XP Day Benelux session review

Sessions are gushing in for XP Day Benelux 2005. There’s still a little time left to send in your session proposal.

We’re now organizing them on the session review site. Session reviews start in a few days.

Session reviews for XP Days Benelux are unlike most other conferences’ reviews, they’re more akin to an “Open space” process. The review process as we use it now, was first applied by Vera Peeters as Workshop Chair for XP 2005. It goes something like this:

  • Session proposals are collected on a wiki. Session organizers get access to this site.
  • Each session organizer is expected to review 3 sessions, distributing reviews in such a way that each session is reviewed by 3 reviewers. You are not allowed to review your own session.
  • A first round of reviews is held
  • Session organizers can update their proposals, based on the feedback they receive from their reviewers.
  • A second round of reviews is held, after which the final session evaluation is given.

We apply ideas from Oscar Nierstrasz’ Identify the Champion pattern language (specifically the Make Champions Explicit pattern): a reviewer scores the proposal using the following categories:

  • A: Good proposal. I will champion it.
  • B: OK proposal, but I will not champion it.
  • C: Weak proposal, though I will not fight strongly against it.
  • D: Serious problems. I will argue to reject this proposal.

A set of acceptance criteria has been established beforehand. Session reviewers evaluate how well the session meets the criteria.

This process uses several agile components:

  • All work is done in an “Open Workspace”, a wiki where reviewers and session organizers can exchange ideas and “overhear” each other’s conversations.
  • The process is completely open: everyone sees what you write, you see what everyone writes. Organizers and reviewers can communicate (through the wiki or offline) about the sessions, to ask questions, clarify unclear elements…
  • The review process is not confrontational, but cooperative: reviewer and organizer work together to come to the best possible session.
  • The process is iterative: session organizers can improve their proposals based on the feedback of their reviewers and their new insights. There are two rounds of reviews, and there are plenty of opportunities for small, incremental improvements to the proposals as questions and reviews come in. Your session proposal doens’t have to be perfect first time, there’s room for improvement.
  • There is a constant reflection (Hansei) and improvement (Kaizen) of the review process, by suggestions from participants and in a retrospective at the end of the process.
  • Acceptance criteria are defined beforehand, a “customer” (here: the reviewer) determines if the criteria have been met sufficiently.
  • Maybe not “agile” per se, but important for me: the process only uses “low-tech” technology: a wiki, email and a simple web form to submit proposals. Nothing too complex or restrictive, just enough structure to enable participants to collaborate effectively; not so much to stifle their creativity and communication.

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