SEANEO INNOTECH was abuzz on Tuesday with close to 50 highly energized and very diverse learners gathered for a one-day workshop on “Agile beyond Software”.  Many were career educators, highly accomplished and deeply committed to creating a better future of learning for people in Southeast Asia .

Weary and happy.  It was a long and wonderful day. We accomplished a lot together, learning from each other. Me most especially!

Most were not familiar with Agile and what a joy it was to introduce the concepts to them, borrowing from our pioneering technology colleagues. I had no doubt that they would see see for themselves what I saw years ago– an abundance of  possibilities to transform our ways of working, to go from the traditional, hierarchical and predictable to a more self-organizing approach anchored by principles, tools and processes that invite teams to delight their customers in a work environment that does not “suck”. Where work can be productive, high performing, collaborative AND fun!

Participants were asked to picture themselves at the end of the day describing the following in just a few words:  a feeling, a question, new learning and being more (fill in the blank).

Quickly they got it!  They jumped in with their two feet. It was exhilarating to see this wonderful mix of passionate people shed their titles and be so open to learning something entirely new, seeing the the possibility of working in brand new ways that seem ripe for these times.


I wanted to jump up and down with delight, then rush to virtually “high five” my technology buddies who had been my mentors these past few months as I developed this program. They were with us in Manila in spirit. I had glowingly introduced each of them to the workshop attendees – this wonderful gang of seven who are also dear friends.


This Agile training program had been requested by the World Open Space on Open Space (WOSonOS) planning team — an additional offering for attendees that would precede WOSonOS. The goal was to add value either by helping participants put into action the ideas and initiatives that emerged  from the Open Space or by carrying this new learning  forward in their daily work. They would be introduced to new execution practices that are consistent with the guiding principles of Open Space.

This is what had attracted me to Agile – it was a hand to glove approach between Open Space and Agile, one  that could take us into a continuous loop of emergence, learning, action and execution.  Self-organization at its common core.

The participants admitted it was intimidating at first to try and absorb this new vocabulary while also trying to conceive how we can work differently with Agile and Scrum. New practices, new roles, many benefits, discipline one step at a time, leading to new habits but most of all at the heart of it all, a desire to unleash leadership and contribution at every level.  This would be a small beginning, a taste of Agile.  Typical questions around giving up control, feeling we don’t know enough to proceed, wondering how this would affect the organization. My words to them, don’t wait, include, invite and involve. You will see it all works out.

scrum-boardThroughout the day, we assimilate these tools and practices of agile by actually using and experiencing them. That’s how this program has been designed. Around real projects with a touch of fun.  Yes we used a wedding or wedding reception to help participants learn how to create and refine a backlog. The quality and dedication that they put into this effort and the resulting products were like a leap from kindergarten to high school.  We also had the opportunity to value the power of transparency and revel in flow as the task cards moved from to do, doing and done.  A full day and a lot got done.  Not everything but that’s the way Scrum works.

My History with Agile and Scrum

I shared with the group how I became connected to Agile and Scrum.  In 2010, Harrison Owen was facilitating a one-day Open Space in Orlando Florida to close a two-day conference packed with dynamic and engaging workshops. He had asked me if I wanted to tag along. Little could I have guessed how life changing it would be for me.  I immediately noticed the high energy, great passion and intellect of the technology geeks and nerds. I was struck by the depth of their topics (many about shared leadership, different approaches to engage, methods to successfully deliver outcomes, ways to deal with complexity while taking the collaboration of teams to another level). This was a learning community on steroids, often hidden from view out of the corporate mainstream. I saw many of them as sleeping giants and future partners. The radical nature of their programs hit me like a flash of lightening.

I wrote to the Scrum Alliance conference organizer, Tobias Mayer, in the middle of the night and the rest is history. I would become one of them (a passionate geek in my own way) though with a mission to crusade the application of Agile beyond Software. That same year, they sponsored an Open Space on Scrum beyond Software in Arizona that attracted 50 international a highly focused group of prescient individuals. I had the privilege of facilitating it. The memory of it has never left me..

Excerpt from a letter to Tobias Mayer of Scrum Alliance in 2010, subsequently printed in InfoQ

“Without a shadow of a doubt, I feel that the personal and collective leadership I saw here goes so far beyond the scope of systems application, systems implementation and project management work typical of many who work in your field.  What I saw here were people modeling “the new leadership” – people with passion in their gut who understand in a very “holistic” way that human dynamics are an integral part of what creates success. ”

Many today are on a similar journey though this work is still far from mainstream in our organizations. To this day, this is still trailblazing work. Not easy to give up our traditional ways of working but the world is really ready for this as evidenced by the amazing folks who came to SEAMEO INNOTECH yesterday. They were totally ignited. One need only have listened to the squeals of laughter, intense concentration, pauses and reflection and most of all, doing the work, completing their sprints and successfully getting to done.


Everyone quickly grasped the notion that Agile Smarts = Head + Heart. And they readily saw the wisdom of buddying up with their technology colleagues later, to invite shared learning and leadership where they work. To create an inclusive momentum of change in a world that is ready to see that happen seeking and leveraging the wisdom that’s there.

I will let the photos tell the rest of the story as words truly could not fully describe the explosion of high learning that happened, stimulated by a host of simulations that defied what we often hear:  “This is great but…it can’t happen here.”  My guess based on yesterday is that if anyone can trail blaze the way, it will be the wise, caring and wonderfully smart people of the Philippines. That’s because self-organizing is happening this country all over the place.

In the spirit of imagining Agile beyond Software, the group explored possible ways to revise the Agile Principles for  non-technology sectors.  Not meant to be perfect, it did what was intended, to deepen our understanding and appreciation while engaging thought-provoking conversations.



Warning: Let’s invite and not impose!

In projecting and feeling a new  future ignite before our eyes, I did express caution that one must not let our excitement and energy override the need to invite. One should never impose, dictate or announce. The better way is to invite by providing opportunities for  individuals and teams to experience for themselves the possibility of a better future that connects them, personally and collectively. And for that there is no better way as a first step than Open Space to open our hearts and minds.

Wonderful that we have two and a half days to look forward to together at WOSonOS 2016.

A Question I should have asked

Would you have ever understood Agile had you not participated in today’s dialogues and activities.  I could ask this same question of Open Space which many of you will be experiencing for the first time. No matter how much we read or study, there is nothing that replaces the opportunity to get on the bike and ride using real issues and real work.  That’s what triggers the powerful combination of Passion and Responsibility.

An Amazing World Open Space on the Horizon

It’s exciting to know that many have not yet experienced open space. I’m sure lightening will strike them just as it struck me, When that happens, there’s no turning back. We can not unknow that which we have learned and experienced.

As scary as it may initially seem, it also feels so natural to move forward in this direction.  And we have years to vouch for its success and outcomes.

Scrum has been around for more than 20 years….

The Agile Manifesto was conceived in 2001 and…

Open Space has proven its value for more 30 years, with hundreds of thousands of events, happening in 140 countries in so many sectors and fields (education, business, science, politics, government, non-profit, technology, banking, etc.). But rather than tell, just as we did today, we invite people to experience this for themselves. By this simple act of invitation, we can change a culture and transform an organization.

A Taste of Lean Coffee. Nothing like a caffeine jolt to quickly engage conversations that matter.




Visual Graphics from a Beginners’ Mind. Thank you Marielle!

In Open Space they say:  “Be Prepared to be Surprised”.

Nothing could have prepared me for the gift visual graphic above created on-site by Marielle Ferrer of  Pushpin Visual Solutions.

Like most participants, Marielle had no background in Agile. She just jumped in and created magic. Nothing could I prepared me for this

Can’t wait to experiment some more with this wonderful company brimming with talent and “can do” attitude.



Quality Work, Lots of Teachable Moments, High Energy and Products that we were proud to put in the category of done.  Ten teams, ten product backlogs. User stories, epics, criteria of acceptance, reviews, the distinctions between a Product Backlog and Scrum Backlog.Yup! Got it! Our young generation is ready and waiting for more opportunities to be working like this.

On a Closing Note with Such Appreciation

Thank you everyone for inspiring me as you did!  It was lovely meeting all of you.

If I love my work as I do, it’s because of people like you!  See you at WOSonOS!
Thank you Mark for the photos, Sharon Joy for being a mentor leader and friend
and  Mitch for inspiring me as you open space tomorrow.
Thank you everyone at SEAMEO INNOTECH. You rock!