This past week was crazy for me for a lot of different reasons, some of which I’ll blog about later this month. The story of this week started at the end of March when I was asked if I would be interested in doing some agile talks for some of the IBM Labs in the mid-west cluster. I offered up some abstracts for some of my existing talks to the labs and let them decide if they wanted something out of those or if they would like me to create something new. They all wanted some combination of my existing stuff… They settled on dates a few weeks ago and this week, off to Austin, Dallas and Phoenix I went to give 4h workshops. How did it go? I could tell you here, but really, I would like it much more if you would just read on… 🙂

Austin, Texas (May 31st – June 2nd)

This was my first stop on my trip that I came to lovingly nickname “Steffan’s Midwest Agile Tour”. I flew in on Memorial Day on a pretty uneventful flight (just the way I like them) and was greeted at the airport by my fellow co-author Elizabeth. This was the second time that we got to meet in person in the last year or so working together. Her family very graciously offered to have me over during my stay in Austin. They were all very nice to me and we had a very good time. Thanks Elizabeth!

On June 1st, I got to spend the day with my own team, that I did not see in person since 2008 when I first joined them. It was good to see everyone once again. Doing our Sprint Planning meeting while being in the same room as them was probably as odd to them as it was for me. Usually, we are just the proverbial voices on the phone to each other. Late in the afternoon, I made my way to the room where I would be presenting the next day and got slightly intimidated by it… Large room, lots of chairs and I would be presenting on a podium. Not my usual cup of tea… In the evening, some of my team members took me out to “Rudy’s” for supper and we followed that up with a trip to “Slick Willie’s” for some pool and alcohol in the evening. Oh, by the way, I learned a life lesson that night… When renting a GPS with your car, make sure it actually works before you leave the car rental place… I was traveling with a guide (Elizabeth) on the first day and when I tried the GPS on that night to find my way back, I realized it did not work at all… 🙂

On June 2nd, I made my way to the office bright and early to make some meetings before my presentation. Around 9:00 am, I made my way back to the presentation room as I was starting at 10:00 am and wanted to make sure everything was functional instead of coming in at the last minute. The setup went well, the projection screen was huge! For the Austin folks, the talk was a combination of the “Daily Scrums for distributed teams” workshop that I ran with my co-authors last year at CASCON in Toronto along with the content from the “Effective Collaboration during a sprint” talk I gave in Montreal a week earlier at the Rational User Group meeting. Elizabeth introduced me to the crowd around 10:05 am and I did my thing.

I had a crowd of just over 40 people for the day. It was odd walking around the campus the previous day and seeing posters with a picture of myself around the campus. Apparently some folks could not find their way to the presentation room so we lost out on some people that were interested in coming. The oddest thing for me on this day was the fact that some members of my team were in the crowd. I gave a few agile talks in IBM in the last six months and to my knowledge, not many have listened in to them so it was interesting to have some people there that I know and sometimes talk about in my talks… 🙂

The first part of the talk that lasted through the morning was the daily scrums workshop. This was fairly interactive with exercises to pull the people in. I had some gifts to hand out so folks coming on stage got a handout for participating. I gave out about sixteen, all to different people which gives you a good idea of the participation. The crowd was nice and asked some good questions. I was also working with a brand new presentation deck so I occasionally found myself being caught off guard by the slide that appeared behind me on the screen.

The second part, lasted for an hour and a half or so. I ran a tad short on time but allowed folks to ask questions on anything they wanted and ended up pulling out my slide deck for “Agile Planning on Real Life” to help answer some of their questions. We went on until about 3:00 pm, then it was time to say my goodbyes to folks and go catch a plane to Dallas.

Dallas, Texas (June 3rd)

The second leg of my tour was in Dallas at the Innovation Center there. The folks were super nice once again. From memory, I assumed the presentation was the same as the previous day so I started introducing myself using my deck from the previous day. During my introduction, the organizer walked up to me and reminded me they had asked for the “Agile Planning in Real Life” talk first as they were less experienced in Agile. This led to me pulling out my virtual skates, changing decks and starting from scratch. Of course, the introduction was kind of already done by then so I had to skip a couple of slides to get back on track. I like doing this deck, but it is a lot less visual then the newer ones I have been working on so to me, it’s starting to look a little bit long in the tooth.

The afternoon covered the materials from the previous day on daily scrums and collaboration during a sprint, but I removed some of the exercises to gain back some time and make sure I could present all the content in a smaller time window. The crowd was smaller at this event, only about twelve to fifteen people. All were very nice and seemed interested in what I had to say.

One thing I learned on this day is that I feed off the people in the room… I usually take questions as I go during the talk but when I get less questions I reach the end faster than expected. This was a good crowd, but I could see the difference though with the previous day.

Phoenix, Arizona (June 4th)

The third and final leg of my tour, was in Phoenix. Good lord was it warm there… American Airlines was nice enough to ruin my evening the first night by forgetting my luggage in Dallas (we were about twenty to who this happened on this flight), this caused me to stay at the airport for an additional hour waiting in line to get that sorted out. When I got to the hotel, I was tired, angry and frustrated… So I checked in, then walked a mile to an English Pub for a beer… Even at 10:00 pm, it was SOOOO hot! The Guiness was good though… 🙂 My next adventure on this stop was when I turned ghost white in my hotel room when I realized my office Thinkpad no longer worked. Thank god I had brought my personal laptop for the presentations.

On Friday morning, I made my way to the local IBM office and right next to the conference room, found an IT support person. Carlos, if you ever read this, thanks for your help! It turned out that I still need to get my laptop repaired but with a fully charged battery, it works. That will suffice for the next week or two. After that, I started preparing the room for the presentation and folks slowly started trickling in. I started once again at 10:00 am or so and went until 3:00 pm in the afternoon with a one hour lunch break.

They were on the same program as the previous day in Dallas… Agile Planning in the morning and daily scrums with collaboration in the afternoon. This was my smallest crowd (less than ten people) but they were VERY involved and participated well. They were a very positive bunch and we laughed a lot throughout the day. Once again, I pulled out some of the exercises in the afternoon due to the size of the crowd.

During the effective collaboration talk, I have a section on language and culture differences. I had two funny things happen to me while in Phoenix which relate to culture differences… The first night, when I went to the pub, I was a sign in the pub indicating “Strictly No Firearms Allowed!”… To me, this was kind of shocking and funny all at once because up where I live, we do not carry firearms. It is not a common thing for us to see this. The second thing was that I actually got patted down by a bouncer when I went to a bar on Friday night… I almost called out: “Can’t you see I’m Canadian!” but I didn’t think it would matter… So I did not bother… lol!

My flight out of Phoenix was leaving on Saturday so I had an evening to go get myself into trouble… I took the opportunity to go see Iron Man 2 at a movie theater, then went out to the Sky Lounge bar for some dancing… Got to bed around 1:00 am and back up at 6:00 am for my flight home… 😉 Saturday was one really messed up day… Three timezones in a single day… Phoenix, Dallas and Montreal… I literally lost three hours just like that… I was very happy to see my family! The kids were happy that Daddy made his way back from his tour safely.


It was a great experience being able to do these presentations although I agree it’s lots of traveling in a very short window. My system is still a bit confused about what time it is, but hopefully another day and it will be back to normal. I was lucky to be able to recycle from an existing catalog of talks to help make things easier. The good thing is now I have clear abstracts for all my talks which I can also reuse. My biggest challenge has always been the first five minutes of a talk… Mainly because I have a hard time introducing myself… But this time, I found I did not have that problem at all. I struggled a bit on the morning of the first day in Austin, but apparently it did not show. Would I do this again? Probably if asked… I had a great time!

Some additional notes… Added June 13th, 2010.

I don’t usually append anything to an article I put up, but as I use this blog as a way to remember how I felt during some events, I’ll make an exception for this article. I did a shorter writeup than this for an internal site and when I read it, I saw some comments from participants were added to the article. Here are the quotes that were put up from participants when asked for feedback about the sessions:

– “In my perspective the workshop was timely and relevant, I like others attending the workshop, work primarily from home. Working from home has a number of challenges especially when working with a distributed work group / team. The topics provided practical and insightful knowledge that will help me to increase not only my effectiveness but to contribute to the effectiveness of the team I work with on a daily basis.”

– “I am looking forward to the upcoming release of the book that Steffan has recently co-authored and sincerely believe it will be a practical ready reference for myself, my team mates, my distributed management and related Product Owners.”

– “The content of the workshop was very good. Steffan did a great job presenting the material. It is great to a have a presenter that shows such passion for the subject matter. Steffan did a good job of getting everyone that was in the workshop involved in the group discussion.”

– “I thought it was very good. Since we haven’t really done much agile stuff here, the morning sessions were more useful than the afternoon (which pretty much assumed you were already doing an agile project). In the afternoon, though, I thought we benefited a lot from the “informal” discussions about agile at IBM.”

– “I personally liked that Steffan had real world experience with trying to apply the agile process to his project/team and could relate practical stories of what worked and what didn’t and how he handled such situations.”

Thanks guys for the great comments! I’m glad you guys enjoyed yourself as well!