Scan Agile 2009 retrospective

Toyota Way at Scan Agile 2009

My second visit to Helsinki. Last year’s Scandinavian Agile was great. This year’s was even better.

What Went Well

  • Presenting the Toyota Way with Portia. I presented this session for the first time at XP Days Paris 2006. Since then, it has been changed and refined each time it’s run. Most importantly, it includes the stories and experiences we accumulated by applying these techniques over the past years.
  • Meeting the other participants over coffee, lunch and dinner and at the pub.
  • Running a “Conflict Resolution Diagram” systems thinking session with some 15 participants. More about the technique later.
  • Helping Artem Marchenko to run the Business Value Game. It’s always interesting to see how other presenters run the game and “steal” their good ideas.
  • The location: beautiful and cold autumn Helsinki. The conference center was ideal for the first day: two large presentation rooms and  three smaller workshop rooms, connected by a large open space with coffee and cakes.
  • Getting tips for more books from Tom Poppendieck after the Toyota Way session.
  • Visiting the Reaktor offices, getting a tour (including the “Russian” room) and discussing sauna’s, Steve Jobs’ management style and the difference between being able to do business analysis and teaching others to do it.
  • Discussing Business Value modelling at the Open Space.
  • The open space session announcements became more and more original and fun as each presenter tried to top the presenter before them.
  • The conference went smoothly and everything was well-organised. Great job, conference organisers!

What Went Wrong

  • I didn’t know the contents of the sessions. The schedule overview only contains session titles, with no way to click through to a detailed session description. There were no “session adverts” at the start of the conference, where session presenters could tell me why I should go to their session.
  • The morning program was too cramped: what looked like two back-to-back 60 mins sessions were actually two 50 mins session with a 10 minute break. I prefer longer breaks. For example: at XP Days Benelux we have 30 minute breaks between sessions.
  • Overrunning the timeslot for the Toyota Way session. We stayed in the timebox during rehearsals, so we need to ensure that we can do it live too.
  • The Open Space didn’t make very good use of the room space: the working groups were too close to each other, so that it was difficult to understand each other with all the noise around us. All working groups stayed in their appointed place, while there was plenty of good space going unused in the middle of the room. That just shows how little we question arbitrary constraints.
  • To avoid the noise and overcrowding problem, we ran the Conflict Resolution Diagram session downstairs in the coffee room. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones, so the session was still too noisy and cramped.
  • A participant told me he walked out of the Toyota Way presentation shortly after the beginning because it  looked “too basic”.


  • Why the need to make “controversial” statements and speeches? It seems to me that the Agile community prefers infighting over advancing the state of the art and delivering value. That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the item on the left more. Sectarianism (“Scrum vs Kanban”, “Agile vs Lean”) does not help me do my job.
  • Why no Post-Its at the Open Space? How can you expect me to work without Post-Its? 🙂
  • Why are so many sessions only about theory, even the one that told us to distrust presenters who present only theory without any concrete examples? Where did you do this? Who were the people who applied this? What were their results?
  • What does a maniac with a power drill pointed at me have to do with involving people in Kanban? Karl, your Kanban presentation scared me 😉

The ChoiceLessons Learned

  • If you want to run an effective open space, you need the right kind of space. Ideally, separate spaces or rooms that are sufficiently private to allow for discussion and work AND sufficiently public so that it’s easy to go from one space to the other.
  • The Conflict Resolution Diagram technique is very simple. It’s also incredibly difficult because you have to question openly, approach a problem with an open mind, take the time to understand the real problem before prescribing a solution and be willing to surface and question all your assumptions. But the reward is huge: you’re able to transform “either this OR that”, “this VERSUS that” and “this OVER that” statements into “this AND that” statements. We can have our cake AND eat it too, if we choose to live a meaningful life and learn to apply some systems thinking.
  • The Toyota Way presentation can become better and can be delivered better. See for yourself at XP Days Benelux 2009.