Play4Agile 2016 – one big family

All in the family

Play4Agile (p4a) 2016 is over for another year. As always it’s part reunion with dear friends, and part excitement at meeting new people at this ‘unconference’, where you learn to expect to be surprised by what you find happening. I mentioned this as part of my brief lightning talk on the Thursday evening. This is one big safe space, where you can explore ideas in sessions knowing that you will get support from those around you. It is so safe that, as mentioned on twitter, a transgender person came out to everyone there. That was a nice moment.

The ‘family’ aspect was reinforced in two ways this year. First, we had the village that is the p4a community looking after Myrta, who was a regular attendee to many sessions as both of her parents are also part of the community. It wasn’t unusual to see Myrta playing with and being looked after by others with her parents in different sessions. This is now the third year where this ‘community childcare’ is happening at p4a and it seems to work perfectly well. At some point I’m sure that we’ll possibly have bigger kids in attendance too. It possibly hasn’t happened as we are limited by space at the event so we can only have around 80 attendees, so they might need to sleep on the floor or in a camp bed.

The other ‘family’ aspect which I realised later was the wonderful way that sessions turned into ‘family’ portraits thanks to the lovely graphical recording work done by Kata and Marti from Remarker, who work the paper together like pair programmers with Kata doing the illustrations and Marti doing the words. One will start something and the other will follow on as needed to fill the large sheet so that anyone coming along later will know the title of the session and see the key takeaways. Having this pair at p4a meant we had a wall of history growing before our eyes. This was a great addition to the event this year and I look forward to seeing them at events in the future. Kata and Marti were told to feel free to choose the sessions they record, and to join any session they wanted to attend too. This is why you’d see them everywhere during the weekend. They are also now ‘family’ as we’ve asked, and they agreed to come join us again next year. As Kata told me, this was the best conference she’d ever been to as they were told to look after themselves and maintain a sustainable pace over their time with us. As a result she was able to take advantage of the location’s facilities and unwind after a long day recording our activities.graphic recording of lightning talks

The ‘family’ aspect was also shown in the relationship between the hotel staff and the p4a participants. We were told that staff avoid going on holiday over our weekend. The staff want to work our weekend. We talk to staff, and they learn our names extremely fast. They even know to pre-order some soft drinks for our members as part of the event. It’s also not unusual now to see staff and guests hugging each other good bye. It’s an amazing event.

The ‘family’ aspect of the event with people feeling safe encourages the learning that we each do there as we’re relaxed and feel that we can move from our comfort zone to our ‘adventure zone’ and learn new skills while also sharing ideas for discussion. I should also point out that the sharing ideas goes on all day and night. Friday and Saturday might go from an 07:00 walk or jog with someone in the woods through to 08:00 for breakfast followed by the open space starting at 09:00 and sessions running until 13:00 for lunch and afternoon sessions then running from 14:30 to 17:30 with an ‘evening news’ at 18:00 followed by dinner and then evening events of games, power point karaoke and talking with friends from 20:00 until 03:30-04:30. You could in other words find yourself with little sleep.

Games for learning

I find p4a so useful as it inspires me with games to use in the classroom and stories to use when talking to students. This year there were several highlights playing games in the bar in the evening. For example, we were talking about ‘real options’ and Olaf mentioned that he uses the game of Fluxx to show the difference between ‘options and commitments’. The rules constantly change so you can’t plan, and have to keep your options open until you find a successful way to commit to something in the game. Adding this game to the classroom will be a good way to bring home the issue of ‘options’ and systems.

Similarly, during a Werewolf session we learned that decisions happen much faster when opinions are reduced in ‘no talking’ rounds. This ‘silent’game round went much faster, than in the rounds where the villagers can talk and argue their opinions.

While playing Escape in the evening we also found a lot about communication being shared (or not) by players, and about the emotional state of players too, as shown in the graphic recoding of the session by Kata and Marti. Thanks to them we realised things, which our observers of the game had said. This was a very nice extra to find them working into the evening sessions and not stopping after dinner.Adventure Zone

Learning with StrategicPlay

The best sessions for me this year were the ones run by Katrin. This started with the pre-conference Agile Game Slam where everyone worked through a number of known games for different scenarios, and then created ideas for other games in the same scenarios, some of which ended up being worked on over the weekend too. This was a good example of Katrin using her CoCreACT process, and as always it’s good to see someone, who loves what she does, facilitate events as she offers so much during the process.

I was also able to see her and Jens guiding the Flowa team through this later too in a slightly different application of the CoCreACT process. Flowa were wanting help to determine where they should go, and Katrin, Jens and I helped them with this. This was a good extra to show how you can always be surprised by the unexpected at p4a. We followed this up with another session using Lego Serious Play process to develop models in relation to various challenge statements about the firm’s vision and ideal customers, which was good to see.

Lastly, I helped Jan run a short ‘taster’ session on Lego Serious Play under Katrin’s guidance, which was fun. Jan, found it a bit more nervous doing this under Katrin’s kind gaze, and people repeatedly told Jan that they liked the session, which was good for her confidence. All of us, who trained with StrategicPlay in being Lego Serious Play facilitators under Katrin have gone through this, so now Jan too has taken this rite of passage.

Rory’s sessions

Although Rory wasn’t here, he was here in spirit with his Story Cubes and in the Extroidinaire design studio, which were both here this weekend. We all received a ‘mixin’ pack of three Story Cube dice as part of the p4a gamafication kit this year, which was a great surprise. Jordann and Alex also ran a useful session on how you can use Story Cubes with agile teams that produced a good number of ideas that I can use, and Katrin and Jens introduced us all to the Extroidinaires as a design thinking approach, which anyone can follow to learn the approach. This will be useful for classes in the future.

The other sessions

I also went to Bettina’s NVC game session, which was the ongoing story of a game she started working on last year at p4a15. I wanted to see if I could glean any ideas for my own conversation based game. Whereas she starts from Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication approach, I start from Crucial Conversations, so while there is some overlap, and her approach is more heavy-weight than what I intend, it did offer me a few ideas for perhaps using ‘scenario’ or ‘concept’ cards so that players get more of the background. However, this might slow the game down and not be so useful for beginners, which is my intended audience.

Tim offered his Scrum Card Game twice it was so popular, and I made it to the second session. I’m always looking for new ways to introduce the ‘feeling’ of a scrum sprint to students and I hoped this might be ‘the one’ to use as it would take away the ‘oh Lego’ feel, which happens when building objects with Lego. I wasn’t disappointed, and hope to see this up on TastyCupCakes soon.

Juhu and I joined together for a session to discuss how to deal with conflict. He had specific issues to cover, and I wanted some feedback on my card game. This worked well for him and folks concluded that you need to develop a sense for issues both at a personal level so that you are aware of your own feelings when things aren’t going right and that you might be building up to explode at someone, while also developing a wider sense of how the team is doing in the sense of ‘danger spots’ in a minefield. Although my idea didn’t get much discussion, that was ok as people wanted to discuss the larger issue of conflict and I found some useful ideas there, which I can carry forward for the next iteration of my game idea.

The last session I went to was Ari-Pekka’s ‘Culture Coding’ session, which I’ve already written about.

I liked co-facilitating the ‘retro-festival’ with Jordan. We tried a new ‘speed’ retrospective with six stalls for people to work their way through in five minute sessions at each stall. As this was with five teams we were able to give ‘stall holders’ a short break as people moved around the stalls. There were stalls for ‘Story Cube stories of feedback’, ‘A sailboat of driving forces and hinderances’, ‘a wishing box of dreams for p4a’, and a ‘back to the future of what was great about p4a17’, along with a ‘weather chart’ of the overall process that goes into a gathering: registration, pre-event info, the marketplace, open space and other things. The format was fun and seemed to work well with some fun comments back from people about our different format.

Wrapping Up

p4a is still the best conference that I attend. I ALWAYS find useful ideas that work their way into my teaching and facilitation practice. It provides good space to try ideas and receive useful feedback from other practitioners, who face these problems and issues on a more regular basis than I do in my classroom. This is the place where I can validate my book learning through conversations and facilitation practice so that it becomes valid praxis for me to use everyday. This is me doing my professional development. This is what I do for ‘work’, although admittedly at p4a it doesn’t feel like work. Not even with when you’ve only had three or four hours of sleep.

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