#JAFAC 2017 - impressions of an organiser

May 09, 2017  ·  Sandy Mamoli

This is the second year we have organised JAFAC (Just Another F#$%ng Agile Conference) and as I’m slowly coming down from the buzz and enthusiasm I’m reflecting upon the experience of organising and attending the conference.

Here are a few things that stood out for me:

1. The #JAFAC vibe

Several attendees and speakers mentioned how much they liked the vibe of collaboration and conversation on both days. We all contributed to creating a space where people felt happy to talk, share experiences and openly discuss their challenges.

I believe that several factors helped:

  • Not having any sponsors kept the commercial vibe out of the conference. There was no selling, no agile tools, no marketing. There was no shallow “networking”, positioning of egos and exchanging business cards. I really liked that.

  • We didn’t have any professional conference organisers and it was just the 8 of us doing everything ourselves. It was hard work but fun and it kept things real.

  • There are no recordings of any sessions or talks. We created a temporary space, a fleeting moment of sharing and trust where nobody needed to worry about things coming back later to bite them. You just had to be there!

  • The conference was small, relatively casual and not over-whelming. Even though we could sell more tickets we have capped the event to 100 people. Sorry to everyone who missed out, you just have to be quicker next year ;-)

  • The physical space was perfect for having real conversations: A dialogue between speakers and attendees during the Friday talks and plenty of breakout room for sessions during the Open Space on Saturday.

  • There was plenty of easily-accessible food that allowed for serendipitous encounters while grazing. Thanks to GridAKL for providing the excellent venue!

2. The emergent conference theme

If I had to pick a theme for this year’s #JAFAC, it would be “leadership”. People congratulated us on the curation and combination of sessions and how well they fit with each other and the overall vibe.

The funny thing is that this was an entirely emergent theme, we didn’t plan for it and it became apparent only in retrospect. When we asked our speakers to give a talk at the conference we didn’t ask what they were going to talk about. We only picked interesting people we wanted to hear from and let them choose a topic as close to the conference as they wanted. Some topics we only found out about during the actual talk.

Why did we do this? When people are asked to give a talk three to six months in the future, they generally propose what they are passionate about at that particular point in time. But passions and focus change, and it is hard to predict what we are going to be enthusiastic about in the future. We’d rather have a speaker who is passionate and raw about a topic, than a stale talk where the speaker has emotionally moved on.

I think it worked well. Good things come from giving up control ;-)

3. The focus on leadership

So, why do I think leadership emerged as the conference theme this year? And why did it it resonate with so many attendees?

My personal theory is that we are a generation of Agile people who “grew up” together. We are a group of people in New Zealand who started Agile around the same time, many years ago, and have gone through similar experiences since.

We have succeeded and failed together, have shared our ideas and techniques and have learned and grown as a community. All of us have grown older and many of us are now in management and leadership positions. We are facing the same problems, ideas, challenges, possibilities and inspiration. One of them is leadership.

4. The format

On Friday we had a more traditional conference day of talks by invited speakers. They were all amazing and I found keeping the talks to only 20 minutes with subsequent question time of 10 minutes was perfect. Not too long, not too short, just right!

All our speaking slots were allocated by invite only, so on day one it was us who decided on the speakers and thereby indirectly the content. Day two we handed over to the attendees. Saturday we ran in an Open Space format where people collaborated around creating the agenda and had the opportunity to run interactive sessions on whichever topic they liked.

Many people found the combination of talks on Friday and Open Space on Saturday satisfying. As someone said “Without the second day, the first one wouldn’t have been as valuable. The Open Space event allowed us to go deeper and round off a great learning experience.”

We didn’t count but I believe roughly 60 out of the 100 attendees chose to give up their Saturday to be part of the Open Space. Huge kudos to the NZ Agile scene!

Oh, and the Friday night drinks turned out to be a brilliant idea!

5. The New Zealand agile scene

Speaking of the agile scene in New Zealand, it was great to have so many people come from Auckland and Wellington and honestly share their ideas and challenges. As our Australian friends pointed out it is quite special to have this degree of collaboration and openness. Thank you all for creating a great community!

6. The Money

We deliberately kept JAFAC as a low cost, low numbers event. Our aim was never to make money from the conference. However we did make a little bit - and so we decided that as having a schedule of amazing women speakers was hugely inspirational to many in the room, we will donate the money to OMG Tech, an organisation that undertakes various initiatives to get more girls into technology jobs, and runs coding workshops for teachers and students.

Those were my thoughts on the conference. What are yours? Why did you think it was a success or otherwise? I look forward to your comments!

* Thank you Brenda, Tony, David, Natalia and Richard for the photos!

Categories: JAFAC.