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InfoQ Homepage News Highlights from JAFAC 2019 - Day 1: Leadership, Disruption, Ethics, and Social Good

Highlights from JAFAC 2019 - Day 1: Leadership, Disruption, Ethics, and Social Good

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JAFAC (Just Another F&#k!ng Agile Conference) 2019 was held in Wellington, New Zealand on 5 and 6 September, 2019. Hosted by Nomad8, the conference aims to bring new and different voices to the fore, avoiding the usual suspects, and also highlighting ways that agile ideas are being applied in a wide variety of contexts. Important themes that emerged were leadership, disruption, ethics, and the application of technology for social good.

There is no central theme for the event; rather, the organisers invited "people we would like to hear from" and give them carte-blanche to present on whatever topic they are passionate about. The conference was structured with invited talks in the mornings and open space talks in the afternoons on both days. Here are some of the key messages from day one.

The first talk was by Bron Thompson, founder and CEO of Springload, a digital design agency in Wellington. Her talk had three main focus areas:

  • To be an effective leader in modern organisations you need to be a nice person and be good at the work that you do. Find and embrace your superpower; for Bron it is being different and embracing that difference.
  • Having a goal larger than profit, making a difference in the world. Climate change and tech disruption together are driving the economy and we need to look at things differently in order to survive and thrive today.
  • Ethical business and social conscience. Organisations and individuals need to have an ethical manifesto; what are you prepared to do to change the world for the better?

Nigel Dalton, chief inventor at REA group, challenged the audience to be sceptical about agile, and warned against treating the Agile Manifesto as a Book of Dave, referring to Will Self's 2006 sci-fi novel of a dystopian future based on the ramblings of a mentally ill London cab driver. He admonished the audience to not read too much into "a dozen simple ideas knocked together by 12 midlle-aged white guys in 2001" and rather to explore the ideas which underlie the Agile Manifesto by reading the literature on areas that influenced the manifesto authors, such as the Toyota Production System, Lean and Theory of Constraints. He pointed the audience to the following books as places to start:

Hiria Te Rangi, kaiwhakahaere at Whare Hauora described the frugal innovation approach that they are taking to address a major healthcare problem in New Zealand: respiratory illness caused by mold growth in homes that are too cold and damp. She focused on the "why" behind their work ("An Aotearoa where your home doesn’t make you sick") and showed how that clear mission guided their approach to product development. For example, rather than build their own sensors, they chose a cheap product which has the minimal functionality needed. She also explored how getting the sensors into the homes of vulnerable families needed a change in attitude, moving from the paternalistic "we’re here to help you" to respectfully partnering with the community.

A key message from her talk was the need to respect ownership of the data produced from sensors, and ensure that the potential opportunities for sensor data to be monetized is done so to the benefit of the householder, rather than the large corporates. It is also very important to build trust into the platform from the beginning. They have published a draft set of data principles which they are asking for feedback about.

She has also given a TEDx talk on the topic which can be viewed here.

Ruth Brown then discussed what she learned as the head of people experience at TradeMe. As a UX professional she understood user research and customer exploration, but was surprised how those skills did not translate directly to an internally facing role aimed at improving employee experience. She quoted Cameron Adams on the need to focus on employee experience:

When we were starting out we thought we were building a great product.

Then we realised we were building a great company that creates great products.

Finally we truly understand that we are creating a great culture that creates a great company that creates great products

She explained how they undertook research using UX inspired approaches, but adapted them to be inward facing. Using these approaches showed how they clarified and communicated the TradeMe values in a way that is memorable and meaningful to the people in the organisation.

Vanessa Oakley, GM strategy & business operations at Chorus, spoke on how leadership behaviours and attitudes are critical to success in any organisational transformation. To lead an organisation to new ways of working, they need to move strategy, leadership, culture and commitment together.

She emphasized that the responsibility of leaders is to create an environment to allow people to succeed. There are some tools which leaders can use to help change mindsets and attitudes, but they only work when people in the organisation feel safe and trusted. Specific things that can support transformation in ways of working for the digital age include:

  • Forming cross functional teams
  • Explicitly frame the problem the changes are aimed at addressing
  • Ensure there are clearly communicated common goals
  • Keep teams small

Leaders in organisations face competing pressures; on the one hand, they face a need to be more efficient, and on the other they need ways to deal with ever more complex environments. They need to become ambidextrous to cope. She said that in order to to support transformational change, leaders need to be:

  • Future shapers
  • Change makers
  • Connection builders
  • Team developers

The afternoon of both conference days was run as an open space event. The summary posters from those sessions are available here.

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