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Agile Flow at Skansen Kronan

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The third edition of Brewing Agile took place at the wonderful Skansen Kronan in Gothenburg, just like last year. This year's theme was Flow, a subject that was addressed from different perspectives by the different speakers.

Last year I learned about Brewing Agile by coincident, submitted a proposal, got selected, went, talked about Agile UX and had a great time! This year's conference was equally great, lots of interesting talks and discussions with nice people in a great setting. Skansen Kronan has a very special ambiance, complete with narrow staircases and cannons wrapped in christmas lights, which I think works well for this kind of conference.

The day started with a workshop facilitated by Henrik Kniberg. True to the agile theme, the workshop had an unconference feel about it and was completely participant-driven. Henrik collected ideas on what to talk about from the participants and altered between discussions in smaller groups and summaries with all the participants. The discussions focused mainly on cooperation with clients and the gap between teams and management. It was really interesting to hear stories from other organisations, and I was glad to learn that many of the other participants were using Impact mapping in agile development with great success. 

After a great lunch, Carl Vikman was the first speaker to take the floor to talk about Flow psychology and neuroscience. I've always been interested in how the human brain works, especially the prefrontal cortex that deals with planning, impulse control and empathy among other things. Carl explained that the activity in the preftontal cortex decreases during flow, and it's quite fascinating that the most sophisticated part of our brain has to become less active in order for us to reach that optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform our best.

Carl Vikman explaining the neuroscience of Flow

Johan Karlsson from Hansoft talked about a possible paradigm shift in metrics. If the current paradigm goes something like "In God we trust, all others bring data", the next paradigm could be more along the lines of "In people we trust, only bring data you care about for a very good reason". This is an evolution I would be glad to see happen, since data from automated tests will never give you all the knowledge you need to create the best products. One day of user observation can be more valuable than one year's worth of user data from automated data gathering. 

Emma Jane Westby delivered the most engaging personal presentation. Being the daughter of a wood carver, she told us how wood carving trained her in design, analysis and critique from a young age which has had influence on her professional development. Her talk revolved around the three different modes of thinking that are the basis of the 4Di framework, and how you can adapt your communication to the fact that most people have a bias towards being creative, understanding or making decisions. One way can be to structure meetings according to the outcome you are expecting rather than to the agenda.

Emma Jane Westby and her wood carving father

The last talk of the day was Henrik Kniberg who told a great story of the hamster wheel of management that nearly led him to a burnout, how to write a book in a weekend and why you should stop saying "I don't have time" since it's not true. Finding time is never the problem, just sit around and it will come to you. The problem is trying to do too many things at once, and the solution is to allow time for slack because it enables us to catch the flow train when it appears. Another trick is hacking the search filter by focusing on the desired state right now, in much the same way that athletes use visualization exercises to enhance performance.

The only slide that Henrik Kniberg showed during his talk

Henrik's talk really hit a nerve with me, I was reminded of Bodil Jönsson's book Ten thoughts about time where she writes about the importance of allowing time between different tasks to allow the brain to recover so that we can achieve our full potential. As human beings, even though we might believe the opposite, we are really bad at multitasking. One of the worst thing that can happen if you push yourself too hard is that the stress can damage your brain structure and connectivity. Henrik's talk was a great reminder that there are things we can do to be proactive, and that slack can be a great thing.