Back to school with our 5 top sessions from Agile on the Beach 2019


It now seems like a lifetime ago, but back in July, me, Paul and Kjell hopped on a train to sunnyish Falmouth in Cornwall for two days of intensive learning and discussion at Agile on the Beach. An annual event, AotB is a chance for anyone who works (or would like to work) with Agile methods to brush up on the latest thinking, and share lessons from their successes and challenges.

We managed to rekindle our university days this year by staying on campus at Falmouth University, where we learned that student accommodation has had a serious revamp since we roamed the halls. You can now get Starbucks and gin cocktails on site – a far cry from the cheap cider and ready meals we were used to.

The aura of studiousness put us in the right mindset for the conference, which this year covered a wide variety of topics: change management; utilising an agile mindset in various aspects of work (and home) life; using agile in non-traditional ways. Here are our highlights…

Unlearning the challenge of change

The first talk that really resonated with us came from Jessie Shternshus (@theimproveeffect) and tackled a big challenge that comes with digital transformation work: changing the learnt behaviours of people who are used to working in a specific way.



Jessie’s talk opens with a video of a man trying to ride a bike which had been altered so that turning the handlebars in one direction caused the front wheel to turn in the opposite direction. Despite initial confidence about the difficulty of the task, it ended up taking him something like six months to learn how to ride this bike properly, and once he had, he then couldn’t ride a normal bike again. The point being that letting go of things you’ve learned really well is not easy and that empathy and understanding are key to bringing about organisational change.

Incorporating the change agenda into scaled Agile

The Scaled Agile Framework came under serious fire in this talk from Lynda Girvan of CMC Partnership, who made the point that it doesn’t really matter how early and often you’re delivering new technology if you are not facilitating people’s adoption of it. When you introduce a new digital product or process it’s crucial that the awareness and the desire for this new product or way of working has been established with the people who are going to use it.



This chimes with our recent experiences of working with large organisations, where a big part of the work has revolved around making sure that the people who are going to be using a new product or service know that it’s coming and that the value it delivers to them has been identified.

Harnessing language to achieve your goals

Ceri Newton-Sarguna (@HotCupOfTeaPls) is a behavioural coach who shows how we can use conscious language to get the best from ourselves and others, create safe spaces to work in and attain outcome-focussed delivery for healthy interactions with happy clients. In a talk entitled ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’, Ceri shared some useful linguistic advice on goal framing and setting (focus on the journey, not the end result; embed values through repetition), sidestepping the monkey mind (‘what if…’ exercises) and redirecting self-sabotage (change ‘I should’ to ‘I do’ and ‘I shouldn’t’ to ‘I do not).



Resilience and the difficult nature of innovation

Independent Agile coach John Clapham (@JohnC_Bristol) presented a talk on resilience which took as its basic assumption that getting people to adopt new ways of working is hard. Building resilience – the ability to adapt to new challenges and difficult situations, is one of the key factors that helps people and teams get through it and enable change.



This is a good one to watch right after Dr Tendayi Viki’s (Strategyzer) ‘Innovation is a Wicked Problem’, in which the award winning author and innovator defines a wicked problem as one that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Innovation is a non-linear process, but we often try to force innovation into a linear graphic as a way to report up to senior stakeholders and assure them there is a plan.



Connecting design sprints and Agile sprints

I couldn’t round off this post without a shoutout for our very own Kjell Eldor-Evans (@kjellsebastian), who ran a brilliant session about how to use the Design Sprint technique (pioneered by Google) to build an agreed backlog of user stories in the space of just a few days. This is just one of the many tools that Kjell uses to help clients unlock innovation in their organisations. Another is Problem Framing – used to help facilitate faster decision making by teams – which you can learn all about in an event at Manifesto on Thursday 26 September.

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