This will be a short recap of the Agile Dialogs unconference held yesterday. We discussed ways of predicting value production with and without estimates. Over the next few days I’ll blog more of what we uncovered, but this will be a simple post on how the unconference was approached.
We had a good mix of people that were passionate, though no one was at I’d say fully at each end of the spectrum. The big takeaway was that both sides are right in many ways and wrong in many ways. The idea of not using estimates of time, money, and/or story points can be done and is highly context dependent. As with any approach it may nor may not work in your context; it depends, or YMMV. The best you can do is try it as an experiment and see whether it works for you.
What we did at Agile Dialogs was –
- register with one side or another along a continuum (how strong we felt on the issue),
- post the types of things we estimate,
- tell our stories of both our successes and failures on both sides – with and without estimates
- explore our objectives for either using or not using objectives and the techniques we use for each side
- Explore the assumptions used when using estimates
- Explore the assumptions used when not using estimates
- Explore what each side could learn from the other
- Posted and voted on what could possibly be the next thorny topic we tackle
- and retrospect on how the Agile Dialogs unconference could be better
Here’s a few teasers of some of the discoveries… I’ll go more in depth on what was discussed in future posts as well as post some proceedings on the Agile Dialogs site.
- When management or customers are asking for estimates, it is more important to understand their need for it; then more valuable alternatives to fulfill that need may be explored. Estimates may prove best for fulfilling that need though, so don’t force fit an alternative technique.
- Estimation has become a scapegoat for other dysfunctions within the works system. Removing estimation won’t fix these dysfunctions, but it may help uncover them. Whether at the end of the day, you remain with or without estimation, if these more fundamental dysfunctions can be fixed, then the work climate will improve.
- Estimation always exists, but when pursuing a noestimates approach, the nature of the estimation actually changes from cost, time, and/or complexity to value (which is not based on those in most environments).
- Focusing on understanding time and money estimates tends to introduce longer feedback loops for actual learning. If it is possible (and that is an IF), then removing them can eliminate waste in the work system to that learning.
- Measurement is important in both approaches; when doing estimates we sometimes get lulled into a false sense of security that good measurement exists, when often it doesn’t.
- Humans suck at estimation except on conceptually obvious items (obvious equating to the obvious domain in the Cynefin framework); mathematical models (particularly when the underlying assumptions on those models are validated by the team doing the work) can really help produce accurate results in the complicated domain. The complex domain can be assisted greatly by these mathematical models, but the loop through is validating a hypothesis.
- Another way to test a hypothesis is to set time or cost box and see if the solution at the end of the box is on track decide whether to spend more, accept as-is, or abandon; think Lean Start-up approach.
I have set-up The #AgileDialogs Daily that curates information from both sides of this thorny topic; other thorny topics will get added as a discussion on them emerges.
This is a follow-up post from my previous post “What is the Matter with Unconferences“; if you haven’t read it, please drop by and do so – we’ll wait…
As one other clarification, here is a Wikipedia extract that outlines what a BarCamp is, which is what most of these I have been to is based on…
They [BarCamps] are open, participatory workshop-events, the content of which is provided by participants.
After seeing issues at both UXCamp and ProductCamp, I’d like to offer some suggestions. What saddens me in particular is that so many sessions at this past ProductCamp were presentations. While I like that at least the type was known to me beforehand, even some pitched as workshops weren’t hands-on. And the presentation ones seem to leave little time for true discussion.
To provide some details on the disturbing trends and to offer some unsolicitied advice on changes to make:
- People getting scheduled before the conference. I think it is OK to find out people’s passion beforehand, but let’s not schedule sessions before the unconference; unconferences are more than just crowd-sourcing topics
- Using voting as a method for choosing what topics are in or out. People will follow their passions; I’ve been at sessions where I was the ONLY one that showed up as the convener; that’s OK. I either went to another session or captured my thoughts quietly; I’ve also had others come join me after about 10 minutes from the start as they tasted a few competing interests and found the conversation we created more interesting.
- Don’t provide A/V equipment for sessions. No mikes, no video. To have participatory sessions, the sessions should self-constrain themselves to being small where microphones are unnecessary. Unlike big formal conferences, we’re not interested in trying to determine speaker or topic popularity, people self-determine that… Several workshop sessions at ProductCamp were set-up auditorium style and the participation was limited to getting small amounts of input from the audience. The default format should be open discussion; workshops should be essentially the second option.
- Don’t have any session format connote different levels of expertise; no panels of experts or ask the expert. Unconferences are awesome because they promote peer-based discussions. That young guy out of college may have more innovation in them than the greybeard of 30 years in the industry. You are not going to unlock that by placing one over another via a self-proclaimed or given title. Let that expertise emerge from the group and people will learn what they want to use or not. If a panel of people want to convene one, that’s fine, but don’t let people call themselves experts; it’s still a conversation.
- Consider what a Keynote does; it constrains thinking and lowers energy. If you are going to have a ‘keynote’, consider building the schedule (in Open Space, we would call it a marketplace) before the keynote. This then captures the tone of attendees without influence. If it isn’t aligned with the keynote, so be it; now you know what is on people’s minds. As soon as the keynote happens, people begin constraining what must be important is centered around it AND having someone talk at me for 45 minutes to an hour lowers energy levels for proposing sessions. Also, let everyone have a chance to propose a topic before letting others offer a second one.
Select a style and focus on it beforehand: Camps tend to be more hands-on workshops. Open Space and World Cafe formats more discussion-oriented. Also, can I ask that space be considered a bit better? While I thought the digs at both the Goethe Institute (UXCamp) and LivingSocial (last ProductCamp) were cool spaces, they were not conducive to moving around or running an effective unconference given the number of people; perhaps decrease the number of attendees.
I’m going to be watching what these two camps in particular do next year; I may set-up a competing model that truly emphasizes peer conversations if this is the trend for these two.
PS – This is NOT considered a knock on the organizers – who did a wonderful job at the format that they decided to do, but either they do not fully understand (or want to execute on) what an unconference (Camp) is, OR they are being seduced by ever greater number of attendees/sponsors they can get in exchange for sacrifices on the format. I’d invite them to consider their own personal motivations and perhaps incorporate them explicitly into their message.