Last week, I spent three days at Agile Open Northwest 2016, a small (300-ish people) agile conference held at the Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center.
Well, perhaps 'conference" is the wrong word; one of the first things that I read about the conference said the following:
Agile Open Northwest runs on Open Space Technology (OST).
I am generally both amused and annoyed by the non-ironic appending of the word "technology" to phrases, but in this case, I'm going to cut them some slack, because Open Space really is different.
I've done a lot of conferences in my time, and one of the problems with conferences is that they are never really about the things that you want them to be about. So, you pull out the conference program, try to figure out what the talks are really going to be like, and go from there.
Open space technology is basically a solution to that problem. It's a self-organizing approach where a minimal bit of structure is put into place, and then the conference is put on by the attendees.
So, somebody like me could host a session on TDD and design principles and #NoMocks, and – in collaboration with a few others (including Arlo) – we could have very fun and constructive session.
And – far more cool in my book – somebody who knew just a little about value stream mapping to could host a session on applying value stream mapping to software projects and have the people who showed up teach me.
The other non-traditional thing with the conference is the law of personal mobility, which says that it's okay – no, it's required – that if you aren't learning or contributing at a session you have chosen, you leave and find a better use of their time. Which means that people will circulate in and out of the sessions
With the exception of one session, I enjoyed and learned something at all of the sessions that I went to.
The one downside of this format is that you need engaged people to make it work; if you take a bunch of disinterested people and ask them to come up with sessions, nobody is going to step up.
I also got to do a couple of Lean Coffee sessions at breakfast Thursday and Friday. These are a great way to get ideas quickly and cover a lot of topics in a short amount of time.
Overall, I had a great time. If you have passion around this area, I highly recommend this conference.