Agile Lean Europe: Energize the Network!

Last week Johanna Rothman and I were talking about Agile in Europe, while she made a brave attempt at out-eating me at my own favorite Moroccan restaurant in Brussels.

Johanna agreed with me (and others) that part of Europe is ahead of the US in terms of Agile & Lean thinking and adoption. However, with initiatives such as the #10yrsagile gathering, it seems as if the US is leading. And while Johanna wondered about the number of women at this gathering, I questioned the number of Europeans (only 2 out of 33 attendees).

Is Europe Being Ignored?

Last year, at the big Agile conference (always in the US), I suggested to Alistair Cockburn not to forget about Europe, or else whatever they organize over there will not match with the things happening here. Unfortunately, after 10 years of Agile, the alliances, consortiums and institutes all seem to have a distinctive but bland American flavor. While Europe, despite having sprouted hundreds of local communities, authors and speakers, passively allows Visions, Values, Principles, and Announcements to be broadcasted to us from the other side of the pond…

I think we can do better in Europe, if only we interacted a little better.

I was at the (international) Play4Agile conference in Germany last weekend. It was only a two-hour drive from the border of France. But guess how many people there were from France? Indeed, zero… (OK, maybe half a Frenchman.) And it was the same with a few other neighboring countries. Of course, there were a lot of Germans there. And interestingly enough, the European country with the most representatives was Canada. To me this underlines the challenge we are facing on this continent.

Lack of interaction is what kills a network.

“We in Europe are unable to co-operate together. How many foreign Agilists have ever visited our regular meetings [in Czech Republic]? The borders have been lifted. But there are still borders deep inside of us which prevent us from cross-border cooperation.” (Michal Vallo, Czech Republic)

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who longs for a change. We’ve been debating the issue on the new Agile Lean Europe discussion group, which already has 275 members just one week after its creation.

What Europeans Want

The central theme in the discussion appears to be to improve the effectiveness of the European network of Agile and Lean thinkers and doers:

“Having a closer network of people doing Lean / Agile is really desirable.” (Angel Medinilla, Spain)

And people seem to agree that the network itself should follow the core values and principles of Agile thinking. Which means… bottom-up growth instead of top-down control.

“As an "agile and lean thinker" I want to see our values at the basis of this growth… We don't need much more than getting in touch to let something emerge.” (Jacopo Romei, Italy)

We realize that understanding cultural diversity is crucial when applying Agile and Lean approaches in different settings. It seems that Europe is uniquely positioned to explore that kind of awareness.

“Understanding cultural differences will help evolve practices to better fit in local communities, as well as in a united European community.” (Radu Davidescu, Romania)

At the same time, the people participating in the discussion clearly indicated they don’t want another alliance, consortium, or institute.

“Agile is meant to be about servant leadership, but I feel more and more that the various UK & US "alliances" and "centers" are moving us towards "command & control" for Agile…” (Mike Hesketh, UK)

I am convinced that, at least for now, we must talk about a network. It is a network of people growing and sharing ideas across Europe. And we need to look for ways to increase the effectiveness of our network.

Concrete Suggestions

Some people already had a number of very concrete suggestions:

  1. “Scrum and Agile are spread much further than US, and the Alliances should take into account everyone. A concrete goal could be to set up a European representation at the board of these alliances.” (Tiago Andrade e Silva, Portugal)
  2. “What about a European gathering for community/thought leaders? Basically just a big get-together.” (Xavier Quesada Allue, Belgium)
  3. “We could be each other's mentors, setup mastermind groups (live ones), introduce each other to our customers to share work and have more impact.” (Patrick Verheij, Netherlands)
  4. “I will opt for a focus group, a "think tank", whose two axes would be 1 / sensibility and European approach to agile (what specificities? testing and feedback to share), 2 / promoting Agile at European level (yes lobbying ?).” (Pablo Pernot, France)
  5. “I'd like to see a [big] high quality conference (such as the Agile conference) in Europe, so that I don't have to travel to US.” (Petri Haapio, Finland)

And Vasco Duarte (Finland) has called out repeatedly for more books from fellow Europeans. But who listens to Portuguese gurus in Finland?

Generic Principles

Obviously, such suggestions need more debate and consideration. We’ve only been talking for one week. But I did recognize some patterns for a Big Picture. They all point at a network (instead of hierarchy), emergence (instead of authority), and diversity (instead of monoculture).

“I hope that this group evolves to be a sharing and learning community. That we need and we need it to be local. Our reality is quite different from the reality across the ocean, and reflecting on that is important for our European community.” (Vasco Duarte, Finland)

“Change comes from within not by following some regulated authority. Find other changemakers and envision a future, even if nobody else is willing too listen.” (Maarten Volders, Belgium)

“I think this can work, though it will need some time, trust, respect – one kind of love 🙂 -, and insight that diversity is key. We will have to embrace our cultural differences, our method preferences and local flavors. We have to consider that a – almost- virtual community is a meaningful form of organization nowadays. Without first formalizing our cooperation and drawing up statutes we can just get together and organize big or small conferences / events, share thoughts, knowledge and ideas.” – Mary Beijleveld (Netherlands)

Let’s face it. When we, Europeans, feel ignored it is our own fault. We should do a better job of expressing ourselves, and making ourselves known. If we don’t want to be misunderstood we should take care of better understanding ourselves and each other.

The Next Steps

At the Play4Agile conference I had great discussions with Olaf Lewitz, Michael Sahota and Ken Power. We agreed that the network won’t go anywhere without some people taking responsibility and making things happen.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Now that I have initiated the discussion, I also feel responsible for organizing the next step: getting people together, and energizing the network. Mind you, I'm not going to do much, except send a number of emails, write some texts, and crack jokes about fellow Europeans.

It's you who will do the real work.

You will read about it in my next blog post/article.

For now, please subscribe to the Agile Lean Europe group, so you can stay informed about what’s happening in Europe!

p.s. The name "Agile Lean Europe" is only a working title. I hope something better will emerge from the network. We'll see…

  • Agile Doesn't Make Sense, It Makes a Difference
  • Agile Lean Europe: Taking Action
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