Wow.   Seriously, wow.

I’ve been staring at this one line post for about 10 minutes wondering how to better explain my euphoric state right now and “wow” seemed like the right word to start with.

Much like other folks who came here, I had heard great things about AYE and the notion was always that if you can only make one conference, make it to AYE.

First I’ll start with day 2 since I was far too mentally exhausted yesterday to post. Well, maybe the swim, hot-tub and beer had something to do with that exhaustion.

After Day 1 I realized I had discovered what I wanted to take away from this conference so I attended the more tactical sessions from Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby.  Johanna’s session was about portfolio management and Esther’s was about a manager’s role in self-organizing teams.  Both of these sessions hit home for me and I gained some valuable tools that I know will help given my current environment.

Johanna’s started with a brief introductory chat followed by a simulation with a twist that produces a great “AHA!” moment for me.  I felt I participated much more in this session and it helped me gain more confidence in how I can apply this learning in my day to day work life.

Esther’s session was fantastic.  Folks broke out into groups and talked about advantages and disadvantages of self-directed vs management directed teams from the manager’s and team’s perspective.  The groups then compared notes and the lesson I learned is that there needs to be a balance between what the manager’s do and what the team does.  The more a manager does for the team, the less things the team will do for themselves.  The key is to identify what activities the team can contribute with and how manager’s can foster and nurture that learning.  This topic is particularly interesting given my current work environment so I was pleased I chose this session.

Today started off with Steve Smith’s session on how to sell an idea to management.  The class broke into 4 groups and each group had a “Star”, manager, coach and observer.  The goal was to take a real life scenario for the “star” and play out a scenario where the star wants to ask the manager for something.  I was the observer for one group and after each interaction between the manager and star, the whole class would debrief on observations and feedback from the observer, manager and star.

After round 1 the coach would help the star improve and we’d repeat the exercise by either simulating a second meeting or starting over.  This was my favourite session of the conference and Steve provided very valuable insights for how to effectively communicate with a manager when you are asking for something.  Gil Broza also provided some insights on human behaviour that provided more value to everyone.  All in all because there were 4 groups, and therefore 4 simulations, there was a wealth of knowledge shared and I learned the most from this session.

Today finished off with Don Gray’s session on a personal retrospective which helped me digest the knowledge presented to me over the last 3 days and it was very low-key and quiet.  I had a brief chat with Don afterwards and talked about my experience at AYE and he provided more insights that gave me a great deal to think about (and a free book!) to take back with me.

Since I finished early I wanted to see if there were open slots for Johanna’s or Esther’s 1-on-1 sessions.  I felt terrible for interrupting  them both to ask how I could sign up but Esther was gracious enough to find me when her other session was done.

I was initially speechless.  I’ve read her Retrospectives book and blog posts so I will admit it was quite intimidating at first but I do realize it was all due to my insecurity.   I explained my conference experience and asked some specific questions about challenges I’m facing and she was more than happy to answer those questions and provide me with some ideas that would help.

The single greatest piece of advice was about an approach to take when I get back.  Ask the team about their week, don’t make my returning to work after a week off about me.  Absolutely share information when they ask but make sure that the organization and team know it’s about them, not me.   Once I’m presented with a situation that requires it, I have a new set of tools to help them with their problems.

To wrap up the conference all I could muster was wow.  I have never experienced a social interaction such as this before.  I would absolutely like to thank Jerry Weinberg, Steve Smith, Don Gray, Esther Derby and Johanna Rothman for their dedication not only to improvement of the Agile community but simply for being wonderful people.  Their willingness to dedicate time between sessions, after sessions, at lunch, dinner and being so approachable was truly inspiring and I am grateful for the new set of tools and knowledge they all shared.

When is registration open for AYE 2010?