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Organizing a Scrum Conference When You're the Only Black Belt in Town

21 March 2012

Juan Banda

For disclosure, I'll start by saying that even though I've practiced several martial arts, I've never achieved a black belt in any. However, I've trained in different Japanese martial arts with black belts who moved to my hometown for various reasons. They all wanted to continue practicing and teaching their martial arts; some of them found dojos to join while others needed to start from zero, attracting students and finding resources and a place to train.

One way for these black belts to attract students was to give public demonstrations in schools and universities. Eventually the flow of young students began and dojos started to open. These black belts could preserve and pass their knowledge on to others.

However, black belts recognize that training new students is not enough; they also need to share their experiences and co-train with other black belts. Championships and seminars are great for this because they attract practitioners from different dojos and levels of practice.

This is the model that inspired me for organizing the first Scrum Bolivia Day conference. A couple of years ago I moved to a different city in my home country and found that Scrum was virtually unknown here. Consequently, I was the only "black belt" Scrum-certified person in town. Again, for disclosure, I'm not actually a black belt in Scrum or anything else; I'm just just a humble Scrum enthusiast who wants to share this great practice with the community.

In this new city I started preaching about Scrum in my current organization and in universities, but then I realized that preaching alone was not enough. So I started attending regional Agile/Scrum conferences in neighboring countries, and eventually I met a great pack of Argentinean folks who kindly agreed to come to my city to present in the conference that I was organizing.

But before that, I needed a group of volunteers to help me organize the conference. I got in touch with a CST and organized the first CSM course ever taught here. That first generation of CSMs plus other Scrum enthusiasts became my group of organizational volunteers. Further, the CST, Heitor Roriz Filho, help me to get in touch with other outstanding speakers from Brazil who wanted to present for us.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was coordinating the logistics for the event — getting hotel reservations, plane tickets, T-shirts, and handling many other small details. Something that really helped me here was to create a simple task board, with Post-it notes and task owners for each Post-it.

Another piece of advice I can give to anybody who wants to organize this type of event is that you really need to start early — that means five to six months ahead — and the first thing you need to do is contact potential speakers so they can schedule your event into their always-busy agendas. You also need to set up backup speakers in case a scheduled speaker cancels. Be prepared to take your international speakers to good restaurants when they arrive so they can enjoy local food; food has a magic that always impresses people and puts them in an excellent mood for presenting and sharing.

Next: You definitely need to have sponsors. Don't be afraid to request support from companies and professional organizations; the majority of them are willing to cooperate in one way or another. Regarding promotion, don't invest too much in a complicated event logo and webpage. It's more important to have something simple and functional that many people can easily share.

For the next event I'll make some adjustments, not only in the logistics but in how we promote the event. For me, it worked well to have a handful of volunteers organizing the logistics and a whole battalion of volunteers promoting the event in social networks. For this reason, in several weeks we'll be initiating an interest group that will meet once a month in a coding dojo. This group will increase our volunteer numbers, so we'll have even more people spreading the word about the next event.

Last but not least, such events have the great benefit of gathering individuals from different cultures and backgrounds. For instance, having Brazilian speakers at our conference was one of the most valuable experiences we had, not only because they presented well but also because they were professionals from a different culture who spoke a different language. The Brazilian speakers did their best to speak portuÒol (Portuguese mixed with some Spanish), and we Bolivians did our best to understand them — with no simultaneous translation, just full collaboration from both parties. The result was fantastic. Close to 70 people attended their session and feedback was highly favorable. Next year we want to raise the bar and not only attract more people but also more speakers from other Latin American countries and the U.S.

Not a bad for guy who isn't even a black belt.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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Sebastian Dieguez, CSD,CSM, 3/21/2012 3:00:13 PM
Nice, I will try to attend
Juan Banda, CST,CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO,REP, 3/22/2012 7:20:31 AM
You'll be more than welcome to attend Sebastian. Next year our aim will be to have even more people attending especially from neighborhood countries and why not speakers that weΓÇÖd like to share their experiences.
Carlton Nettleton, CST,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 4/3/2012 7:41:58 PM
Mantiene en contacto - siempre busco para oportunidades para ayudar la comunidad en Sur America
Juan Banda, CST,CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO,REP, 4/4/2012 7:12:43 AM
Gracias Carlton, ciertamente estaremos en contacto para trabajar por la comunidad sudamericana.
Bruno Heufelder, CSM,CSPO, 4/11/2012 6:04:42 AM
Un placer leer tu artículo. Suerte con el grupo en Bolivia.
It is a pleasure to read your article. Good luck with your group in Bolivia.
And regarding the Black Belt: "Fake it, until you make it ;-) "
Juan Banda, CST,CSP,CSD,CSM,CSPO,REP, 4/11/2012 7:19:52 AM
Thanks for your comments Bruno, next year we'll be aiming even higher and hopefully we'll have a bigger event.

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