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Agile Users Groups in the USA: Communities of Practice

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One area of the Agile ecosystem that is gaining traction these days is Agile user groups. Some of these groups around the USA (and Europe) are building substantial membership, community and regional expertise in Agile techniques.

This year, established groups are growing, and existing groups with historically low attendance are gaining. And new groups are forming. Established groups are taking shots at larger conference-style events. The Scrum Alliance has a person dedicated to user groups. The Agile Project Leaders Network has a new board and mission statement, and the Agile Alliance is sponsoring many groups around the USA and in Europe. It appears that user groups are starting to play an influential role in the worldwide Agile community.

The growth of Agile CT (Agile Connecticut) is a study in what is going on. With barely any traction when it was first formed, Agile CT is now getting 30+ people attending per month, and has Scrum leaders like Jeff Sutherland scheduled to speak at monthly meetings where attendance ballons to 70 or so. This was unthinkable in late 2006 when the group was formed.

The Nashua NH Scrum Club formed in September of 2009. This all-new group now gets 45+ attending monthly meetings.

The New England region has become a kind of hotbed of user group activity. Older, established groups such as the New England Agile Bazaar run small conferences annually, on weekends. In addition to monthly meetings, this group recently ran their annual Deep Agile event in May, focusing this year on Agile games. Interesting speakers provided informative content on games that taught and demonstrated a wide range of Agile concepts. Speakers included Portia Tung, Tobias Mayer, Coach-of-coaches Lyssa Adkins and the game guys from, Mike McCullough and Don McGreal.

Damon Poole, CTO of AccuRev and President of Agile Bazaar told InfoQ:

User groups have one of the best value propositions you can find. They are usually free or inexpensive to participate in and they are populated by people that are passionate about the group's mission. There are usually guest speakers that are experts in their field, both from the local community and from other parts of the world as they travel. As a result, it is a great way to learn more about the topics you are interested in.

Boston has a wide range of user groups, including Agile Boston, yet another Agile group that runs monthly meetings. This 3-year-old group has had monthly meetings with attendance as large as 140+ (for speaker Jeff Sutherland) while typical monthly attendance averages about 70. This group runs larger events like Give Thanks for Scrum (in November of 2009) and Agile Boston Open Space (in April of 2010) that attracted sold-out attendance of 250+ people. The Agile Boston Open Space had Ken Schwaber keynoting and Steven "Doc" List of ThoughtWorks facilitating Boston's first large-scale Open Space event.

Dan Mezick, the organizer of the Agile Connecticut and Agile Boston user groups, says that 

User groups are a places for people to connect with others who hold a shared interest in a topic. The best groups are intentional communities of practice, where people self-select into the group as members and then develop both the community and themselves in the process.

Agile Boston on July 28 is featuring Lyssa Adkins, author of Coaching Agile Teams. She will present "Essential De-Programming for Project Managers", a session intended to help traditional PM's shed Agile-limiting beliefs, such as belief in prediction and plan-driven project management.

While folks in Boston get to enjoy a wide range of Agile events in a thriving ecosystem, the West Coast also has very well-developed Agile user group communities.The exemplary leader in California is the BayAPLN user group, which has meetings each month of 50+ and also develops and supports larger community events.

The southern USA also has several thriving Agile user group communities. For example, located in the heart of Texas is the Agile Austin user group. This group has a lively membership and monthly meetings with excellent attendance. In Virginia, another southern state, Agile Richmond holds monthly meetings that get an average of 30+ attending.

Last but not least, New York City has many user groups.  AgileNYC is the user group in New York that is gaining traction. Monthly meeting numbers are ramping; the 6/23/2010 meeting had over 120 in attendance and the group is planning larger events.  Agile NYC is taking their user group this year to the next level. The organizer, Jochen Krebs of Incrementor, is desiging a low-cost, a 1-day Conference called "Agile NYC Day" on September 15 near Times Square. The event features a keynote, well-known agile book authors, session speakers and an Open Space. Registration is limited to 120 attendees.

The Scrum Alliance this year is taking a strong interest in the support of usergroups, following the lead of the Agile Alliance, which has supported user groups for some time. The Scrum Alliance has a dedicated community liason, Maria Matarelli, who is actively developing resources and guides for organizing Scrum user groups. The Scrum Alliance also maintains a list of Scrum user groups. You can also find list of user groups at the Agile Project Leaders Network web site and the Agile Alliance web site.

Local and regional user groups are often places where you can get exposure to some of the best thinking from Agile thought leaders and intentionally connect with other people that share an interest in Agile practices. As such, attending meetings the Agile user groups in your region may be a good source of community connections and good, nutritious Agile content-- with no empty calories.


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