Reinventing Business
Discovering Your Best Organizational Structure

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Roundup 2011 Summary

"If this conference was a company it would be the greatest one in the world to work for." For me, that was the best comment during the closing session. Interestingly, we created a number of product-like results during the week, and a number of successful coding experiments happened, including Amazon Beanstalk for web app hosting (very impressive) and exploration of Docbook and associated tools.

It just keeps getting better. It seems a bit magical, but what I really think is happening is that the trust level continues to rise, and the more that everyone believes that they are free to try things out, the more experiments happen. With experiments come innovation. And, unlike most companies who are primarily concerned with consistency (of product and profit) and see experimentation as a threat, experimentation for the conference doesn't have a downside -- it's good for everyone, and a failure doesn't impact profitability but is a positive learning experience. Last year, for example, we "failed" by trying to over-engineer the progressive dinner night. We assumed there were too many people to fit into one house so we should break them up into groups and move them around like chess pieces. And from that we learned that groups will take care of themselves and that people like to stay together. Plus, it allows a house, once visited, to close up and join the group. As a result, this year's progressive dinner was deemed to be the best ever.

One seemingly small but significant change was making "official" afternoon space on the sign-up sheets. I realize now that I've been resisting this in previous years because the afternoons are "supposed to be" the off-time for outdoor winter activities or general recovery. But people kept wanting to hold tech events then, and over the years we've had more and more of them. Only after putting the space on the sheet did I realize I had been unconsciously violating my professed maxim of "doing whatever you want all the time." The desire to control is a subtle one.

What we ended up with became spontaneously called "coding rodeos" (a logical choice keeping with the theme of Posse and Roundup, plus we have ranches all around and Gunnison even has a rodeo). I participated in several of these myself to the point where I only skied once during the conference. Despite the reduced outdoor activities by many, the idea of moving the Roundup away from winter was flatly rejected -- there's something about the magic of being in the snowy mountains that makes it special regardless of whether you ski. The challenge of getting here also produces a filtering effect -- if you're just looking for training or an ordinary conference, you're unlikely to invest the effort.

Many more people stayed over Friday night than before; word has gotten out that the Roundup doesn't really end on Friday afternoon, it just gets less formal. In fact, we had at least two coding rodeos Friday afternoon, and there was a very popular game of "Settlers of Catan" organized at the conference hall. Both Friday and Saturday night there were group dinners at restaurants and Saturday morning a bunch gathered at McGill's for breakfast. Saturday became an actual ski day for a number of folks.

Group houses -- an idea that spontaneously arose during the second Roundup -- continue to be very popular, and one of the problems with this year's late announcement was that it was more difficult to set up and get into group houses. We're going to get better about this.

Although it is not actually a proceedings like you might see from a more formal conference (or even a more formal open-spaces events), you can get an idea of what happened and see some of the ideas we captured at the official conference site (which anyone attending the conference can edit, much like a wiki but without the messiness of some earlier wiki systems).

We have reserved the conference hall for a summer event, July 25-29. This started because Dick Wall wants to come mountain biking in the summer (Crested Butte has legendary mountain biking, and there's a pretty strong story indicating that mountain bikes themselves were invented here), and then everyone piled on. Right now we have the Scala Camp, a Flex Jam and Joe Nuxoll wants to have some kind of design event which I have tentatively titled "Design it Right." Because there are often afternoon thunderstorms in the summer, we'll do outdoor activities in the morning and tech stuff in the afternoons and evenings. This is a less formal event than the Roundup; it's a collection of casual workshop-like things where you choose what you're working on and work at your own pace in a group-learning experience. At this point things are subject to change, but if this at all interests you, you might want to mark your calendar and float the idea by whomever needs to agree to it. Announcements will be made when we have a more formal description and we're ready for signups.