Heart and Soul of ALE

Olaf Lewitz cross-posting of trustartist.com.

ALE16 will happen in Paris. Last three days of August. Sponsor, and join us!

Five years of Agile Lean Europe. What a journey, and roller-coaster ride!

In 2011, I’ve been heart and center of the creation of our first ALE unconference, ALE2011 in Berlin. We met and engaged to “share because we care”. It was an enormous success.

I stepped back from the organising sofas and sadly did not attend ALE2012 in Barcelona and ALE2013 in Bukarest. I came back to Krakow for ALE2014 and was invited as a keynote speaker in Sofia for ALE15.
I wanted to give back to our great community. I decided to step back into the organiser team, and we started making ALE16 happen in Paris.

A lot is the same, and much is different. We made some choices when setting up the space, and the timing, and the ask for ideas.

Surprisability - We rock when we're rocked

ALE is surprisable – We Rock when we’re Rocked

Why did we make these changes? And: Why is ALE the way it is, anyway? What is ALE?

Why did we start?

ALE emerged as an initiative of people who wanted a conference that was different: run by practitioners for practitioners, without anyone earning any money, with no difference between speakers and listeners. No difference in rank or privilege between those who have answers, and those who come with questions. We wanted diversity and participation and community… and we made that happen.

At the time we found good ways to integrate what was “expected” of a conference (and seemed therefore possible) – a few keynotes, some invited talks – with what was new and exciting: open space, lightning talks and time for crazy unexpected stuff.

What was unexpected, astonishing and exciting in 2011 is not as extraordinary in 2016. So…

How do we continue now?

When we started the conversations about how we wanted ALE16 to be, two ideas stood out for me:

  • Emphasis of the “basics” – more of what makes ALE unique
  • Push the boundaries of what’s possible – make ALE unique again 🙂

Let me explain and elaborate why I believe that is important.

More of the Basics

If we separate ALE in the elements that make it special and the elements that are similar to other conferences (I know this is a broad simplification), these are “common conference elements”:

  • Keynote talks
  • Invited sessions
  • Sponsors with banners on the homepage and booths…

We basically decided to not do any of these. Sponsoring will work differently (we hope) and we don’t want keynote speakers (who get expenses reimbursed and don’t pay, like me last year) and invited sessions (conference talks and workshops etc) – all of these are welcome, and they can be run within the open space. Which cues in to the …

Elements that make ALE special

We created some special elements that have always been part of ALExx and its organisation:

  • Open space, every day, without any parallel program. This has been immensely successful, people always said they would like to have more of that, so now we’re creating space for more. Open space for most of the day.
  • Lightning talks as a key element for all, without any parallel program. Full community attention to anyone passionate or daring or vulnerable to show up and engage. We keep this and encourage pecha kuchas as well.
  • Sessions of a crazy nature. We had programmers create an unconference program software during the event in Barcelona. We have had kids do all sorts of amazing things – including keynotes. We have invited aliens. We want to test how far we can move the needle here, and what the community will come up with. XP2013 had a drummer from Blue Man Group give a talk with a drum set. We won’t do that, yet the community might come up with something similar.

This is an experiment. We need your feedback to make it successful.

Why is this Important?

when someone says that's not agile a fairy dies. Martin Kearns

Martin Kearns captured by TargetProcess #Agile2014

Agile is about improving the world, with and for the people. Agile is about connection. ALE has always been a space for people to show up, to connect with like-minded peers. We have been sharing our questions, our puzzles, our challenges, our conflicts. We connect with our needs, and ideas for solutions emerge. This refills our batteries, inspires our minds and hearts, fuels our passion and moves our community and our craft forward.

Chris Matts has talked at ALE15 about communities of need, and how important they are, and how many other conference go down the path towards becoming communities of solution. We don’t mind if you come to ALE16 to share your solution. You are welcome!

Most other conferences focus on presentations of solutions, by experts who are invited to talk about them. We see value in that. And, we see the risk that people who do not have a solution, who come with experience and a lot of questions, feel discouraged to share their needs as they don’t feel worthy, compared to the invited experts. In many conferences this leads to the effect that the most valuable conversations happen in breaks, outside, at the bar or in the coffee corner. We want those conversations to be front and center, valuable focus of our attention. This has been the intent of ALE from the beginning, and we are making that even more deliberate now.

Using Chris Matts’ words, our changes to the ALE setup are simply a way to implement boundaries that amplify the community of needs and mitigate the risk of becoming a community of solutions.

Because we care.

What would you like to have happen to make ALE16 the most awesome and “un” unconference ever?