On October 12th, Hillel Glazer and I hosted our first Agile Baltimore Unconference. Sure, there are other Agile events in the area but I really wanted to create something that was independent and "felt" like Baltimore. The result? The first Agile Baltimore Unconference! I wanted to organize an event that would provide value to both the sponsors and the attendees, at a reasonable price. With less than five days remaining, the event was sold out with 100 attendees.
As part of the registration, we provided an event t-shirt (thank you smartlogic for the t-shirt design and sponsorship). The t-shirts came out great. The Agile Baltimore logo was on the chest and the event sponsors were proudly displayed on the back, with a skyline of Baltimore. It was top-notch design work and printing.
Food was supplied by Sunshine Gille. They provided, breakfast, lunch and cocktail hour. I'm sure others would agree, the Greek lunch was pretty damn good. If you're local to Baltimore, I recommend you look them up for your next event. They were really friendly and easy to work with.
So, what is an unconference?
A loosely structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured program of events.
You might have read my blog post back in August, titled Divergence at Agile2015. If I wanted to structure a traditional conference, there would have been a ton more time spent planning the tracks and schedule. For this event, I wanted to focus on getting people to share ideas around the themes of Lean, Agile, Startups, and Technology. I honestly do not believe anyone could say what the most important topics could be 1-3-6 months out. Having the attendees plan out the schedule the day of the event would ensure we would have the more relevant topics.
Never underestimate the power of self-organization. In the first hour and a half of the event, we took somewhere between 300 and 500 ideas and narrowed it down to 9. If you want to see some great pictures of this in action, click on the picture links below.
When putting this event together, I had a choice. I could charge attendees a lot more money or get some sponsors. After doing some quick math, I realized that we needed sponsors. That's a blog post all on its own. Get too many sponsors and too few registrations and I could forget ever having another event. My goal was to have sponsors who I personally like. I did not want sponsors who would create a local turf war. Of course, I wanted Agile Alliance on board. Done. ETC Baltimore was helping us with the space. Done. Smartlogic approached us about doing the t-shirt designs and printing. Done.
What was left? Breakfast, lunch, the after-party, lanyards, and enough post-it notes and sharpies to satisfy the needs of a small army of Agilists. Thank you very much to Rally Software and Leankit, both of which had booths and gave product demos.
To underwrite the event, LeadingAgile was there every step of the way. When we needed to write a check for food and not all of the sponsor checks had arrived, it was great to know LeadingAgile had my back.
Photos and Videos
Photos were saved to the Agile Baltimore Facebook photo stream. You can see even more out on the Agile Baltimore Lean coffee meetup site. If you were at the event and took pictures, please send me a copy! I'll get them posted.
This was my first real attempt at videography at an event. I used Periscope to do some live streaming on Twitter. I then saved the videos out to the [Derek Huether YouTube channel]. Periscope won't let you record with a landscape orientation yet so you'll just suffer through the black bars on either side of the videos. In the video below, you can see an exchange between Mike Cottmeyer, Paul Boos, and others about buy-in techniques when trying to go Agile. Paul Boos is heard saying "Something that promotes individual heroes is an impediment" [YouTube Video]
Never be afraid to try something you've never done before. I have a newfound respect for those who put on events. It can be exhausting! My heart goes out to the Purple Shirts that I see each year at the Agile20xx events of the Agile Alliance. I wasn't wearing a purple shirt but I was super busy doing behind-the-scenes work. Upon doing a retrospective at the end of the day, I would consider some changes next time around.
- I would like to see lightning conversations or maybe an entire track dedicated to Lean Coffee
- I would like to offer a coaches corner, where attendees could go ask a qualified coach for some help
- Lastly, ironically, I would consider adding a planned track.
Keep your eyes open for the next event. I doubt I can wait an entire year to do this again. Maybe we can do this in Denver or Atlanta? Maybe we can do a half-day Lean Coffee event?