ALE network—What’s in it for Me?

Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Agile & Lean, Community | 4 Comments

In the past few months, a new network has emerged. But has it? Is this actually a new network?

How I got into ALE

As I told you on this blog a few weeks ago, I “joined” the ALE network after the Play4Agile conference in February, where I met Jurgen Appelo, talked to him about his idea and we created a plan together to join the Agile communities in Europe in something that would be more visible to the outside and more valuable and useful to the agile practicioners than what we had at the time.

ALE faces

ALE faces

So what did we have? I’ll explain my history with the Agile community in Europe (this turned out to be rather long… The bottom line starts below the bullet points…):

  • I made first contact with a larger group of agilists at the ScrumGathering in Munich in 2009. I attended with a Rugby ball to get into conversations. That worked quite well, I wrote about the experience here, from the ball’s perspective (German, but it is quite funny…). I met Mike Sutton there (among many others, like Liz Keogh, Deborah Preuss, Tobias Mayer, Andrea Tomasini…), we became close friends, started to work on a session about Diversity in Teams. To meet all these people gave me a lot of energy, and being able to keep in touch with these and many others on Twitter amplified that experience.
  • I went to the AgileCoachCamp Germany last year to finalise the session preparation with Mike (he facilitated the Open Space there). Again, I met a bunch of like-minded people, like Yves Hanoulle, Rachel Davies, Andreas LeidigMarc Bless and Marc Löffler, who as well have become valuable peers and important friends for me.
  • Mike and I facilitated our session about diversity at the XP2010 conference in Trondheim, I blogged about that experience here. I again met new people from the European agile community, among others Ken Power and David Anderson (read what I wrote about the guys to find out why), as well as Ralph Miarka, Sergey Dmitriev and Ivana Gancheva.
  • I started organising the Play4Agile conference in the meantime together with a bunch of creative people passionate for the usage of games in the Agile and Lean space. It became the European counterpart to the AgileGames conference in Boston and was quite a success. But…
  • In November 2010, I spoke at two XPDays: in Kapellerput (XPDays Benelux) and Hamburg (XPDays Germany). These events unfortunately were scheduled on the same two days, but that gave me the chance to compare them closely as the two experiences merged in my mind… Here’s how that shaped my view about the European Agile community:
    XPDays Benelux was the most amazing conference I’ve ever attended. The level of sharing, openness, experience and buzz I dived into was amazing, I met people like Michael Sahota and Portia Tung (who joined Yves’ and my session) and Jurgen Appelo, whom I managed to persuade to come to Play4Agile.
    Yves and I built a vision for the Agile community in our session, together with Michael and Portia and more than 20 other people. What astonished me was the feeling of urgency in the group to have a strong international community which stood in contrast to my feeling that the Agile Benelux community already was quite impressively strong and seemed to me to be functioning quite well…
    Coming to Germany the day after was like being hit by cold water in comparison. The XPDays HH were a good conference, don’t get me wrong, and again I met a bunch of great friends and peers there, but… The feeling of community and internationality I had experienced in Kapellerput was lacking there, totally. It’s hard to put into words, but all the exchanges were personal, even in small groups… But there was no feeling of overall connectedness and sharing, of a common goal and a well-functioning team…
  • Play4Agile was the next time I experienced such an exchange, such a feeling of common purpose in a big international group. A sharing of common values and principles, most important that we don’t do this for money, but to make a lasting difference. Ungently facilitated by Michael Sahota, Jurgen and I developed the idea of how to energise the network of Lean and Agile practitioners in Europe, joined by Ken and Andreas and later more people to take the model of the Eurovision Song Contest and create the plan to gather people from many European countries at XP2011 in Madrid.

A small group of people from different countries, Jurgen from the Netherlands, me from Germany, Ken from Ireland, Sergey from Norway, Vasco Duarte from Finland and Jacopo Romei from Italy, formed a team to make this possible. Using the LinkedIn ALE group and Twitter, we engaged people from all over Europe to find a name, a logo, organise the envisioning session and a world cafe in Madrid. The idea to create a conference was born and the decision was made to do in Berlin. It has been fun to facilitate this growth and it still is. It has been a lot of effort, as well. And now I’m leading the organisation of a conference… So, why do I do this?

What I Value and What I Need

I value human interaction, open sharing of knowledge and experiences, and I love to enable teams and organisations to work more effectively. I am an agile coach. Being a coach is more like a mission than a job. I want to make a difference. Lead by example, teach and mentor agile values and practices, give honest feedback, these are things I do, and love, but they’re taking a lot of energy. Occasionally I get feedback from clients that gives me positive energy, but generally the energy flows from me into the organisations and teams I work with. To not loose momentum and run out of power, I need the community to replenish. And I found out by experiment that giving to the community is the best, most effective and fastest way to get that energy. And I have an obvious talent for networking, so it’s a natural thing for me to do this. I found the European community to lack visibility, and a platform so that others could more easily find their way in. And find the right people once they got in. I have seen ALE as an opportunity to achieve this, and I think the current development proves my point. All over Europe, people start to notice, start to come together and start working on amazing things, like agile couchsurfing, ALESOS, and last but not least the conference… For a list of initiatives, visit the ALE network site or the LinkedIn group… This week, we had the first ever bathtub conference!

ALE, What’s the Point?

A discussion with this title started a week ago in the group. The original post asked for the difference between ALE and the “existing agile community”. To me, there is no difference. We just gave it a name and found people who like it. Yet some people are skeptic. I welcome that, skeptic is my middle name—look at the subtitle of this blog. And I stated before that I was very skeptic regarding Jurgen’s motives to start this. Actually talking to him about his goals, his vision, what he expected from the network (the answer to all three basically being “what ever the community decides”, got my buy-in. I have my own goals with this network (which I stated in this post) just like everybody else. And they’re not the same as everybody else’s, that’s ok. Just please stop accusing us of being exclusive (we aren’t) or even xenophobic (that’s ridiculous). And don’t try to misuse this network for your personal goals, like money. We might become rude. I know I will. We all earn money with agile, but some do agile FOR the money. If you’re one of those, don’t discuss with me. I don’t care about being nice, I care about doing good. If you want to be paid for doing good, fine, I want that too. If you only do good if you’re paid… You get my point.

Bottom Line

I get energy from the agile communities in Europe. I want other people to get that energy too. Not everyone uses Twitter as much as I am, and some people need easier paths to find the right information for their needs. Make it more visible. Make us more connected. Make us collaborate better, and have intense and regular dialogue about what we do and how we do it, why we sometimes succeed and why we often fail. I love this network and I invite you to join us. We need Linchpins to change the world, so let’s gather and go make a difference!.


  1. Thomas Ferris Nicolaisen
    May 22, 2011

    Hi Olaf, really interesting to get a clear overview from your point on how all these things started. I really feel you on the energy/community thing.

    I can understand that some people are less motivated by the social thing of it, because, well, different people are motivated by different things. Technical challenge is perhaps the biggest motivation driver for people in software dev, and this is maybe why there are so many skeptics, and even more absent/inattentive individuals. Many fail to see the point of communities for community’s sake.

    To me, it’s obvious, or innate: We all benefit from the creation of these communities. I really appreciate what you are doing, and I thank you for it.

  2. Mike
    May 22, 2011

    Thank you Olaf for sharing your vision of this network.

    I sit on the fence with this initiative. If great friendships and beautiful collaborations emerge then all the better. I don’t feel you need to justify you participation.

    That said, I have been involved with many communities in this agile domain and my overwhelming opinion is that there is really nothing deep to hold us as a community. We aren’t a community in the sense of war veterans for example. The experiences we have are not significant enough to bind us.

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    […] (But he’s only the second Canadian to play an instrumental role in getting the network going. Michael Sahota facilitated Jurgen Appelo and me devising the plan for reaching out to the communities and getting the right people to Madrid to […]

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