Benjamin Mitchell

Benjamin Mitchell
Photo by James Neale

No doubt about it, Benjamin Mitchell’s (Twitter @benjaminm ) presentation at SyncNorwich last night certainly resonated with attendees.

Kanban: What is it good for? An introduction illustrated with war stories

Approaching a hundred people packed into The King’s Centre in Norwich for the monthly meetup of SyncNorwich, the geek-friendly interest group which was only launched 5th June this year and which has already proven to be a big hit with start-ups, developers and technologists from many tribes.

Mitchell, a Lean/Agile consultant and coach with experience in financial trading systems, delivered a proficient and well-grounded 45-minute keynote using nothing more than Post-It Notes and a powerpoint featuring index cards and even more Post-It Notes, clearly the stock-in-trade of a busy Agile Scrum master.

Networking at SyncNorwich

Networking at SyncNorwich
Photo by James Neale

Repeatedly extolling the virtues of keeping things simple and avoiding the pitfalls of planning systems like Jira, he impressed on the audience the art of the possible with a few ‘basic’ techniques from Kanban – the manufacturing process democratised by Toyota – which, when applied to the world of application development, promises to transform lurching or limping projects into lean projects with little (or less and less) wasted time.

“Monitors in daily stand ups suck the energy,” cautioned Mitchell. There spoke the voice of sometimes bitter experience, which came across loud and clear. I did notice several people in the audience stratching away on backs of envelopes, a ‘note to self’ for action next Monday perhaps. No shame in that. We were all here to learn something. My note to self: ‘buy more masking tape’

SyncNorwich 13 Sept 2012

Note to self
Photo by James Neale

His witty anecdotes and on-the-fly Questions and Answers engaged everyone and enlivened what could so easily have been a mundane or routine subject area for those without deep expertise. This meant that he connected with attendees at all levels, including those new to kanban with no prior knowledge of direct experience. Skillful stuff indeed.

Recounting tales of holding agile scrums in fire escapes (to avoid the attention of an enemy CTO) and Agile-sceptic managers who “won’t blame you – yet”, Mitchell performed like a one-man comedy store, blending hard facts and soft skills which, to me anyway, came across as persuasive and surprisingly compelling.

Mitchell recalled an Agile development project when he wore a t-shirt sporting the message “Our ambitions outstrip our capabilities” causing uproarious laughter amongst the developers and testers in the audience and a few wry smiles from secretly-embarrased managers. No names no packdrill here, mate, you’re safe.

In all, it was a well-tuned and cleverly-crafted slot. Mitchell’s delivery was as good as the content. It was hard to know how the organisers might top the Lightning Talks at the August meetup. We need not have worried.

As well as intros from Paul Grenyer, and cold beers, I think this is exacty the kind of quality that SyncNorwich will become known for.

Twitter:  @SyncNorwich
Read the feed:  #SyncNorwich

All photos by kind permission of James Neale Photography

Benjamin Mitchell’s blog
IT Kanban Podcast

In a previous post on BDD (Behavior Driven Development reaches Norfolk, June 15, 2012) you’ll remember a plug for the launch of SyncNorwich on 05 July. Paul, Jon and I represented Smart421. Everyone immediately warmed to the hospitality (beers, pizzas and fresh whole fruits) provided by the hosts, Blurtit, who turned out to be a class act in themselves. The venue was well organised and the cream leather chairs were comfy. And Blurtit’s speaker, project manager Kathryn’s (@KathrynWright81) – see photo below –  intro and track record captivated and seemed to resonate with every geek in the room.

SyncNorwich Team

SyncNorwich Team
Kind permission of James Neale Photography

The presentation delivered by Colm McMullan (@colm  @TotalFootfbalFC and pictured below) was as inspiring as it was humorous. His autobiography as someone who “knows a bit about football and software development”, including the personal and emotional cost of delivering FourFourTwo , working for MultiMap , enduring the acquisition by Microsoft and going back to his roots to found and re-engineer from the ground up his Football Stats concept was all the evidence you need that a tech geek can escape corporate clutches, live by the courage of convictions and “stick to what you’re good at”. I think we all appreciated his entrepreneurship and his guiding motto: TMTOWTDI.


Kathryn Wright
Kind permission of James Neale Photography

From where I was sitting, I could see a number of attendees really relating to what Colm was saying; they looked so inspired to making the leap, with one holding back a tear, I could easily imagine a number of P45s changing hands by this time next week.

But emotions aside, the launch of the new SyncNorwich (@SyncNorwich) was a resounding success. Over a pint afterwards, I heard it described as the local tech community that “everyone has been waiting for”.  Therefore, all credit to the group’s pioneers and event hosts, Paul Grenyer ( @pjgrenyer ) , Juliana Meyer (@julianameyer ), John Fagan (@johnbfagan ), Seb Butcher (@purpletuesday ) and Stephen Pengilley (@SPengilley) for working together to make it a reality. Step up and take a bow. (see photo above)


Colm McMullan at SyncNorwich
Kind permission of James Neale Photography

The networking was also very good and I had quality conversations with several new friends, including social media expert Sean Clark (@SeanClark)

But the last word perhaps should go to the attendees, for whom we have every admiration. Some are independent developers, some IT consultants and system integrators (mirror, mirror on the wall…), some entrepreneurs in their own technology start-ups, and yet others who work in IT departments of large corporates. Your attendance and enthusiasm at the event gives us all the drive to refine the concept to make it what you want it to be: relevant, instructive, valuable use of your spare time, good for business and, above all – fun.

All photos by kind permission of James Neale Photography. (@jamesnealephoto)

SyncNorwichIt doesn’t always have to be a huge gig at a big plush venue that draws good speakers and skilled attendees curious to learn.

Quite often, user groups and locally-run events can be such rich sources of education and inspiration. I found Agile East Anglia to be one such group. Started by Paul Grenyer (@pjgrenyer) their deep dive sessions on aspects of Agile has been excellent. These have included Agile User Stories, Dialogue Sheets and, most recently, Behavior Driven Development with speaker  Liz Keogh (Twitter @lunivore ).

Developers from IT teams in huge corporates and developers new start-ups have been rubbing shoulders at this group which has all helped to add colour to the subject area under discussion. Content is pragmatic, realistic and nobody is looking to make a big name for themselves; all attendees have gone home the richer by learning from each other. How refreshing.

It’s good to learn that other regional groups have twigged that there is lots of good stuff happening, and a decision has been taken to merge Agile East Anglia with Norwich StartUps and Norwich Developers Community to form a group with wider reach and deeper appeal. The new group has been branded SyncNorwich (Twitter @SyncNorwich) and the inaugrual event is scheduled to take place in Norwich on 05 July 2012. Details and registration :

Meanwhile, Smart421 has engaged itself because of its hunger to fuel its deep use of Agile on numerous engagements for several enterprise Customers. For those with an interest in learning about our Smart Agile Development Process (SADP) please check out our Agile page.

Oh, and you’ll also discover a neat Android app available free for download.


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