Valtech Days: an insider look

Valtech DaysWow. I started writing this post on my way back from the Valtech Days conference, which I have contributed to organize, and all I can say is “wow”.

De Fragile à AgileI don’t know about you, but I personally do not organize conferences very often. In fact, it was the first I have seriously been contributing to (CITCON Brussels was another, but I started helping after the organization of Valtech Days had started). My job had been to find some external presenters, select presentations, review presentations and white papers, organize presentations in rooms, and (most proudly) facilitate the Open Space Technology part. I also did my best to contribute as a normal attendant, asking questions to presenters, facilitating sessions, etc. In fact, I had opportunities to practice my facilitating skills, by gathering expectations for the sessions I was involved in, and by using hexagonal cards to get people to contribute their thoughts (more on hexagonal cards later).

Things that went well in my mind:

  • Refactoringturn-out was fantastic. We had more than 300 people of the first day, about double what we were expecting when we decided to organize the conference. More than 150 showed up for the Open Space Technology part on the second day. In fact, there were so many people that some could not find a seat in some presentations (mostly my fault, as I didn’t correctly anticipate the popularity of Test-Driven Requirements, for example). I guess that a good problem to have. It also proves that there was a real gap to fill in French IT. A large part of the developers are already well catered by XP Day, but profiles such as CIOs, CTOs, Q&A, had no conferences to go to.
  • the content of the presentations were great. One strong point had been that we combined Architecture, Project Automation & Tooling, and Agile presentations on the same day, so people that came for project architecture ended up discovering agility. Some participants said that they would never had been exposed to agility had they not come to the conference for the more traditional threads.
  • Démo XWikisome, but not all, partners had presentations that were really interesting, completely relevant to the conference, and totally part of our hedgehog concept. Rally and Agitar especially come to mind.
  • food was good ;-)

Things that could have gone better:

  • Sujet Tests AutomatisésI didn’t anticipate that so many people would be interested in Test-Driven Requirements. The room was much too small, and many people just couldn’t get in. Still, I had many positive feedbacks about Gilles Mantel’s talk. Some other talks were wildly popular too. All in all, since we had a lot more participants than expected,we had precious little spare seats anyway.
  • I mistakenly thought that many people would be willing to stay until at least 6 pm for the closing session. In practice, many started leaving from 5 pm (plus, the sessions on the last time slot were those considered less interesting by others). At 6 pm, only one session was still active, probably because I was the one facilitating it. Still, I managed to persuade those last participants to give a quick feedback, which was mostly positive (ok, some will say, *of course* they’d be positive: they had stayed until the end!).
  • I should have shared more with my colleagues before the beginning of the presentation. For example, I realized that many could not help their own customers to chose presentations. To my defense, one of them admitted he did not even read the abstracts. Something to improve next year.
  • Foyer HéraSome partners did not have successful presentations: Some presenters simply were not that good; some topics simply did not appeal to some participants (IBM’s “success in e-commerce” comes to mind). I also had the feeling that some were not close enough to our real concerns. Did we really need to associate with them?
  • When I organized the presentations in rooms for the first day, I didn’t pay serious attention to the timing (except for a few constraints that presenters submitted to me). I think it would have been nicer to have “introduction” talks at the beginning (“Can you apply Agile methods on any projects?”) and specialists ones at the end, such as System Thinking. These latter would not have had a great attendance anyway, but the people who do come would probably be interested enough to stay late.

Lessons learned:

  • It was not a good idea for me to go to CITCON Brussels 2 days before Valtech Days. Going to a conference, even as an attendant, is always exhausting, so I was not at the top of my form. Also, I didn’t have time to do all I had to before the conference, especially reading white papers. On the same line, I should not have gone back to my client just the day after: I needed time to rest. Besides, all I could talk about was the Valtech Days.
  • Though I was skeptical at first, asking for white papers was a good idea: the participants have something to get more information.
  • Reading white papers is a way to help presenters refocus their presentations. However, they come to late (a few days before the conference). Also, I should have been the only contact for that. The fact that partners had to deal with the person organizing the conference instead, made it impossible for me to give them feedback.
  • Reading white papers is great to know the actual content of a talk. It means I didn’t have to attend the talk, and I could instead help people finding the right presentations for them, fix the little problems that occur during the conference, etc.

Hopes & wishes:

  • I have the feeling that this conference gave a new image of Valtech on the French IT scene. Several people asked whether we would be conducting more of them. Some also want to see us join the XP Day sponsors, or organize a conference with our competitors (“Agile Days”? “IT Days”?). All flattering ideas. I wonder, though, if the director would be willing to spend as much money if the Valtech name was not attached to the conference name?
  • I have been asked by journalists if Open Space Technology will really take off in France. I really hope so. Next year holds a lot of promises: there should be a French AgileOpen event, plus maybe one OST session at XP Day

About Eric Lefevre-Ardant

Independent technical consultant.
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