Why I started the LAST Mini-conference

UPDATE – LAST Conference 2013 is scheduled for Friday 2 August 2013.

 LAST Day Melbourne is a one day, low cost, grassroots mini-conference for Lean, Agile, and Systems Thinking practitioners. The day will be structured to allow participation and interaction via workshops and activities, rather than death by projector.

Regular readers will remember my writeup about Agile Tour Sydney. That article had a call to action, regarding doing something along the same lines, here in Melbourne.

When I got back, I was able to enthuse Craig Brown, a fellow co-organiser in the Melbourne Meetup scene and we’ve been working on the idea for the last couple of months.

Originally, we wanted to do something really rapidly, holding the event in March, or even February. The Agile Tour is held between October and December, and I just couldn’t wait that long for Melbourne to have its turn.

Reality stepped in though, as we realised that we probably needed a little time to clear the New Year season and get our ducks in a row. Plan B was some time about now, perhaps just before or after Easter. We needed to have some space between our day and Agile Australia, which is in Melbourne at the end of May.

Eventually, we’ve settled on 27th July. Swinburne University of Technology in Hawthorn are our hosts, and we had to work in with the availability of the venue. We’re also aligning ourselves with the Developer, Developer, Developer day, and also Barcamp Melbourne; both of which will be held directly after our event, and we believe have a similar philosophy.
Craig argued the case that we should be quite broad with our outlook. So after some old fashioned brainstorming,  Systems Thinking, as well as Lean and Agile, were included in the name of the day. I had originally earmarked lastevent.com or lastday.com but the domain name registries had other ideas, so LAST Conference it is. I’m billing it as a “mini-conference” though, as I don’t want it to be a typical, big bang conference. We really want to borrow heavily from the “for practitioners, by practitioners” ethos of Agile Tour, and also the spirit of things such as Bar Camp, and Trampoline Day.

The emphasis on “Thinking” is no accident either. There is sometimes a tendency to have a focus on “best practice”, “techniques”, “tool kits”, and “cook books”; focusing on the How and less about Why we’re doing them.

I’m really excited about how this event can help the agile and lean community.

To find out more:

Change and improvement

This podcast episode of the architecture and design show 99% Invisible from radio KALW in San Francisco appeared in my Twitter stream today via @kjscotland (Karl Scotland).

99% Invisible-30- The Blue Yarn by Roman Mars

I probably don’t have to tell you that the lean concept in software development is adapted from the automobile manufacturing industry. In this podcast episode, a really interesting case study is shown where continuous improvement by reducing “waste” was achieved at a cancer centre in Seattle by adapting the Toyota Production System to healthcare.

Here were some salient points that I thought were notable in this:

Change is hard

“When Dr Kaplan told his staff they were changing the whole way they operate…the response was not pretty…There was a lot of anger…led by the doctors of course”

Change is hard. The improvement at The Virginia Mason hospital was a multi-year project. The driver of all the improvements was the needs of the cancer patients (as well as the need to save money). However this butted against the desires of some of the doctors e.g taking away offices with good views. Changing from a doctor driven experience to more patient driven experience is hard.

A different angle

“We couldn’t conceive of it intellectually until we saw it visually”.

People think they are dealing with an issue intellectually but until they see the situation represented in a different way…using a blue ball of string and a map of the hospital in this example, they might not be able to see where improvements can be made.

Using a different approach identified that waste existed in the form of patients having to wait a lot but until a different approach was…no one identified this. It was just the way things had always been done.

Sometimes people need a kick start. In general, people don’t really like being told what to do, although IMO there are times when this needs to happen but that’s the subject of another post. Helping see issues for themselves allows them to then work with you and their colleagues to solve them.


“If you’re anything like me when you hear the phrase ‘management system’ part of your brain begins to shut down. Another part of your brain prepares itself for hearing either a load of complete nonsense or common sense tarted up with unnecessary jargon”

In many walks of life, issues can be over complicated by the use of  jargon. Speaking in plain language is preferable; be careful about introducing terms like “sensei” or “Scrum Master” for example. Providing some terms as a framework can be useful but you have to be careful about them getting in the way.

Effort = Results

Putting in the effort to change yields results, despite the difficulties. In this example, it saved money by making the hospital safer and by eliminating waste and (presumably) helped the cancer sufferers themselves, improving the clinical experience by considering their needs as a priority. User Experience design for healthcare.

Further reading

There is a book about the Virginia Mason experience called Transforming Health Care: Virginia Mason Medical Center’s Pursuit of the Perfect Patient Experience

Amazon page

Publisher page

Here is a review of the first 3 chapters over at The Lean Blog

Lean Blog review

I haven’t read the book but it’s definitely on my “To Read” list.

The 99% Invisible podcast seems pretty good. I’ve subscribed on iTunes and it’s also available on Soundcloud.