In August, Agile2018 was held in San Diego, with 2,347 attendees attending 279 sessions selected from 1,500 applications. My learning objectives focused on sessions that helped with improving team culture and cohesion, and transformation at the enterprise level. Here are three key takeaways:

1. The importance of questions

A theme in the team cohesion sessions was focusing on what types of questions you ask, whether in retrospectives or in one-on-ones. The type of questions can help build trust and determines the type of coach you are to development teams, product owners, or executives. One session discussed the importance of humble inquiry. Humble inquiry maximizes curiosity and puts the focus on learning from someone else’s perspective while accessing one’s own ignorance. This also helps remove bias from the questions.

A related idea shared at a session was on clear questions. Common in the therapy world, clear questions are essentially questions without bias and with a focus on accepting answers received and then asking adjacent questions. A great exercise from this session is to ask people what they’re like when they’re at their best. From there, ask adjacent questions such as these:

  • In what kind of situation are you at your best...?
  • Where are you when this happens?
  • What happens just before you get to this place?
  • Then what happens?

You may start to feel like a therapist, but there’s a reason they use these questions. They’re useful at helping people reach their own outcomes, which is key to any type of coaching.

2. Kanban that portfolio!

In many of the enterprise transformation sessions, the focus was less on what to do with your teams, how to form good teams, or what it means to manage in agile. Rather, it was more around how to manage your work. The answer is straight from Lean principles: visualize the workflow. Take a look at which initiatives are in process and which ones haven’t started yet, and talk pragmatically about limiting your work in progress. This often leads to interesting realizations and tough decisions among senior leadership, forcing decision-making that has been put off.

3. Know how to experiment

Proving out concepts is important, and it’s important to be able to act quickly to test great ideas. Several sessions focused on parts of the Lean Startup model. One that really stood out was David Bland’s session on Lean Experiments, where he essentially turned the Lean Startup model around. Rather than build-measure-learn, which is how startups typically function, figure out what you want to learn and what you would want to measure to validate it, and then build what you need to measure.

This seems like good advice, particularly for organizations that aren’t startups. Basically, take an idea for something you’d like to do, examine what assumptions you’re making about the idea, and then try to learn about those assumptions. You might want to learn if people want something, if it’s profitable, or if you can even execute on it. There are metrics around each of those and ways to measure. Then you build what will help you measure and prove the idea.

The conference was a very useful opportunity for me to do my own learning and a great way to network with the broader agile community. Looking forward to Agile2019 in DC!