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The Best of the Seattle Scrum Gathering

07/06/2011 by Rafael Sabbagh

Event Overview

In the photos: (1) Chet Hendrickson and Ron Jeffries addressed the attendants during lunch; (2) Open Space session; (3) The Scrum Trainers Michael James and Nigel Baker.

Scrum Global Gathering: Seattle 2011 was held from 16 to 18 May 2011. I believe this was the best, in several respects, among the six Scrum Gatherings I attended. The sessions were rich in novelties, the speakers were high level and the attendants were motivated and engaged in harnessing the event to the fullest. There were several concurrent sessions, but this time I chose by the names of the speakers, among whom were Mike Cohn, Alistair Cockburn and Jeff Patton. One of the good ideas of the organization was purposely set the coffee breaks more frequent and longer, in order to promote conversation among the attendants and the exchange of contacts. Another great idea was to put Scrum Coaches available to participants to schedule individual coaching sessions during the Gathering.

Although not sported the same luxury as the Gaylord Palms resort in Orlando where the U.S. Scrum Gathering was held in 2010, the Grand Hyatt Hotel was sufficient in terms of infrastructure, location and food. By the way, the food was highly praised by all.

The City

Seattle is a city on the beautiful shore of the Pacific Ocean, located at the north of the United States in the Washington State. The city is clean and organized, but unfortunately the recession filled its streets with beggars. Its attractions include the Space Needle, a vista point with a restaurant on top of a huge and exotic construction; the Pike Place Market, a popular and very peculiar fish market, and the Underground City Tour, a tour at the pathways and constructions of a dirty and humid underground that once were at street level.
The temperature had always been between 50 and 60 Fahrenheit and it rained only one day during the week I was there, but I was told that those were the days with the best weather of the year.


In the photos: (1) Opening by Bryan Stallings, the main organizer of the event; (2) Chet Hendrickson interviewing attendants; (3) Activity carried out in the event opening.
The meeting began with a setback: Steve Denning, who would do the opening keynote presentation, missed the flight and would arrive late. The organizers did well with performing an activity to replace the keynote presentation. In this activity, each table should discuss what the biggest problems in adopting Scrum are. Chet Hendrickson and Ron Jeffries interviewed attendants, and some of the issues raised were:

  • How to engage the Product Owners? And how to bring them to the Gatherings, as there were very few present?
  • How to use Scrum outside software??
  • How to get the support of high management?
  • How to integrate the testers to the team?

Denning's keynote presentation was transferred to the next day at lunch.


In the photos: (1) Steve McConnell; (2) Keynote de McConnell; (3) Steve Denning.

Steve McConnell's name as one of the event's keynotes caught my attention. An important name and author of classic books in the 90's, among which stand out "Code Complete" and "Rapid Development", McConnell did not follow the Agile wave. Seeing that he finally embraced Agile and Scrum has brought me great satisfaction. In his keynote, "The Journey to Organization-Wide Scrum", McConnell showed how to move from pilot projects to a global adoption of Scrum in an organization. To illustrate this, he used examples of problems that his company, Construx, experienced in helping clients to adopt Scrum.

McConnell left four lessons:

  • Agile is a strategy, not a goal: "don’t seek Agile at the expense of predictability", "business would rather be wrong than vague", "Agile is not all or nothing";
  • Don’t use Scrum to avoid accountability: "don’t use Scrum to wriggle out of date, costs etc.", "business live or die on the basis of commitments";
  • "Trust us, we’re doing Scrum" doesn’t work: "Scrum is a place to get to, not a starting point", "one must first gain the trust";
  • Scrum does not give you the ability to boil the ocean: "do not try to tackle all the problems you see ", "business may not think the problems are problems".

McConnell also left five keys to successful adoption of Scrum:

  • If not successful right away, return to first principles (RTFM!);
  • Remember the applicability areas of Scrum;
  • Vision, roadmap (product and release) are key to avoiding most of Scrum failures;
  • Consider where you are in the “ HYPERLINK "" innovation adoption curve”;
  • When scaling Scrum, focus on traditional practices of managing large projects.

It was evident that many of those present considered the opinions of McConnell very conservative. Being who he is and as he speaks from the practice, I believe he has both feet in reality.

Steve Denning made his keynote presentation "Making the Entire Organization Agile" a day late, at lunchtime. But, being a master of narratives, it was worth the wait. Steve showed that traditional management has failed, and must be reinvented so that the organization should focus on creating a flow of customer value through continuous innovation.

  • This reinvention involves five key changes that must occur together (more on this subject here):
  • New firm’s goal: delight the customers;
  • New role to management: from controller to enabler;
  • Coordinating the work: dynamic linking instead of bureaucratic hierarchy;
  • Shift from value to values (such as radical transparency and continuous improvement) which create innovation and organizational growth;
  • Shift in communication from command to interactive conversations to solve problems and generate ideas.


In the photos: (1) Alistair Cockburn; (2) Mike Cohn; (3) Jeff Patton.

In the first two days of the event, I attended sessions from Alistair Cockburn, well-known popular and author of the excellent book, "Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game"; Mike Cohn, head of the board of directors of the Scrum Alliance and author of books such as "Succeeding with Agile", "Agile Estimating and Planning" and "User Stories Applied"; Jeff Patton, a specialist in user-centered software design and author of "User Story Mapping" to be released in the fourth quarter of 2011; Steve Denning, an expert on leadership and organizational storytelling and author of books such as "The Leader's Guide to Radical Management" (distributed to all attendants) and "The Leader's Guide to Storytelling"; and Alan Shalloway, an expert in Lean and Kanban and author of books such as "Lean-Agile Software Development" and "Lean-Agile Scrum Pocket Guide for Teams" (distributed to all present in his session).

There were several other great sessions at the same time which unfortunately I obviously could not attend.

A few comments on the sessions I attended:

  • "Introduction to Advanced Agile", by Alistair Cockburn: Cockburn showed some concepts that define what would be the next step of Agile - Advanced Agile - which are: work flow management, knowledge acquisition, the cooperative game metaphor, craft and self-awareness.  This document was distributed at the session and summarizes the main ideas presented by Cockburn;
  • "Leading a Self-Organized Team", by Mike Cohn: Cohn stated that leading a self-organizing team is necessary, but by no means to be deceptive or sneaky. He also showed how a leader can influence the team and presented the  HYPERLINK "" CDE model ("container", "difference", "exchange"). This model which states that for self-organization to occur, there must be: the container - a boundary within which self-organization occurs, differences among the individuals involved and transforming exchanges through interactions between them. The slides that Cohn used in this presentation can be downloaded here [PDF];
  • "Secrets for Better Backlogs and Planning Using User Story Maps ", by Jeff Patton and Jeremy Lighsmith: Patton described his User Story Mapping technique, a way to organize user stories in order to help understand the system, identify holes and omissions in the backlog and plan the releases in order to deliver value to users. An important message that Patton left was that one should prioritize the users first and only then prioritize the user stories. Another message was the recommendation to focus on just one persona when planning a release. Slides from the author on the subject can be found here (those are not the ones used on that session);
  • "Mastering the Basics of Leadership Storytelling", by Steve Denning: Denning taught how to create narratives that communicate complex new ideas and spring the audience into action towards its implementation. The main steps can be summarized on: get people's attention, generate a desire for change and then reinforce with reasons for people to want the change. Denning uses a lot of his experiences at the World Bank with knowledge management to illustrate his session. Some important messages about leadership storytelling should be mentioned: "good communication makes the complex seem simple, "simple is not misleading", "less is more"," believe strongly, have conviction";
  • "Building Rigorous User Experience Design into Scrum", by Jeff Patton: Patton spoke this time about the importance of user experience (UX) design in the use of Scrum. According to Patton, UX design should happen in preparing the project before the sprint (ready), during the sprint (done) and after the sprint (inspection and adaptation). Patton also says the product discovery phase, which means research, exploration of possibilities, validation and product planning, should happen before the sprints. Slides from the author on the subject can be found here (those are not the ones used on that session);
  • "Extending Scrum with the Principles of Lean", by Alan Shalloway: Shalloway compared Kanban to Scrum, showing the advantages that he identifies on the first with respect to the second and showed some examples of projects where he applied his techniques. An important message left by Shalloway was that for an adoption of Agile, pilot projects should be chosen regarding how these affect the organization, and not in isolation. Another message was that systems are designed from high-level features, and not from user stories. This session slides can be found here (free registration required).

In the photos: (1) User story mapping, from Jeff Patton’s session; (2) Allan Shalloway; (3) Screen showed tweets about the event.

Open Space

In the photos: (1) Open Space market place; (2) People picking sessions at the Open Space; (3) Session at the Open Space.

Considered by some as the most important part of the Gathering, the Open Space day was really special. Around sessions defined and driven by the Gathering attendants, groups of people gathered to discuss various themes in the third and final day of the Gathering. This was the Open space with the highest level topics among all I’ve participated in Scrum Gatherings. Among the topics chosen there were: "Integrating the too-fast + too-slow team members", "Agile in a Waterfall context", "Scrum for non-software projects", "Helping management achieve agility", "Seduce the Product Owner", "Splitting big stories into small stories ", "Team estimation game", "How to vary retrospectives", "Agile in the government ", "Cultivating collaboration", "Determining the right team size" e "Impact estimation: calculating business value". Session notes can be found here.


After a long Open Space day, many wondered whether it was worth waiting for the final lecture. Those who decided to go earlier missed the session most celebrated of all the Gathering. Joe Justice, a local entrepreneur, lectured about how he used Agile practices on creating and building a revolutionary and ultra-efficient car at his small company WIKISPEED. The lecture was outstanding and closed the Seattle Scrum Gathering in a great mood.