for the support of the team who helped me prep, shadowed my sessions, and helped me field questions!  I’m starting to get the hang of things now, and I’ve also taken on some of our biweekly Coffee Talks focusing on process and Agility.

But, from the beginning, one of the key things that frustrated me about the webcasts was the one-way nature of the LiveMeeting format.  Even with audio and a phone conference line, I find it really limiting that I can’t see any of you.  Are you nodding in agreement or furrowing your brows because I’m not making any sense?  Am I going too fast?  Too slow?  Is the content too advanced or too basic or just right?  Where should I skim over because it’s no use to you, and where should I dive deeper because you’re eager to know more?  Here I am teaching about awesome tools and techniques to get real-time feedback on your software development processes so you can make a better product… but I’m stuck with waterfall content delivery and a QA feedback cycle that doesn’t start until after I’ve deployed myself to production!  That won’t do!

And that’s when it hit me.  The Microsoft Store has a theater space!  Non-profit organizations and small businesses can sign up to use it for their events at no charge; my brother had told me about a “girls in technology” event series that one of his colleagues helped organize.  There’s no requirement to tie in with Microsoft products, but I figured the fact that we’re a Microsoft Gold Certified ALM Partner talking about their developer tools would make it an even better fit.  The store is bright and engaging and fun, just like Northwest Cadence.  Why not put on some of our events there?

My brother put me in touch with their Community Engagement Manager, and we confirmed that the Store is a perfect place for exactly what we had in mind: Coffee Talk LIVE, an all-NEW series of highly engaging, highly interactive sessions covering a variety of ALM topics.  We’re creating all new content for this series, so even if you’ve attended our webcasts before, we hope we’ll be able to show you something new.

As the name suggests, we’ll serve coffee, and we’ll do live demonstrations of Visual Studio features on the theater’s big screen.  You, yes you, can interrupt us with questions any time.  If we catch you yawning, we’ll either offer you a refill or open up for group discussion or otherwise re-focus the content so you always get something fresh and relevant to you.  We’ll have special giveaways and door prizes to make it even more fun, and when we’re finished you’ll have plenty of time to get to the office, or stay a little longer and play in the Store before it opens!  There’s Xbox, Kinect, Surface, Windows Phone demos on the giant video wall, and lots more.

Real coffee and real ALM talk at the Bellevue Microsoft Store on October 13

I’m really excited about this new series, and I’m thrilled that Northwest Cadence picked up my little idea and ran with it so thoroughly!  We did a dry-run of sorts this week, and four intrepid early-risers joined us at the Store for a totally customized presentation on Visual Studio and, as it turned out, Scrum, with lots of Q&A.  Just what we were going for!

At our next event, you’ll see the Bellevue debut of my new extended presentation on Test Professional, heretofore given only in Tempe, Arizona (my roadshow event last week) and as a webcast that I did for just one company in Florida.  It’s 90 minutes of serious hands-on testing techniques from manual to automated, tester to developer, with just the right amount of soapbox thrown in.  I promise to live up to the new Coffee Talk LIVE tagline: “Less Deck, More Demo”.

Register here for Testers Get Professional on Thursday, October 27 at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue.  50% off if you enter discount code earlybird before Friday, October 21!

Now that my little brother’s been promoted and relocated to help open the new Microsoft Store in Santa Clara, I won’t be able to use these events as an excuse to hang out with him… unless y’all show up in droves and make it a huge success and I get to take it on the road…!  Either way, hope to see you there!

Agile Project Planning: The Cake Is a Lie

We cling to old-fashioned long-term plans because they are familiar and we think they provide certainty, but they don’t.    We shouldn’t sabotage Agile by trying to bolt on a (dishonest) long-term plan; we should understand and embrace what we’re getting in place of the plan.

I’m blogging this from 35,000 feet, almost entirely just because I can.  I’m coming home from two things I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time: [1] travel on business and [2] get paid to talk.  Yes, it was as good as I hoped!

Plus I got two states I needed!

Before

After! (It is ON, North Dakota.)

Anyway, tomorrow I’m slated to deliver the inaugural session of our “Scrum-damentals” Coffee Talk (free! register at scrumdamentals.eventbrite.com!) and I’m taking advantage of Alaska Airlines’ in-flight wi-fi to put my personal touches on an awesome slide deck created by our in-house Scrum Authority, Martin.  Scrum-damentals will cover common Scrum adoption challenges and the dreaded ScrumButs.  One of the Buts that Martin wrote up is the tendency to try to do long-range scope and release planning in spite of the Scrum directive to plan only the next 3-ish Sprints in any detail.

In fact, this is one of the clearest commonalities between Agile and Scrum.

And my former team did it.  I helped.

So why’s that bad?  We know upper management is often uncomfortable with Agile, and a little release planning is necessary to keep them happy, right?  What’s the problem?

This:

THE CAKE IS A LIE

When we succumb to pressure to project-plan, we’re giving upper management false hope.  We are lying to them.  We know it.  They probably know it, too.  We have absolutely no way of predicting accurately what we’re even going to attempt to deliver in a Sprint a year from now, much less what we’re going to accomplish in that Sprint.  It’s insulting to everyone’s intelligence to pretend otherwise.  And we, the team, participate in our own downfall when we play along.

In tomorrow’s Coffee Talk, I’ll cover some strategies we can use to push back against the demand for the plan.  Bottom line: we have to speak up and we have to educate our upper management about the benefits of Agile.  When they start to understand how much they gain by doing Agile honestly and transparently and fully, they’ll have a much easier time giving up the dream of the delicious cake.

See?

Vertigo-inducing new ALM initiatives!

I designed and am delivering a new free webcast series about Application Lifecycle Management specially for the public sector.

Let’s just say the pace of change at my previous employer… well…

Glacier in Greenland

... thanks to the economy, state projects are slow like this and also shrinking like this...

Learning the culture at a small business with 10 employees plus myself is breathtaking by comparison.

After just a couple of weeks ramping up on Visual Studio tools and ALM, Northwest Cadence is cheerfully throwing me into the deep end with my own series of free webcasts on Application Lifecycle Management, targeted at the public sector!

When I say “my own”, I mean they’ve left it to me to select the content, write the curriculum and deliver the presentations monthly.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Application Lifecycle Management in the Public Sector
Introduction to Agile
Testing and Quality Best Practices
Data Management, Security, and Risk Management

All of these are customized versions of content from our general-audience ALM and Coffee Talk serieses.  Or rather, they will be.  I haven’t exactly written them yet.  If you’re in the public sector (federal, state, local, K12, higher ed) and you’d like to see me cover specific topics or questions, now’s your chance to let me know and I’ll try to work them in!

Finally, the first sessions are scheduled for September 30 and October 28.  For section abstracts and to register, go here:

nwcadence.com/PublicSectorALMTraining

I’m not sure whether Northwest Cadence had an inkling of these public sector sessions before I started working here, or if they cooked them up during my first week — I’m learning that both are plausible — but that’s not even all.  Based on clever ideas or even witticisms I’ve thrown around since I arrived, I’ve got one new Coffee Talk session and a whole ‘nother major initiative in the works, announcements forthcoming.

Poster from the Hitchcock film

Like this.

This place gives me a head-spinning degree of responsiveness, acknowledgement, respect, and freedom-to-fail that I’m still trying to get used to.  To put it another way, every time I open my mouth about something I think is clever, I earn myself new responsibilities, and that’s so unexpected that I haven’t learned how to filter yet.  I’m kinda hoping I never do.  :)