For the fourth time, agilists from around Cox Automotive convened to share experiences and network with colleagues. The 2016 edition met in Kansas City, MO on August 30-31; there were 120 of us representing 10+ business units. Cox Automotive’s Director of IT, Rene Rosendahl, was the organizer and host for the meeting. He and his team of helpers did a great job keeping the trains running on time! By a show of hands, more than 50% of the participants were attending their first Cox Auto Agile Open.
The format of the meeting was ‘Open Space‘ – a popular meeting style in the agile community. The idea is that the participants propose topics for discussion that interest them and self-organize to make it happen. This takes the burden off of the planning committee to “own” the agenda and makes everyone an owner of the experience. (A side effect of this self-organizing model is that people who propose a session get to facilitate it…and I heard many people express surprise at that, as in: “I had no idea that by proposing a topic I would be the facilitator!”) There were 6 one-hour breakout sessions held concurrently and 7 time slots, so there were a total of 42 presentations.
It was a great opportunity to meet so many colleagues and learn about the challenges and opportunities for agility around Cox Auto. Due to the Open Space design of the meeting, everyone had a custom experience according to their interests. The take-away is that the problems and challenges we face are not unique and there is a wealth of knowledge and experience around the company to draw on. We are all teachers and students.
Two concepts that were proposed in order to enable wider participation are holding some number of these meet-ups regionally and/or supplementing the face-to-face meeting with an online event.
Andrew Davis, Sr Director of Technology Operations and I co-facilitated a session called: “What does a high-performing team look like?” Some of the take-aways from this workshop were that high-performing teams:
- Work in a safe environment and have a high level of trust in each other; these are foundational for teams to be self-organizing
- Swarm around the work during a sprint in order to get some stories complete as quickly as possible and minimize work in progress (WIP)
- Welcome feedback and focus on delivering value
- Embrace retrospectives as a mechanism for improving team performance and check that previous changes were actually effective
- Work outside of their areas of expertise to become generalized specialists and partners to get the work done
Three of the sessions I attended were particularly interesting to me:
- What is the role of the Business Analyst in agility?: Facilitated by Cathy Fincher, Senior Business Analyst, along with 20 folks representing different Cox Auto brands who had various models to share, indicating that this is an area where there is great opportunity to innovate.
- Using change management to influence stakeholders: Led by Gerry Cincotta, Director of Strategic Programs, the participants identified many lessons learned in their experiences with change initiatives.
- Outcomes vs Outputs: Eb Ikonne, Senior Director of Technology, led a provocative session which included a discussion about whether an end-user/customer of a major company’s product or service is really a stakeholder. I asserted that Apple Computer does not really know or care who I am. Eb disagreed and shared this link to a negative ad by Dave Carroll and his band – who are disgruntled United Airlines customers – I concede that Eb won that point!
I offer my sincerest appreciation to the many people who worked behind the scenes to make this great event happen and to the 120 colleagues who brought so much enthusiasm and wisdom to the meeting.