XP Days Benelux Highlights

Kai Stevens

Just before the end of a historically hot November month in the Netherlands, the XP Days Benelux conference would make the temperature for agile enthusiasts from all around Europe climb even higher. Also for me being a product owner and agile enthusiast, the conference was two days of inspiration and fun. In this blog post I will share my most passionate learnings.

Sketch NoteAn awesome huge sketch note about the first day of the XP Days Benelux conference

The power of empathic communication

One of the sessions that intrigued me the most was actually about the most elementary skill in all aspects of our life: Communication. The power of empathic communication by Rob van Lanen gave me a first glance on the Non Violent Communication Framework, a way to reach a more emphatic level of communication. To get empathy from your team members, you will most likely first have to give it. However, in the dynamics of an average software development project, it can be challenging to really listen to your team members’ emotions and needs and make them feel understood. So I find it important to keep learning how to improve my skills on this subject. The NVC model can definitely help us reach that next level of communication. It is no surprise that the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life got right to the top of my christmas wishlist.

Scaling agile

Another interesting session was about a hot topic in the agile community: How do we scale agile? Jef Cumps and Bart Oste had a great way of making the challenges of a scaled agile environment clear. With an energetic and humoristic act they challenged the participants of their session to build a playmobil playground for them. The participants got split up in four development teams and an integration team. Each development team was responsible for the development of features for one of the target groups: parents, teenagers, children and toddlers. The integration team was responsible for supporting the teams in integrating their features on the right spot in the playground. During several iterations we simulated planning, development, review and retrospective of 18 minute sprints. By iterating a couple of times we got a grasp on the essentials of working with multiple teams on one product and which challenges you will face when integrating the teams’ work into a shippable product increment.

Playmobil Playground
The Playmobil playground after our last iteration. A lot of features implemented successfully!

Agile education

My last session on the XP days Benelux was a very interesting journey to the possibilities of using agile in our educational system. A group of high school students and their teachers from the Valuas college in Venlo, visited the conference to share their experiences using scrum for their chemistry classes. By interviewing the students we got a clear view of how they are using Scrum. In general they like to work as self organizing teams because it:

  • Is more fun
  • Gives students more motivation
  • Learns students to cooperate better
  • Gives students the choice to focus on their talents.

On the other hand there is a clear downside: teenagers are not adult yet. Motivated students can face situations where they have to work together with only unmotivated team members. In an adult and professional situation it (hopefully) rarely happens that you are the only motivated team member and end up struggling to squeeze some results out of the team. And if it happens you better look for a new team to join quickly! Students at high school face this situation more often and do not have the choice to quit their ‘job’. During the interviews it was clear that students really need their teacher’s help to deal with these kind of situations.

Besides giving the teachers and students tips for improving their Scrum process we also learned from them. Together with the Definition of Done as we all know it, the students also define a Definition of Fun to make sure that they learn in a positive environment. As fun is one of the most important ingredients to success I think it is a good idea to add this fun artifact to our teams at Enrise. If you want to know more about the Definition of Fun and using scrum for education, you can have a look at the EduScrum website.

Looking back the XP Days Benelux gave me insights on a broad range of subjects that reach far beyond the basics of agile. Besides the interesting sessions it was also great to exchange experiences and ideas with colleagues who are passionate about agile. I will definitely be attending the next edition!

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