How To Organise a Conference

Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Agile & Lean, Community, Conference | 3 Comments

As you might have noticed if you follow this blog or read my tweets… Things that happened in Madrid and during the last weeks on LinkedIn have led to the situation that we’re now organising a conference in Berlin.


The ALE2011 will take place on Sept 7-9 in Berlin. It’ll be a non-profit, community-driven event. Agile Practitioners and idea farmers are invited to bring their spouses and kids, we’ll organise an off-conference program for them to be entertained and get to know this amazing city.

The main program will consist of three tracks of 30 min sessions—new content voted on by the community—and 50% open space. There’ll be keynotes, and we especially invite talks from industry speakers, and talks about topics alien to software development. The diversity of speakers should cover as many European countries as possible. Call for speakers will be opened within a few days.

ALE2o11 emerged from the Agile Lean Europe network which has grown impressively in the past few months and its vision is to connect agile practitioners more visibly and increase collaboration across borders.

The idea was first mentioned as a European alternative to Agile2011 in the US, for people who’s session hadn’t been accepted and/or who could not make the trip. Focus changed quickly to create ALE2011 as the first community event of the nascent ALE network. The community discussed possible dates and places, and Berlin and September where chosen.

How We Started

In the open space at XP2011 in Madrid, a dozen passionate individuals joined my session about the planning of ALE2011. We wrote down and grouped a number of ideas. The results were published on Picasa, and later integrated into a public mind map. We spread the results using Twitter and this blog, and people started to join the team. We quickly discarded the idea of single responsibilities for individuals (ususally called chairs for other conferences, like program chair etc.). We wanted the organisation to be lean and agile and decided to appoint responsibility to self-organising teams.


So we came up with the concept of Sofas. Sofas are self-organised teams that take responsibility for a certain topic. There’s a program sofa, a participants sofa, a vision sofa… and a planning sofa that coordinates the different actions and outcomes. The sofas do more or less regular Skype conf calls to discuss and move on. This is all just developing, but my impression so far is that it works quite well. More than 40 people from more than 16 European countries committed to help organising the conference, and more than 30 of these have actually started working so far. Sofas seem to self-organise well and the communication between the sofas is good… That’s partly owned to the fact that I’m currently still keeping track of all progressions, but mainly to our…


We try to go with as few tools as possible. We use Basecamp to communicate internally, with writeboards, google spreadsheets and the like as we see fit. We use a wordpress site and mindmeister maps to publish information, and Twitter to stream information and links into the network. We discussed and decided against a Scrum or Kanban board for the time being, but that decision will definitely be revisited.

Current Plans

I’ll finish of with a few bits of information regarding our current status:

  • A pre-registration will open within the next few days to get a few numbers.
  • Call for Speakers will start shortly thereafter, so start preparing submissions! Early submission will lead to better results.
  • We found a few options for venues yesterday, I hope we get this sorted this week.
  • If you want to help, look at the mind map or the Sofas pages to make an educated guess where your help could actually add value before you contact us.
  • We’re looking for sponsors to keep the event reasonably cheap and to help people get to the conference who otherwise couldn’t afford coming, to maximise diversity in countries. Please contact me if you want to sponsor ALE2011!

I’ll update you on the progress of this project and the experiences we make with this lean and agile style of organising a conference. So far, I love it! Thanks to all organisers for their passionate commitment!.


  1. Lasse Ziegler
    June 24, 2011

    Your experiences are pretty similar to what we have with Tampere Goes Agile 2011 ( We use skype chat, google spreadsheet and Our team is quite a bit smaller as we have only 7 organizers and we all live within 200km of each other.

    What we came up with is a Minimum Viable Conference. That is you first try to organize the smalles possible thing that makes sense. For us that is a 100 people, 1 day one track event with a 0€ budget. Once you get that you add something to it like another track. This way you build up your conference in a iterative and incremental fashion. You also release as fast as possible. We want live with website and registration within a few days of starting with the organizing.

  2. agile42 | Awesome Coach of the Week: Stephen Parry
    September 10, 2011

    […] about our plans on Twitter, and started to get interested when we published details about our distributed lean organisation. Then he sketched an interesting perspective: like us he's been irritated in recent years about big […]

  3. Confessions of an ALE2011 attendee « Nick Oostvogels's Weblog
    September 12, 2011

    […] XP2011 in Madrid.  As I’m a lazy fellow, I suggest you read the history of ALE2011 in this blogpost from Olaf Lewitz, instead of me writing it […]


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