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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Mark Kilby, Stephanie Davis and Rick Regueira on Effective User Groups & Remote Agile

Mark Kilby, Stephanie Davis and Rick Regueira on Effective User Groups & Remote Agile


1. [...] I’ve got Mark Kilby, Stephanie Davis, and Rick Regueira. How are you doing?

Craig's full question: Hello. My name is Craig Smith. I’m an Agile editor at InfoQ, and we’re here at the Agile 2015 Conference in Washington, D.C. and in front of me I have, I guess we call it three Agile User Group organizers. So I’ve got Mark Kilby, Stephanie Davis, and Rick Regueira. How are you doing?

Rick: Great!

Mark: Good.

Stephanie: Great!


2. Welcome. You guys, I guess, make up the Agile User Groups in Florida, or at least a large proportion,. is that right?

Stephanie: Yes, it is.

Mark: Correct.

Rick: Yup.

Mark: Yes. We represent the three largest ones.

Craig: Which ones do you represent, tell us a little bit about them?

Rick: Mine is South Florida.

Mark: I’m Orlando.

Stephanie: And I’m Tampa Bay.

Craig: Yes. South Florida includes Miami and --

Rick: Miami-Dade, Broward, all into Palm Beach.


3. [...]So you guys had a talk here at the conference about a statewide learning network and I guess how to rebuild user groups?

Craig's full question: Okay. Excellent. For those who live in a bubble, Florida is the state down the bottom that looks like a pan handle if you know your geography.. So you guys had a talk here at the conference about a statewide learning network and I guess how to rebuild user groups?

Mark: Right. Yes. I’ll jump in first. All three of our groups had started several years back and all crashed and burned in a sense. So they came back up mostly through collaboration reaching out to each other, sharing ideas, starting to plan events together, and that’s the key thing for us is how together can we spread learning about Agile across Florida.

Craig: It’s an interesting thing, and I run a user group myself. You tend to feel very solo, and every month it’s let’s find another speaker, let’s find some people to come along, and then you cross your fingers that people might turn up, then find a venue, all those types of things. So I think the interesting thing here is, firstly, you all had groups that you, I guess, were trying to rebuild and then secondly, using the network to build them up again. Is that correct?

Stephanie: Yes.

Rick: Yes, absolutely.

Mark: Yes.


4. So what sorts of states were they in at the start? Stephanie, the user group --

Stephanie: When I found Tampa Bay Agile, it was actually called Tampa Bay Developer. So it was a very narrow focus. It was being run out of a conference room at’s local office and they could fit about 15 people in there and they fed you two pizzas and that was pretty much it, they had a monthly meet-up. They had about 100 members at the time. Now, we’re at over 900 members.

Craig: Excellent! And Mark?

Mark: For Orlando, we went through three iterations. On the first two, we struggled mostly with internal talks and trying to get people to come. And on the last one, we looked at what was the minimum viable meet-up for us and it was really we started with Lean Coffee. So we just slowly grew and grew and grew and we’re about close to 500 members right now after about three years of that last iteration.

Craig: Rick?

Rick: We’re iterating all the time. We’ve grown from seven people in one small room. We actually had beer from the that first time.

Stephanie: Oh, did you? Yes.

Mark: That was it.

Rick: Yes. And from there on, I don’t know what happened.

Stephanie: Now you guys need a whole keg?

Rick: Everybody started showing up. We started by just investing on the individuals in South Florida and then we found a lot of major trainers that were actually gearing to go to South Florida. So we piggybacked off them being there, and they presented, and it was amazing. We also get a lot of feedback from all the other user groups. We visit their areas. They come down and visit ours. So it’s a very humbling way. It’s not about us growing. It is about as a group, we’re growing.

Stephanie: Yes. It’s important to reciprocate.

Rick: Absolutely.

Stephanie: The cooperation.


5. What was the impetus. How did you decide that rather than going on your own, setting up a statewide network?

Stephanie: You know, it’s this man right here had everything to do with it. He’s at the center of it all.

Mark: Well, it’s kind of what you were saying before, Craig, is when you start a user group, you feel very alone. And after those two prior iterations, I said, “All right. I’m not doing that again.” For me, the big thing was collaboration. I connected with South Florida and Tampa through social media and then said, “Hey! Let me road trip. I want to see what you guys are doing.” And more than anything, it’s not sharing just the ideas. It’s just sharing the camaraderie. It’s like, “Hey! How can we support each other?” And that has been a big part of it.


6. Do you have some tips for people about -- I mean obviously, you’re hitting the road and you’re talking to people. But then, how does it actually fly after that? How do you keep in contact?

Mark: I think I counted over 21 tips in the experience report. But the big thing is just get to know people. So getting to know other Agile User Groups in other cities, but even in your own city, I’m sure there are other kinds of tech groups that you can reach out to and some were curious about Agile. So you could partner with them. We’re building all kinds of networks like that to just connect with people and say, “Okay. What do you need from us? How can we help you?” And that’s how we start out.


7. That’s an interesting angle. I think often people think of user groups as, “What can I get from them?” And you’re turning that around to, “How can we help you?”

Mark: Yes. So it’s led to many interesting projects. When South Florida had one of the first conferences in Florida, you had a high-performance team’s conference. I have the t-shirt on underneath, actually. That was supporting the folks there. But in going to some of those events, and each other’s events, it’s also seeing what are they struggling with, and are we struggling with the same thing? Or do we have some ideas for them? It’s really just all about connecting with other groups and looking at how can we pull resources together to kind of bring the whole community up and not compete.

Stephanie: And events like this really help as well because you’ll run into people from across Florida and you’ll ask, I ran into someone fromFort Lauderdale and I’m like, “Oh, are you part of South Florida Agile Association?” And you make sure they’re connected with their right user group. And if they’re not, that’s an opportunity for us to sit down with them and say we can help them establish one.

Rick: Yes. So alone, we couldn’t achieve this. Coming together as a group, like he did many times, he came down and spoke at our events. We went up there and took a road trip, which was amazing. So we were learning from each other through this journey.


8. So do you think you could expand that wider? Maybe the nice thing about where you are are at is it is about a four to six hour road trip, maybe between --

Mark: Yes. Two hours from Orlando and four hours --

Craig: Yes, the main cities. I mean, could you do it with other states in the US doy ou think?

Stephanie: Oh, I’m sure. I think Georgia could be next.

Mark: Yes. We’ve been talking to a few other groups about what we could do. We’re concentrating most on Florida because Florida is a pretty big state. Even at last year’s conference, we had a group from Gainesville that said, “Hey! We’re interested.” Now, they’ve launched their group. There’s a group on the East Coast near the Kennedy Space Center that has just launched recently. So we’re looking at , our first contact with them is, “How can we help you? What do you need?”

Rick: And now that we’ve established like a template, this is what works for us that can actually be used anywhere and say, “Hey! Build your community.” And all we talked about a learning center or having like a database for people to look up and say, “Hey! I want to learn about Agile.” There we are providing each other and helping each other through that Agile transformation.

Mark: Or, how do I connect with sponsors or what are some goodsways to pick out venues? So there are kind of tips and ideas that we’re trying to collect and share with these new groups as we start working with.

Craig: Does it allow you to share things like speakers or --

Mark: Oh yes, Yes.

Stephanie: Yes. We’re actually all part of each other’s meet-up group. So we see when things are posted and we’ll inquire like, “Oh, how did you get that person? Are they willing to come over here? Are they willing to go down there?” Yes. We do a lot of sharing of speakers, and concepts, different ideas and concepts.

Rick: And I think one of the main points that people don’t realize is that we’re actually all volunteers. So this is done on our own time, and we keep the price very affordable. So a lot of these events -- free -- at least 90% of the events are all free, which is great, the ones that are more high-end where we have to try to generate some speakers to come in, we do maybe charge a very minimal cost but none -- enough to cover the food or shirt I would give them, and you’ll see that.

Craig: The shirt? The pizza I would expect at a user group, but a shirt??

Rick: Yes, sure and everything, yes.

Mark: Yes. I’ll say for the South Florida folks, they’ve put on three conferences now that I would say is almost to the level of the Agile conferences but more of a regional version of it. But I think the first one was like 100 people and then there was like 200, 300?

Rick: Well, to 400 people --

Mark: Yes, over 600 in the last one?

Rick: And then we’re maybe reaching a thousand this time. But again, it’s the community coming together, not just us, but we have great sponsors that really want to support us and move forward with this great event.


9. Did you think that idea of having a conference organized locally by locals is something that helps ultimately build the group, perhaps people that wouldn’t normally come out after work on an evening for a meetup group?

Stephanie: Definitely! It’s surprising. We’re on our second year of Agile Open Florida, you know, in that open space format. It’s surprising how many people we meet that have never been to the local meet-up or local user group, but they’ve showed up for Agile Open Florida. From that point forward, they do want to be involved. But yes, it is interesting.

Craig: Also, it creates that impetus to come out.

Mark: Well, out of both of those Agile Open Florida events, the theme that kind of came out of or the feedback is, people couldn’t believe how much other people shared about their experiences and their struggles. And that’s kind of what really encouraged folks to get more involved. It’s like, “I want to hear more of those stories.”


10. So I guess the question, and you mentioned it before Rick, is that you’re all volunteers, and I always say it takes a special kind of person to run a meetup because there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that people don’t see. What were the reasons for you three actually getting in and doing this? Why did you get involved?

Rick: Before, I want to, it’s not just us. There’s a whole bunch of people behind us that’s just amazing.

Stephanie: Yes. It used to be just us but now it’s --

Rick: It’s just amazing how many people want to help out, want to volunteer, how many certified trainers, certified coaches that come down and help us out.


11. And I assume that’s a key tip as well, right?

Rick: Yes, absolutely. Yes. There’s no way. There’s no way.

Stephanie: I think for me, at the time when I got involved in Tampa Bay Agile, Valpak was, I think, on their second year of being an Agile company. We were really trying to establish ourselves as a little bit of a role model to other companies, and we had the facilities space and the capability to host the meet-ups. So we asked if they want us to help out, they’re were like cool and we took over.

Mark: They just sit here.

Stephanie: Yes. So it was really we just wanted to get involved in the community and be part of it.

Mark: For me, and you know this part of the story, but I kind of grew through my coaching ability by coaching all over the country, but a lot of that started in Florida in really experimenting with non-profit groups. It’s like, “Can I do this in Scrum? Can I do this?” I wanted to come back and bring that back to Florida. There are so many great things for, not only software companies but really all kinds of companies that could benefit from Agile. I wanted to bring that back. We’re finding many people that have that same kind of passion. They want to help others learn.

Craig: Rick?

Rick: I’m also very humble that my company also, IPC, the company I work for, gave me the opportunity to do this. It really comes from within. This is really giving back to all the great things that people have helped me in my life, and I just want to somehow give them something. The little that it is but it goes along way when you have people call you and really want to learn some of those skills that you do on a regular basis. I think it’s very rewarding. It’s also for me very rewarding.

Craig: Excellent! And the tips that you talked about in your experience report; are they available for others to use, because this sounds like a great template.

Mark: Yes. They’re available right now on the Agile Alliance site. You can go search for Experience Reports Agile 2015. They’re up there now. And our contact information is there. If there is other questions that people have, we’re happy to help them and talk through what they might try next. One thing I do want to add is what we have is sort of a template, I guess, on how to start. There are three very different stories on how we got started. There’s not just one framework. There is multiple approaches that people can take.

Craig: That sounds familiar. That’s something --

Mark: Yes.


12. Aside from the user group angle which you’re talking about here, all three of you have a day job in the Agile space. So, quickly, what do you do when you are outside of the meet-up arena? Stephanie, your normal job?

Stephanie: Yes. I have a day job. I’m Agile Leadership Director at Valpak.

Craig: Mm-hmm. Mark?

Mark: I’m an Agile coach at Sonatype.

Rick: I’m an Agile coach at IPC, which were a cooperative for Subway.


13. [...]Tell us a little bit about Sonatype being an organization that I assume actually all developers are remote.

Craig's full question: Mark, I guess one of the things you’re here at the conference, you’re lucky enough to have two hats as you sit here, you’re also talking about working remotely and some of the tips there. Tell us a little bit about Sonatype being an organization that I assume actually all developers are remote.

Mark: Well, at least in the Java space, they’re known for Sonatype for Nexus and involvement in the Maven community.

Craig: And it’s an open source company I guess at its heart.

Mark: Well, there’s an open source part to the company. We also have many commercial aspects to it as well.

Craig: I meant at its heart.

Mark: Yup. But the thing that most people don’t know about Sonatype is that we are almost 100% distributed. All of our developers, our entire product staff work out of their homes. I like to call it the “Coach From Home Program” as part of that. But the cool thing is a lot of that is really to, and I don’t like the term work-life balance but more work-life blending. We actually try to support that. Sonatype is very supportive of me being in events like this because it’s getting Sonatype’s name out there but also knowing about, “Hey! We work a little bit differently than others and we work well that way.” That’s part of the story I’m telling you tomorrow.


14. So in your talk, you talk about a number of principles and practices that people can learn from. Any sort of top tips you can share with the folks who are not able to attend?

Mark: Yes. So the thing I want to be cautious about is the principles are something we’re still trying to work through and look at what’s important for us to keep as we grow, because we are growing like many organizations in this space. And we want to try to make sure that we keep the important parts of it. We think we’ve identified a few principles that we want to pay attention to, and that drives the practices, because like in sny good Agile company, the practices might change frequently but the principles will remain the same.

In the talk and in the paper, I talk about the principles and then what are the current practices and then what are some things that might be changing for us as part of that, and hopefully, give some guidance for folks who are in a similar situation. I don’t think it’s a model that will work for everybody, but we’re finding some interesting things that are working very well for us.


15. [...]Tell me about one of the interesting ways you deal with that as a team.

Craig's full question: So one thing that you were mentioning to me earlier is these days, as we communicate more, tooling helps us do that. You’re now starting to deal with the problem of communication and people probably talking too much or the tone of the communication. It’s something we didn’t used to talk about in distributed Agile, it was use tools to talk to each other and it’s now moved in the opposite direction. Tell me about one of the interesting ways you deal with that as a team.

Mark: Yes. Some of the tips we talk about is how can you shift the conversations from asynchronous through the tools to synchronous through video chat or a meeting scenario. But how do you keep that thread of conversation going? And how do you limit the number of tools so you don’t have too many places to look for that conversation? So our teams are very good at managing, actually, self-managing those conversations. It’s using things like Atlassian HipChat and the JIRA boards. I’m not trying to get a plug in but we’re using the same tools that everybody else is using, but maybe slightly different ways.


16. Actually, I assume sometimes when you’re using a tool like that, the conversation can then perhaps go in directions, maybe there is some conflict or misinterpretations. So how do you deal with that as a distributed coach because you’re not seeing all the parties there anymore?

Mark: Yes. I’ll say for the first month while I was there, I was completely disoriented. It was really the first. I’ve worked with distributed teams before but not 100%. So it’s just trying to understand the personalities and some of the history, because some people had been working there for a few years. But to not see them every day, to not be able to read facial expressions, that was extremely difficult. You really need to focus on getting to know the people. Fortunately, right now, we’re relatively small at 40 people, but 40 people that are, I would say, rbrilliant, I would say very demanding of each other. So they’ll always challenge each other and to try to get the best solution out there. But it’s getting to understand, when the conflict pops up, where they’re coming from. For instance, one of the things that we’re kind of talking through the company is crucial conversations. How do we identify when maybe something’s getting a little too heated and how can anybody recognize that and maybe calm it down and get it back into dialogue instead of just butting heads.


17. Stephanie, you’re a board member of the Agile Alliance.

Stephanie: I am.

Craig: Where’s the Alliance going? I mean this is obviously awesome for the Alliance these conferences --

Stephanie: Well, it’s strictly confidential.

Mark: Transparency.

Stephanie: -- if I tell you anything. Actually, I can tell you about one really cool thing that I just got to be a part of, and that is OnAgile. So the Agile Alliance --

Craig: The virtual conference.

Stephanie: The first ever virtual conference and it was wildly successful, which is very cool. I was co-organizer with Declan Whelan and it was themed around technical practices and sort of the future of technical practices and kind of what you can do to help your career, that sort of thing. It was a very, very cool experience and I happy to be a part of it. So hopefully, we’ll be planning the next one because it was so successful. Some cool things happened. I don’t know what else I can reveal but I think it will be a very productive year for the Agile Alliance, got some cool things in the works.

And of course, the programs that already exist that everyone should be taking advantage of if they're not already. In fact, just to tie this back to the user groups, the speaker reimbursement program is something that the user groups use frequently to bring speakers into town, as well as the open space program, which we use for Agile Open Florida. Definitely some cool programs to look into, but they’re always adding more, and besides the programs, some other cool things going on.

Craig: And I guess with the OnAgile conference being completely virtual as well, distributed, probably some of the things that Mark was talking about. I assume that there might have been some challenges at least in the initial setup of how to deal with a conference where the speakers aren’t even in the same location let alone the participants.

Stephanie: There was. I actually wrote a blog about this on the Agile Alliance blog and it was just surprisingly convenient for the speakers to be able to record the sessions from their home or office for the attendees to be able to attend from their home or office in their pajamas or whatever they chose to wear or not wear. Also, they didn’t have to attend on the same day. OnAgile is actually still available till August 14th in an on-demand mode. So very, very cool, and lots of talks. We had a dozen speakers, actually, in total and multiple different talks, two different, what we call stages running at the same time. So if you didn’t like what was going on the main stage, you could go over to what we are calling the experience stage and see some other cool things going on. It’s cool.


18. And I guess as all three of you as coaches, I’m going to start with you, Rick, what are the things that you’re hearing either here at the conference or those things that you’re thinking about moving forward in the Agile space? What has your attention?

Rick: Wow, there are so many things that have my attention. I like the way they take new people, especially at this conference, they really took a good look at people that do not know Agile and just try to get them on board and giving them like a pathway. So I think a lot of the sessions were really geared to getting them onboard. I think for us, we also enjoy a lot of the coaching sessions. I know there’s some coaching sessions with the Scrum Alliance and some other groups where we can really ask the difficult questions, the tough things that we face on a daily basis, and it’s always conflict and it’s always tension but it makes it worthwhile as we go through it.

I think it’s nice that you’re not alone. Sometimes we face that as coaches. We think that, “Well, we’re the only one facing two people going at this problem.” And no, once I talked to Stephanie and Mark and we really share a lot of the ideas of how do you need to step back and let them grow as a team. So it’s just a lot of team building, a lot of retrospective items, a lot of things. I’m just jotting down and ready to gung ho and to share it with the group as soon as I get back. I want to share a couple of things for distributed teams. I think that we, as Subway, that’s something that we share on an ongoing basis. What we found was good for us was we brought them in house for us to understand our culture, because that was really important before they actually went out to these different areas and participate. That way, they knew what was expected from a value perspective.


19. Yes. Mark, what sort of things have your attention as an Agile coach?

Mark: Yes. For me, Sonatype being a very unique organization, being completely distributed, I’ve been focusing on some of the more organizational kinds of obsession, so complex and adaptive systems and some of the experimentation sessions, because that’s something we’re trying to get our staff geared up for. It’s not the coaches running the next set of experiments. We want anyone to feel like they can step up and run an experiment in the organization and just, what are the metrics? How long are we going to run it? And what do we want to do after that as a group? So that’s some of the things I’m trying to pay attention to and bring back.


20. Thank you. Stephanie?

Stephanie: Well, it’s only the second day, but I’m finding that just the idea of scaling Agile and the scaling models are just as divisive this year as it was last year, a lot of controversy and drama around the scaling models that I’ve observed so far. Then I’ve really been interested in kind of the enterprise agility, the portfolio management level sessions, and the keynote on Monday was really good with the innovation games ideas. Still getting into it.


21. So if people want to know some more or follow up on how to best run their user group or perhaps learn more from you about that,. what’s the best way that they can find you guys online?

Stephanie: I’m on Twitter at @iamagile and I blog at

Craig: Mark?

Mark: And my handle is not nearly as creative, just @mkilby and you can also read some of my blog posts at

Craig: Rick?

Rick: We’ve got a website,, and the meet-up is also a great way or on LinkedIn.


22. And of course if there are people watching in Florida or happen to be coming through Florida at anytime, how do they find your group?


Stephanie: Yes. We have a website,

Mark: That’s all the groups. They have their events there and you can find contact people there.

Stephanie: Make it easy.

Craig: Well, thanks very much. Thank you for your service to the Agile community in Florida. Thank you for sharing your learnings along the way.

Mark: All right. Thanks for the time.

Stephanie: Thanks.

Nov 19, 2015