ACE! Report from Agile Conference in Krakow

ACE conference took place in Krakow, Poland. It was raining the entire time. The venue, cinema Multikino, felt nice and cozy.

The atmosphere of the cinema experience was enriched by fake movie posters:

Day 1

Creating Cultures of Empathy

The keynote talk was about empathy. Sharon started her slides with a giant heading “I stutter” and proceeded to talk. She shuttered. Initially, I thought it was to make a point, but she actually has this speech impediment. I was blown away. She gave her talk in front of the whole cinema. It was a TED-talk level of rhetoric. She emphasized that companies can retain employees by focusing on empathy. It’s the little everyday things which create the company culture and the big topics define it. Think about empathy as a verb, not a noun. You need to take action. It doesn’t just come on its own.

Open Space Planning

We did something quite unique about the conference program. It felt very open source.

Collectively, attendees came up with and planned their own conference sessions. Very agile!

Agile Warrior game/workshop

Agile game session was led by Marta. We formed teams and each chose a name for their hero. Bloody Titan was our hero’s name.

The rules of the game are the following:

In each sprint you decide how many cards with features (sword, armor, shield, vial, and helmet) you want to uncover, do the planning (order of feature development and testing), perform development (roll a dice and generate blue cubes), test (roll a dice with checkmark or cross to to check the feature – if correct keep all blue cubes, if wrong loose 1 cube), deploy (tested can be deployed – put on panel, for untested roll the dice with checkmark/cross again and if check deployed, if cross then feature card is thrown away).

Now you add numbers from feature card (1cube = few points, 2 more, 3 the most). You can only allocate so much for uncovering cards, dev, test, co balancing it is important. Also, there is a limited supply of blue cubes. The first 3 features (sword, armor, and shield) are mandatory and you need to acquire at least 3 of each. Each sprint (round) is ended with writing down points into a separate sheet. In the end, you add up points you had at the each of your sprint (its kinda cumulative).

Bloody Titan didn’t win but it was fun to play this agile game.

Improve feedback skills in your team workshop

Personally, the best session of day 1 and the most hands-on. Thanks Maciej! How to give great feedback? Be specific, tell how you feel, make sure to include Facts, Feelings, Consequences, Expectations.


We were practicing giving feedback:

One of us was giving feedback, one of us roleplaying the receiver (mum, boss, etc), and the rest of us (4 people) were checking if all 4 aspects were present. Then we rotate. I feel like I can give so much better feedback now. Try it yourself sometime!

Cynism doesn’t build products

This talk was about history, philosophy, etymology, and ethics. It was funny and motivational speech. Thanks to Gwen, now I know, the word cynic is from Greek kynos (dog) and one of the philosophers took it too far and lived like a dog on a street. Don’t do harm. Don’t develop unethical products. Naturally, we talked about Volkswagen as well.

Dinner with a Stranger – after party (sort of)

Instead of a regular after party, participants could sign-up for one of the 10 restaurants in the city center. Instead of a loud pub with a line for a beer and shouting over each other, the groups of about 10 people had a chance to really talk. It was quite a pleasant change after all the other conferences and their boring old parties (excluding Game Access 2018 which an amazing garden party outside with plenty of space). Dinner with a stranger – You come as strangers and leave as friends (or as acquaintances at minimum). It was a pleasure to meet everyone and Mike, man you have some sick jokes 🙂

Day 2

10 years of being a tracer bullet through a phenomenon

Mike Sutton talked about what’s good, bad and ugly about the agile industry. He used to be a scrum junkie. In his talk, he emphasized the need to contextual agile methodologies based on the needs of a company & team. Agile methodologies became very standardized and agile certifications are big business. However, one size doesn’t fit all. There is a hope that the agile industry is only at the beginning.

Leadership and the Art of Listening workshop

This workshop should’ve been at least as twice as long. We only scratched the surface. Anyway, we learned a bit about Theory U and Clean language from Andrea Provaglio.


Listening is a key skill in order to be useful to others. Be present when listening. Don’t be restless (thinking about the future) & full of remorse (thinking about the past). Pay attention to here and now. Reduce the noise in your mind. How are you to listen if you’re restless or filled with remorse?

Theory U

Theory U is about 3 levels of listening:

  1. Factual listening (shallowest level)
  2. Empathetic listening
  3. Generative listening (deepest level)

Factual listening is paying attention to facts, no judgment, and no comparison. Empathetic listening is about connecting with other people, blocking cynicism in both speech and mind. Generative listening is about coming up with something new and having the courage to let go of the old.

Clean language

The clean language feels like it was developed for research purposes. Questions are structured in a way not to influence others (no leading questions). The intent is not manipulative.

Lazy Jedi questions:

  • What kind of x is that x?
    • This question is zooming in on the topic, focusing on the x.
  • Is there anything else about that x?
    • This question is an invitation to give context, to zoom out.

It’s about helping them understand what their problem is, their expectations and needs. Andrea recommends Clean language book by Judy Rees.

Customer Focus and an Agile Mindset

Inspirational talk about customer focus by Mia Kolmodin. Unfortunately, I came late to this talk from the previous workshop. Teams need both autonomy & alignment. Both should be balanced. Too much autonomy without an alignment is bad, okay?

MVP rediscovered

The MVP doesn’t necessarily need to be a product. MVP is enough effort to test our hypothesis. You need a hypothesis. MVP is the earliest feedbackable product. The truth curve (or here) says the more effort we put in the more confident we can be.

Breakdown your project into small MVPs to test individual hypothesis and iterate fast.

Paweł’s checklist for MVPs:

[ ] A clear hypothesis

[ ] Defined minimal effort to test it

[ ] Test criteria (y/n for our hypothesis)

Using Neuroscience to Build High Performance Teams

In this talk, Elaine explained how to apply neuroscience in your team using SCARF(S) model:

Status – relative importance to others

Get to know your team members, public praise and private punishment. Focus on learning instead of criticism.

Certainty – being able to predict the future

Set clear goals, strategies. Establish a routine. Teams are protected against unnecessary change. Open, honest and clear communication.

Autonomy – sense of control over events

Leadership not management. Self-organizing teams. Individuality in decision making. Intrinsic motivation.

Relatedness – sense of safety with others

Stable teams. Carefully introducing new team members. Encouraging non-working interaction. Support for the team as a whole.

Fairness – perception of fair exchange

Understand cultural differences and what works for the individual. Open to challenge, comfortable with a discussion. Team dynamics vs the individual’s needs.

Success – celebration is key

Celebrate and praise success (brain reward). Continuously learn, improve and perform.

Quick product division and estimation workshop

In this workshop led by Kate, we practiced creating personas, views and customer journey. We came up with features for a fictional project. In the end, we used the blue elephant estimation game.


Usually, developers are left to divide the work and implement it. Business perspective might get lost. Use personas to create fake people profiles with name, basic demographic information, their goals and frustrations (biz and dev should work together, this applies to views and customer journey too).


Views are for drafting all main screens in the app/website. It helps to illustrate what’s the screen for, who’s gonna use it and which elements are being shown.

Customer journey

Customer journey maps the entire customer process – getting to know us (ads), trying our app (demo), using it (ordering services) and reviewing app & benefits. It’s similar to the STDC marketing framework or funnels.

You can combine personas, views and customer journey to cover as much as ground as possible. Create small teams and let them work in parallel. Exchange team members to bring a new perspective. Go feed ducks when stuck. Really, go outside. Take a walk. Do something else. Your brain will work on the problem while you do something else. Just don’t feed ducks with bread, that’s bad for them.

Use color coding to differentiate post-it notes. Try out other tools like customer happiness map or value map to look at the project from a different angle. The floor is your friend, walking around will increase blood flow. Visualize and draw.

Blue elephant estimation game

How does estimation game work? Write Fibonacci sequence numbers from 1 to 21 on post-it notes. These are your story points. Take your features and randomly assign them to story points in rows. Team members take turns and move features up or down (by one row) to gradually get to the number of estimates. Story points estimate is just a byproduct of this game. The main purpose is for all team members to agree and align their vision.

Optionally, use estimates from historical projects (x number of story points), to estimate the current project’s time to complete. For example, our previous project was 60 story points and took us 6 months, so this new similar project with 50 story points will take about 5 months. The more historical data points you have, the more accurate estimates.

Kate told us to create mnemonic anchors. Write down key ideas (or draw them) on a post-it note. Fold the note and keep the text visible. Put this tiny piece of paper somewhere where you will eventually find it by accident.

Personas, Views, Customer Journey and very very ugly Elephant

Note: The mnemonic anchor failed, it was while elephant.

Accelerated Learning: How Can Agile Help You?

How to learn faster? Use agile! In the beginning, Artur asked us this motivational question: When was the last time you did something for the first time?

They say you need 10 000 hours to master a skill. However, maybe we just want to be good enough?


There are 5 steps:

  1. Decide what you want to learn and know when you achieved it.
  2. Deconstruct the skills to individual subskills.
  3. Research skill just enough (don’t’ spend hours and hours on Youtube or MOOCs), find a mentor and practice.
  4. Remove barriers.
    Put on “don’t disturb”, close Facebook, practice 20s rule (activation energy), and acquire all the equipment you need.
  5. Commit to practice at least for 20 hours.
    This is enough time to reap the rewards and cross the “barrier of clumsiness”.

Time your practice. Get out of the comfort zone. Learn by doing. Get an audience – practice outside.

How is this an agile learning? The 5 steps connect to the agile process:

Step 1: Setting a vision.
Step 2: Dividing the work into small chunks
Step 3: Prioritize.
Step 4: Remove barriers.
Step 5: Hands-on ASAP + feedback.

In the end, Artur played on ukulele for us. It was a great way to end the conference!

Thanks for reading & Have a great day!

Update: Presentations from ACE! are online! Go watch the talks :]

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