In person at LAST: A place for agile to be both practical and philosophical

A reflection on the recent mini-LAST (Lean Agile Systems Thinking) 2021 conference in Melbourne.

With the end of the year fast approaching, many of us are starting to wind down after another eventful 12 months. The upcoming holidays are the perfect opportunity to draw a line under 2021, possibly even forget about the turmoil and turbulence that the coronavirus pandemic has caused.

But this wasn’t necessarily the case at mini-LAST 2021 – a community-based event for lean, agile and systems thinking practitioners. In what had to be most attendees’ first in-person event for nearly two years, there was a more contemplative atmosphere. An atmosphere where the joy of reconnecting with friends and peers was equally as strong as the desire to reflect on the overwhelm of the past two years, and move forward with renewed optimism. 

The subject of overwhelm was how mini-LAST 2021 kicked off thanks to an opening keynote from Lynn Cazaly. The crowd’s collective absence from in-person events wasn’t immediately obvious, but when a sense check of anxiety levels was taken, uncertainty and unease remained for many. After all, the overwhelm from 2021 has created an understandable imbalance in most people. 

From the trials and tribulations of work to everyday frustrations like public transport delays, not to mention the ‘new normal’ prospect of having to lockdown or isolate at a moment’s notice, all this overwhelm can have severe physical, psychological and professional consequences.

Lynn Cazaly on stage at LAST. Image credit: Ed Wong

So how do we deal with overwhelm? Lynn Cazaly had the following advice:

  1. Get context quick – When consuming new information, identify what it’s about and why it’s important.
  2. Take things in broadly – Try to get the whole picture, like a panoramic photograph.
  3. Empty your load, take a break – Lose the temptation of going from one piece of information to another.
  4. Externalise information – Don’t keep everything in your head. Take notes, doodle etc.
  5. Start again fresh – Tomorrow is a new day.

With a newly calibrated mindset for the day ahead, it was time for mini-LAST 2021 to splinter off into smaller talks, which were typically more practitioner-based. User research, innovation portfolio mapping, a guide to customer feedback…the topics of the day provided actionable advice and insights for all. Something that Joshua Kerievsky continued with his ‘Joy of Agility’ talk at the day’s midway point.

As a proud supporter of LAST, we set-up a photo booth for attendees to grab a memento of the day alongside their friends and peers.

But similar to Lynn Cazaly’s opener, this bridged the gap between the practical and the philosophical. Agile practices don’t have to be limited to the worlds of digital product and software development; they can be used in other aspects of work and life, as Joshua explains:

“One of the greatest gifts of my life has been discovering how agility enables excellence. I love finding ways to make slow and awkward things faster and easier, solving difficult problems by being readily resourceful, and adapting to change with speed and grace. It’s the joy of agility.”

He talked about the following mantras to observe:

  • Be quick but don’t hurry
  • Be balanced and graceful
  • Be poised to adapt
  • Drive out fear – make safety a prerequisite
  • Start minimal and evolve
  • Be resourceful

Once again, the LAST Conference crowd were refreshed and ready to take on more satellite sessions with renewed energy before regrouping for the day’s closing presentation—The role Indigenising business education plays in creating more ethical, sustainable and just businesses by Mitch Hibbens. A First Nations Wiradjuri person, Mitch told us how Indigenous ways of doing business can foster change and create outcomes that benefit the wider community. It was a fitting way to end the day’s proceedings with an optimistic outlook—learning, inclusiveness and belonging can lead to great things.

So with LAST enjoying its first in-person event of 2021, another year of the global pandemic drawing to a close, and many of us looking forward to a much-needed break, where do we go from here? 

Clearly we should be using the upcoming period of rest and relaxation as a chance to ease our overwhelm. And with much of the world still in a state of flux, the New Year could provide a perfect backdrop to deliver lasting change in the areas that matter most. You could even say that an agile way of thinking—starting small, building sustainably, creating safe spaces and being poised to adapt—will help achieve these kinds of goals.

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