Agile Conference Report – Mile High Agile

I just finished attending my favorite agile conference this year – . Sponsored by , MHA is a medium-sized conference that still attracts outstanding speakers and keynotes. This year was a little different as they expanded the conference to two days but the second day was primarily focused on Open Space conversations (more on that later) and keynotes.

Mile High Agile 2017 Logo
Mile High Agile 2017 Logo

Mile High Agile – Day 1

The first day consisted of five tracks, including an Agile 101 (Fundamentals) track and Agile Beyond Software track. I wish I’d been able to attend more sessions than I did, but I liked the format and was happy with the sessions I attended.

My morning focused on product ownership and tools and techniques for working with product owners. The afternoon sessions focused on asking powerful questions (facilitated by a former co-worker of mine) and a session outlining the personal journey of another former co-worker of mine from Hewlett-Packard. Her talk, in particular, resonated with me because of the challenges she faced with not only moving into leadership positions she wasn’t comfortable doing but as a woman in tech. It was a powerful session and deeply affected the participants, many of whom had experienced almost the exact same things in their careers. I was very thankful to be part of that collective experience; it was far more than just learning about agile.

Mile High Agile – Day 2

Open Space Sessions - Credit @Todd_W_Galloway
Open Space Sessions – Credit @Todd_W_Galloway

Day 2 featured two different keynotes: one from Dean Leffingwell, creator of the Scaled Agile Framework (), and another from Melissa Perri about Product Management and agile. Both were insightful and informative and Melissa’s benefited from some very humorous content. And some very good thoughts about product owners and product managers in the agile space.

Dean’s featured a worksheet designed specifically for the conference and the presentation. He’s an excellent speaker and widely-recognized methodologist and thought leader. His keynote offered some great points to take back to organizations.

I spent the rest of my day in Open Space conversations. There were 65 (!) sessions around the space during the day. I attended a couple but mostly wandered in and out to see what was happening. The most interesting, from my perspective, were sessions about story mapping (a great technique for folks to learn) and Agile HR (a topic near and dear to my heart).

So what IS Open Space?

Open Space

The Open Space concept is similar to . It’s an agenda-less format and focuses on the topics that the participants want to discuss. You vote with your feet, so if you’re interested in a topic, walk over to that area. If you’re done with a topic, move somewhere else. This means the individual id responsible for their own learning, but it’s a communal learning environment. No one is lecturing or giving a presentation – it’s an organic conversation about a topic. If you’re interested in learning more about running an Open Space with your organization, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

My Takeaways

I participated in some outstanding conversations and had some deep learning at this conference. I’m definitely bringing a few new technologies into my practice including Lean Canvas, which I’d heard of but never used, and the techniques for powerful questions. I also recommitted myself to helping product owners and our sister organizations (finance and HR) to help them better understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it so we can all succeed. I recommend checking out the slides on the MHA website for some overview. And again – feel free to reach out to me if you’re curious about a particular session.

Closing Thoughts

I am fortunate to have attended quite a few conferences over the years, but not many agile conferences. This year is quite a shift as I’ll be speaking at three conferences and attending two others. Mile High Agile is always a well-organized and -executed agile conference. I always enjoy attending and appreciate the hard work from the organizing committee and all of the volunteers. Expanding to two days this year was a bold move – but absolutely the right one. I have some recommendations I’m going to pass along to the board (Agile Denver is very accessible), but it remains my favorite agile conference. If you have the chance to attend, I highly recommend making the effort.

Feliz entrenamiento, mis amigos! (Happy coaching, my friends!)


Bill DeVoe