I have been running Agile in the Ether for over five years; this year, we had a face-to-face event for the first time. It was wonderful and proves you can make real connections over video. In this post, I’ll talk briefly about the intention, the approach and what happened.
I started Agile in the Ether in 2018. It originally began as a meetup and formed into a community. I host a meetup at least once a month, and in 2019, I ran an online conference (which was fairly unique before the pandemic).
Running it has taught me that you can build trust and bond with people you have only ever met over video.
In September 2023, a few of us met up at Agile Cambridge and took the opportunity to go out for pizza; some of us had never met face-to-face before but had known each other for years through the community.
It was great to spend a bit more time with people, so I pitched the idea of meeting up for a full-day in-person event to the community, and some months later, we did.
What made it so special
The Agile in the Ether community is lovely; it’s very welcoming, friendly and full of intelligent people helping each other.
The event was the same. The big focus was on community and connection, which meant lots of time for meeting and socialising, keeping costs low to keep it accessible, and encouraging shared responsibility for the event’s success. Here’s what made that possible.
Lots of time for connecting and socialising
We met the night before to have a meal together; this was non-negotiable as it set the connections up for the next day. Although the event was only open to people already in the community, not everyone knew each other, and I didn’t want people to walk into the day event without meeting.
Many people also stayed in the same hotel, so they had chats travelling back and in the morning over breakfast. And we had a long lunch break (90 minutes) and an early finish to allow pub time if people wanted it.
And we felt it; the openness and connections in the room were visible.
Keeping costs super low to keep it accessible
We asked everyone for £25 to secure a spot. I covered venue hire, we all chipped in for stationary and no one was paid, so the money paid for the meal the night before. We even had £160 left over, which we donated to a local food bank.
We held the event in Liverpool, which, yes, is on my doorstep, but also meant it was pretty low cost. The venue was brilliant value for money; hotels were very inexpensive, and you get a lot of food for your money. The most significant expense was travel, depending on where people came from.
Encouraging shared responsibility for the success of the event
It really was a community effort. Although I led on it, others took on organising responsibilities (thanks to Caroline, Andy, Neil, Simon, Sophie and Ian).
Everyone also shared their efforts on the day; I made it clear in pre-event communication that everyone should help; on the day, I printed agendas and put them around for everyone to see. I also had a timer so that everyone could take responsibility for being on schedule.
People helped rearrange the room for sessions, tidied up, let people into the building, took notes, and brought enough snacks to keep us all going. It really was just lovely.
The agenda contained four 45-minute pre-planned workshops and an hour of unplanned lean coffee. The workshops were pitched and voted on by people who had signed up to attend the event. The lean coffee was pitched and voted on the day.
All the workshops were interactive with a slightly different format. We’d voted on these upfront to give people a say over the agenda and to give speakers enough time to prep. They were:
Building team connections and empathy quickly – Emily Webber
How do you go about making a team a team? A great place to start is to build empathy and understanding.
This session combines two tools that often come up in conversation at Agile in the Ether: the team manual and the capability comb, to share approaches that quickly build understanding, empathy and connections in a group of people.
This interactive session will introduce concepts and have participants trying out some tools that you can use during your own team changes. It has the added benefit of helping us learn more about each other.
Going beyond DORA: exploring the SPACE framework (or ‘DORA becomes a SPACE explorer’) – Sophie Weston
Many of us in the software industry have become a bit obsessed with the DORA metrics in recent years. These metrics are useful, but they’re limited.
This session will explore why we need to look beyond the DORA metrics and explore the SPACE framework as one option to give us better insights on improving the software delivery process.
Introduction to Domain Storytelling – Thorsten Brunzendorf
Get to know an alternate method to Event Storming for collaboratively exploring a business domain by letting experts tell stories about their domain, visualising them and asking questions about them. We will do that together using an example domain everyone should know a bit about and be able to contribute.
Hacking bureaucracy – Jen Oliver
We share our challenges of bureaucracy and how people have approached it / overcome it in their organisations.
The outcome is that people have new ideas and approaches to things and connections made of ‘I can help you with that’.
Lean Coffee is where the group brought the discussion ideas; we pitched them, voted on them as a group, and then spent 8 minutes on each topic until we ran out of time; here are the topics we pitched and voted on. We got through six of them.
What people said
At the end of the day, a couple of people ran a retrospective to see what people thought and to make suggestions for next time. The Slack group was also busy afterwards with comments about the day.
“Thanks so much everyone, what a fantastic couple of days of learning and fun. I love being part of this community. “
“Thanks so much all for a great couple of days. I’m still buzzing from yesterday, and I honestly find it hard to put into words how much I appreciate this community and all of you. Such a privilege to be in a room with so much knowledge, experience and empathy.”
“Such a beautiful day – good people doing good things together – nourishing and energizing – thank you all so much.“
I really enjoyed it and went away buzzing, and maybe we’ll do it again next year.
If you want to join this lovely community, the first step is to attend a meetup. Join the mailing list to find out when the next one is.
All photos © Emily Webber