Shanghai Scrum Gathering 2011 Delivers

Are you sick of hearing the same old Agile blah blah blah and Scrum this Scrum that? Do you get tired head when you think about the PMI pretending to be Agile? Are you filled with dismay because you have to explain what a self-organizing team is to yet another dinosaur manager? Have you lost that lovin’ feeling you had when you discovered Scrum? Is it all starting to feel like just a bit of a grind?

I have one word for you: China.

I’m returning from the Shanghai Scrum Gathering held this past weekend. The theme was “Let Agile Fly”. It was a great gathering. In terms of sheer joy, exuberance, wonder, and excitement it equaled or bettered any conference or gathering I’ve ever attended. In China, things are in a very early stage and people are excited in the way people were excited about Scrum ten years ago in the US.

This was my third scrummish trip to China. I had a great time renewing connections with the two Daniels (Gu and Teng), the Li brothers (Mike and Bill, who aren’t actually brothers), Shining Hsiong (the rock upon which the Chinese Scrum Gatherings seem to rest), Julien Mazloum and Brenda Bao from OutSofting, Ethan Soo of CGC, the extremely cool folks from NetCircle, the Odd-e Outlaws Kiro-san, Stanley, Terry, and Steven, my fellow working CST Vernon Stinebaker (we both have engineering management jobs in addition to being CSTs), and my new Scrum brother Alan whose last name I either don’t know or can’t pronounce. I got to meet Mike Beedle, co-author of the first scrum book with Ken, who is an imposing intellect with a lot to say. He also eats like me, which means anything that won’t bite back is fair game.

I learned last week that “Chinese people are very practical.” They grasp the lofty thinking but they crave the nuts and bolts advice that they can put to direct and immediate use. Gerard Meszaros was smart smart smart and I and they loved his emphasis on actual code and engineering practices. Gerard’s bumper sticker from the lofty ideas part of the Gathering: Agile is an operating system, not an application.” Hmmmm. Maybe you had to be there. The practical details continued with Lance Kind on the TDD side and Erik Petersen on the testing side. These guys were adept and experienced, and a whole bag of monkeys fun, too. And to think I’d never even heard of them!

400 excited folks gathered at the Huating Hotel in Shanghai for the two day gathering, which sported four complete tracks with English, Chinese, and mixed language presentations. The venue was great. The attendees were a mix of consultants and experienced Agile folks along with lots of real people practicing real Agile in the real world at work in China and there was a good smattering of tire kickers new to Scrum, too.

I really had a great time during the 90 minute Open Space. It was wild. In ten minutes the hotel staff converted the orderly rows of chairs in the main room to a giant circle, and several Chinese facilitators got people to propose topics. We put the titles on big sheets of flip chart paper and all marched around the circle holding up the titles so everybody could see what was available. (This is the closest I will ever get to being a ring girl for professional wrestling.) I think there were about fifteen topics. Each topic owner then found some wall space, taped up their title page, and people gathered for the session. All of them in the same giant room. The hubbub was fantastic. I did a session called Practical Basics of Scrum, and I think it was the only one in English. We covered the entire Scrum machine and probably two dozen random Scrum questions in the time we had, and it was difficult to end it. I haven’t had that much fun since playing the ballpoint game at Amazon outside a board meeting and having Jeff Bezos come out and stare at us before he continued on to the bathroom.

I stopped in to a lot of the presentations over the two days, and I am happy to report that China is clearly growing its own generation of Agile practitioners and thinkers who can teach others. The level of expertise was high and the questions were very probing. It’s odd to sit in a presentation and not understand what the presenter is saying and at the same time to grasp the thrust of the material by just watching the slides. The general level of interaction was very impressive.

The retrospective was interesting. We all divided into teams of 9 using a very weird method that I did not understand at all since it was all explained in Chinese. I just depended on people pushing me one way or another at the right times. Then each group got a large drawing of nested ovals. In the outer ring we all put four things we liked about the conference. Then we each put down three feelings we had during the conference. Into the third ring we put the two most valuable things we had learned. And into the center we collected the outstanding items from the previous rings to summarize. Then each team reported out to the others, to much hilarity and applause.

No description of the conference can be complete without mentioning Ripley (Believe It Or Not), the graphic recorder. She just sat in the main room and drew what was happening during each session. The pictures that were captured were so interesting and wonderful I hope somebody can post them somewhere somehow. Hers is a real talent and she totally enriched the whole Gathering with her work.

Two more things I have to say.

One: the conference was put on by ALL VOLUNTEERS! Amazing job by all. Flawless.
Two: the very best thing was at the end of the wrapup and retrospective, when a giant rugbylike scrum formed with people yelling and grunting and pushing and shoving for no apparent reason other than that they were just so full of joy. I have never seen anything like it, but I hope to see something like it when I go back next year, because that’s what I intend to do!



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