Retrospective: Northwest Cadence at ALM Summit 2011

By | 2011-11-23T13:41:36+00:00 November 23rd, 2011|Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), Kanban, Process, Scrum|1 Comment

I’ve been attending the ALM Summit series since 2006 when it was still called p&p. On my blog this week, I’ve shared some nostalgia about my personal ALM Summit journey

I didn’t mention how I spent all those years pestering poor Keith, the organizer, to let me be a speaker at Summit.  “C’mon, just a 15-minute lightning session.  The public sector is interesting… no, really…”  He must have had a good laugh this summer when I told him I was moving to Northwest Cadence, me having no clue then that Northwest Cadence is a Platinum Sponsor of the entire Summit!  I think Keith might have had a better idea what was in store for me than I did!

So I arrived at this year’s Summit unsure what my new role and our Platinum Sponsorship would mean for me.  Keith already rolls out the red carpet for all attendees, so it’s not like I needed to be treated any more specially.


The Summit really is as much about connecting with people—industry colleagues, thought leaders, and real development teams trying to solve real problems—as it is listening to lectures.  Northwest Cadence demands this of me, which I love, though I’m still trying to overcome feelings of guilt whenever I miss or multitask any part of a session…

It’s a huge thrill to find that some attendees remember me from last year.  One actually did a double-take: “Steven, she’s with you guys now?!”  Double win!

On Tuesday afternoon, the Summit rolled out its new concept, Open Spaces: self-organizing discussion groups on attendee-selected topics.  Martin, Steven and I dove into a big one: “Scrum or Kanban?”  We talk about this in the office all the time, and we give Coffee Talk webcasts on it, so I’m eager to expand my/our knowledge with insights from others. was well-represented in the group, but I was surprised, and fascinated, to see Kanban take up the majority of the discussion time!  It seems that while a lot of teams have adopted Scrum, for one reason or another they may be looking to introduce Lean/Kanban thinking into their process as well.  2011 is perfect timing for this, as we’ll see later…

Kanban Is Buzzing

On Wednesday afternoon, our own Steven Borg delivered a session entitled “Questioning the Big Bang Theory: The Case for Incremental Change”.  Even though the title was tuned to be agnostic and accessible, Steven can’t outrun his reputation, so quite a few attendees greeted him with, “… and we can’t wait to see your Kanban session later!”

Figure: The kids back at the office had their fun with his goofy agenda image…

I got to work in advance with Steven to help craft his presentation, including playing with Prezi, an awesome, non-linear alternative to PowerPoint.  We had fun watching each other’s adorable little Prezi avatars wander around the screen as we co-edited online.

Steven’s an amazing speaker, by far one of the most engaging at the Summit, and I’m not just saying that because his company pays me.  (Pretty much reverse that causation arrow… but that’s another blog post.)  Check out the recorded sessions if you have any doubts about this.

I think there’s a need in our industry to address the question of incremental change, too: Scrum provides great, interconnected, proven tools right out of the box, but what if your management won’t give you a box?  Steven showed us how concepts from Kanban supported by specific techniques for followup, problem-solving and incremental actual change offer a good alternative.  Or a good supplement!

I was motivated by this and Tuesday’s Open Space to blog about what I see as a Kanban risk: Underpants Gnomes. Kanban helps you visualize an existing process, but does your team have the necessary mindset and skills to then identify problems correctly and fix them positively and productively?

Technical Reception

After hours on Wednesday, the Northwest Cadence operations crew came over and we set us up a cool sponsor booth and live demoing station.  We raffled a DIY Kanban Wall kit with the same supplies we used to create our own Kanban Wall at our office: magnetic primer, chalkboard paint, smudgeproof chalk markers, laminated dry-erase magnet cards, lots of fiddly magnetic bits, painting implements, dropcloths and a bucket.  We set up some other paint-themed decorations and threatened to put the newest ALM Consultant in the Ty-vek Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man paint suit… wait, I’m the newest ALM Consultant!  Help!

Our idea for Mini Coffee Talks with self-organizing topics didn’t quite take off as we’d hoped, though mostly for the very satisfying reason that attendees kept wandering over and striking up conversations and keeping all of us consultants busy all evening.  I played around with IntelliTrace at the demo station for a few minutes, which I don’t think constituted a demo because I think only Dan was watching; for the rest of the evening, about every 20 minutes or so I’d wander over to the laptop and put up a single provocative slide to see if I could get a conversation started.  One of my favorites, “ATDD: Because Customers Lie” was a crowd-pleaser, and I’m looking forward to building out that idea in a future full-length Coffee Talk.

Everything Scrum Is New Again

Several of our esteemed industry colleagues got into shape in 2011 and turned up at the Summit looking fit and trim.  Great job, guys!  This year, Scrum also finds itself right-sizing and focusing on essentials.  Our own Martin Hinshelwood summarizes the overall change in approach beautifully in his blog post Are you doing Scrum? Really?, authored during the Summit.

R I P, Scrum But

Figure: Don’t be too sad for it; it had a good run.

Perhaps the most jarring change for Processistas is the sudden and unexpected demise of Scrum But.

Is this the start of a kinder, gentler Scrum?  When I started working with Steven and Martin on our “Scrum vs. Kanban” webcasts, I joked that I wanted to move us away from “shootout at the OK Corral” and towards “Kum-Ba-Ya around the campfire”.  Who’s laughing now?  Scrum is newly open to modification and extension, so we’re replacing Scrum But with Scrum And!  Maybe now the process community can focus on helping teams find a the right mix of techniques that work for them.

The round-table format of the Thursday presentation by David Starr (now at, nice catch y’all) was nicely engaging, a good way to get folks up to speed on Scrum 2011 and address their specific questions, with Professional Scrum Trainers (including Martin) scattered throughout the room to support and keep things focused.

I’m totally reworking my “Scrum-damentals” webcast sessions coming up December 1 and December 15 on MSDN, so tune in there if you’d like to see what all this fuss is about!  Hopefully I will have figured it out by then.

Tools Still Rule

The focus of the Summit was further clarified this year with the split into an Application Lifecycle Management (process) track and an Agile Developer (practices) track, but it’s clear (as it is every year) that for this audience, tools rule: rooms filled up and Twitter traffic spiked any time a presenter on either track did a cool demo, especially around Dev11/vNext.

Post-Conference Workshop

Steven brought me in along with Martin to assist him in teaching Friday’s course, “Enterprise Management of the Software Process”.  They let me run the “Intro to Scrum” portion of the agenda, where I got to try out my new learnings and did a respectable job explaining the core framework and extensibility principles.

Nearly everyone in the room was already doing Scrum, and were eager to learn whatever we could share with them to help them move to the “high-performing” end of the bell curve.  In Thursday’s session, Steven had touched upon queuing theory and his Monte Carlo simulation spreadsheet—on Friday he expanded upon this idea to illustrate two key concepts:

  1. Queues are a bigger problem than we generally recognize
  2. Work in Process (WIP) limits significantly improve queuing

My favorite part was Martin and Steven’s live coin-flip queuing demo, which really made it understandable for the non-math-majors in attendance!


ALM Summit is by far my favorite conference, the one I used to fight every year at my old job to be able to attend.  It’s comical that I totally by accident (if you believe in accidents) ended up working for one of its Platinum Sponsors.  Now I’m graduating from audience member and #fangrrrl to an all-access backstage pass and… I wouldn’t say producer credits yet, more like a junior member of the stage crew.  This is a community I’m happy to be part of, and I hope Northwest Cadence and I can continue to grow as leaders in the process, practices and tools arena for years to come!

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  1. Links–12/05/2011 » ALM Rocks! December 5, 2011 at 6:24 am

    […] Retrospective: Northwest Cadence at ALM Summit 2011 […]

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