This year, for the first time, the Agile Lean Europe (ALE) Un-conference was held in Sofia. From my perspective, this was a very important and exciting event for all agilists in Bulgaria – because it was the first big Agile event in Bulgaria and it gathered a lot of like-minded people in an environment that was provoking open and fruitful discussions and experience sharing. Two weeks after ALE15 I am still reflecting on the insights and impressions from the event, and I feel it’s high time that I started sharing some of those here.

First of all, let me share some insights around the event itself. From my perspective, its unique value proposition lies in the fact that it is a completely community-driven and created event. It is fully organized by volunteers and everyone is invited to contribute. I was involved in the organization together with people who have little or no knowledge of Lean and Agile but are curious to learn, and as we went through the organizational process, they could actually see and experience some of the major principles of agile working, and for me it was re-energizing to see how people get motivated and insightful as they realize how empowered they are to achieve the best result they are capable of.

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Here is the list of people who contributed to this year’s event

The other aspect of ALE’s unique value proposition is that the community is also driving the content – speakers and participants are co-creating it, naturally bringing forward exactly those points that are most relevant to them, in the specific context of their work, at the time of the event. This makes sessions and networking much more relevant, and additionally creates a unique feeling of relatedness and intimacy, which creates trust, which opens up people to share and express their views openly, which eventually contributes to a rich and insightful content.

All speakers were sharing valuable practical examples and experiences, but I will not go into a detailed review of all sessions (you will be able to see some of the recordings and slides very soon online). What I want to focus on a bit more is this year’s predominant theme, which seemed to be organizational culture and mindset. And this is not surprising. Agile concepts are now out and popular for well above 10 years, and practitioners are coming up with creative tools and best practices all the time. The challenge is to find what works in a specific context and to adapt those tools and guidelines accordingly. It is strongly related to having the adequate understanding of the agile principles deep in the organization, and to forming a learning organization from people who live continuous improvement as their personal mantra. This is yet a big topic on the table, as it requires people who are self-aware enough to know what their own values and personal goals are and be able to map how their contribution to the team or company goals is aligned to their personal values, so that they are intrinsically motivated and truly committed.

This theme has been a focal point of many discussions across the open space corners (made possible with the enthusiasm and skillful facilitation of Alexis Monville and Pablo Pernot) and these discussions were re-enforced by a number of speeches. Particularly, Olaf Lewitz made a great introduction of the real options concept that essentially implies a focus on what is important and in our control in the present moment. I was impressed by the power of Olaf’s message as he was discussing the aspect of leaving out concerns and regrets about things we cannot really change or predict (the past and future), and focus on what we can choose from now through the lenses of what is truly important to us: “Options have values, options expire, never commit early unless you know why”.

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Real options exist in the present

I found Olaf’s session very related to what I was talking about in my presentation. I shared some of my own experiences about being a coaching manager in a not quite agile environment, which I tried to transform. While I believe coaching as a tool for raising personal awareness and option discovery fits extremely well in an agile context, in a more traditionally thinking organization I found it both harder and sometimes even inappropriate to use, but also a very powerful transformation tool on individual and team development level.

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Coaching can help transform beliefs

ALE15 ended up with a great keynote by Rachel Davies who talked about building a learning organization and described how this is done in the company she is currently working for. It was an enlightening and bright conclusion of intense 3 days of fruitful interaction.

Last but not least, I would like to mention a highlight I was particularly engaged with and that was the kids program. We had a group of around 20 children engaging in a variety of innovative activities, such as art projects, robotics challenge, and even own business plan development. We had them demoing their robots and pitching their startup ideas on stage, and the energy they brought in was viral. As Angel Diaz Maroto put it in his lightning speech, we are perhaps at the verge of a new industrial revolution that will require agility in all industries. And what these kids showed in front of us was that they are bearing the capabilities and the mindset to bring that future to life.

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Kids presenting robots on-stage – priceless experience!

As I wrote above, some of the recordings and slides from the event will be available online very soon. And in my next post I’ll be sharing some of the points from my presentation, and I have prepared a surprise that you can download and use in your own context 🙂 So, stay tuned for more follow-up from ALE15!

ALE15: On Mindset, Transformation, and Learning

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