Organizing ALE2011 unconference with 47 agile and lean colleagues

How I happened to sit on the Industry Sofa

Nearly at the end of the XP2011 Conference in Madrid, I stood in the garden together with a few colleagues from different countries and different companies to say goodbye. We talke a bit about the new ALE network we were all in some way participating in it, and at some moment, Olaf Lewitz said something like: „let me summarize the results of this session shortly…“ and someone else said, „oh, we are actually in a session?“ – and it turned out that this had started as a follow up on the session about planning the brand new ALE 2011 conference, which would take place this time in Berlin but it was supposed to tour through the European (= European Song Contest member) countries.

He listed the current state of „sofas“ that were planned, instead of the usual „chairs“, putting the emphasis on the collaborative way it was going to be planned. – I said I was missing an Industry Sofa, for getting enough really interesting industry speakers into this new conference. Oh yes, – why don’t you actually take it yourself, you have a lot of industry contacts?
So this is how I happened to occupy the Industry Sofa, and before I finally left the venue, I convinced Ken Power from Cisco/Ireland to share this sofa with me, and I still thought a third member covering perhaps Eastern Europe or Scandinavia would be great.

When I arrived back home, I already found Olaf’s blog entry „
I am organizing a conference“ and saw our „Industry Partner Sofa“ listed with all the others – oha! Some work to be done!
Very quickly, also the basecamp accounts were set up by
Sergey Dmitriev in Norway, and a group of people started to fill the conference website with all the infos we have already agreed on.

Decisions with 47 distributed organizers

I have to admit that it is sometimes very difficult to find out whether something that has to be done is actually done by someone already, or if a decision has been taken finally, or who are all the people that have to be asked to get to a final decision about something. Every day I am going through quite a couple of mails in different threads, mainly on my mobile, when I am sitting in the train coming back from work.

But as all the organizers are agile and lean people, it is quite less stress than I had thought a few days after start. We managed to post the Industry call for papers as quickly as needed. I sent the call to many people I know personally, and so did the other sofa members, Will Gill (Australian at Nokia in Berlin) who joint us the next day, and Pierre E. Neis in Luxemburg.

We found way to distribute information quickly and also have people quickly decide something. For example, the deadline shift this week was decided through a Doodle sent around to everybody, ending 24 h later. To get and share info directly, there are Organizers Skype calls every few days.

It is very interesting and challenging. Of course, a week before the deadline for submitting talks, there were only about 3 contributions. But on the second last day, we had 36, and on the last day, after we had decided to extend by one week, there were already about 50. WOW!

Now we are all reviewing and commenting. – Still, there is nearly a week left for submission of new talks.