Deliberate action

Xpdays benelux is my crowd, my community. In 1998 in my spare time I created an screensaver that counted down to the year 2000. Now testing a screensaver is very boring. You have to compile the executable, rename in to .scr, copy it over to the windows system32 folder and wait. Wait for the screensaver to kick in, and then wait some more till the action you wanted to test happens.

Being an active person, I did not like that. I looked for a different way to test what I wrote. I started to write functions that tested the output of the functions I wanted to test. And run these test as part of my executable. I was rather proud of my invention and proudly told colleagues. I don’t remember anymore who, yet one of them told me what I did was already invented and it was part of XP. He advice me to read more on wiki.c2  . (I don’t know if the first edition of  Kent’s book was already out. ) I love what I read there and devoured it all. Fast forward a few years, I ‘m part of a small community that organises evening events at companies to discuss problems they have. The community is so small that to organise the 2003 day event, it’s co-organized with Dutch colleagues. XPDAY (Day not days) is invented. The first edition is inside offices at football club

When I want to buy tickets, my client at the time, gave me a delima. You can only go that one day, if you don’t work that whole week. This boss, manipulated me, knowing I’m already complaining he does not give me enough work, I don’t go and start planning to leave the company.

The next year I went and I have been to conference even single year since. Most years I was presenting. Except last year, barely a week after I moved to a new house with still many things to take care of, aka I had different priorities.

2018 edition.

I’m happy to be back. When the submission season came around I decided to do something different this year.

Let me explain why. The days I’m presenting, I know I’m focussed on my talk, most of the time I’m not good at taking-in new ideas.(And the hour after my session, I need to decompress).

I decide that this year, I will not present and when I’m going to sessions, instead of focussing on the content, I’m going to have a meta focus.

My focus at XPdays Benelux 2018 was on:

  • Would I be interested to deliver this content?
  • Do I already know this content?
  • Why didn’t I never think about offering this as a session?
    • I don’t want to brag, yet the last five years I have been to sessions, that I never considered giving myself, only to realise that I had similar or more experience as the presenter and it was a topic that interested a lot of people.
    • aka my version of imposter syndrome
  • What technique works well for me as a participant (for this presenter+workshop)
    • Would this technique work for me?
    • What do I need to adopt for me?
  • What technique would work better for me as a participant
    • What do I need to learn to apply this technique (as a presenter)
  • what else can I learn from this workshop?
    • a technique
    • a nice slide
    • a sentence I can quote
    • a book I should read
    • new people around the table?
      • I was very deliberate in selecting tables:
        • 1 out of 2 with no-one I knew
        • 1 out of 2 with only people I knew.
        • Advantage of this
          • no showing off
          • full trust
          • no need to understand the way people are.


2018-11-30 08.13.12-1

What did I learn?


The biggest thing I learned was something that should be obvious, yet I think many workshops and training do this wrong. 

I learned it after reflecting about two workshops I followed the first day. (And not surprisingly I realised it while talking during a break. )

When you teach a new technique in a workshop, make sure that the context and probably the full product that people design is clear to them. So they can focus on your new technique.


Imaging teaching impact mapping at a conference.

Typically at a conference I have 20 or more people in a room.

Imagine that most people are completely new to impact mapping.

At your table there are 4 other people. All of you have experience with similar techniques. yet no one has been in an impact mapping session or even read about it.

If the exercise I’m giving you, is to design a product that does not exist, and I don’t have the time to be at your table to be there as a full time stakeholder, my workshop will fail.

Your discussions will be about:

  • the new product,
  • the impact mapping
  • probably other similar products: in user story mapping we do this. so it can’t be that.  (Where this and that, might be the exact difference between impact mapping and user story mapping and why you want to combine them later on)

    This was a reason why I like the xpgame so much.

  • It did not teach people to write good user stories, you were giving user stories.
  • It did not teach you to invent business value. The business value was given.
  • It teached you have to plan and to get feedback on your plan.
  • It let you experience at least 3 sprints in one evening.
  • With every implementation of a user story, I learned I did not ask enough questions. As a developer I had the nickname FAQ, as in frequent asking questions. And still the most important lesson I learned (while playing the XP game) was I did not ask enough questions before estimating and implementing the stories.


I recently heard again the feedback that some agile games are silly, why do they use things like fold airplanes? They do because they build on the knowledge you know, to teach you something you don’t know. And they use the knowledge that people learn best and fast, when they have fun and play.

so two lessons for workshop facilitators:

  • when you teach people a new technique, let them build something they know
  • explain to your participants why you do that. Yes they know what are the features of existing ATM’s, cars or houses and that’s good. That knowledge is needed to learn your fancy new design technique.