Since three months I have been working with others to create a network of Agile and Lean thinkers and practitioners across Europe (ALE network). My personal motive was to increase collaboration of people across national boundaries. As someone who visits many conferences and communities in Europe I noticed that people tend to focus only on their local communities, and on things happening in the USA, but not on other European countries. For example, there is Agile Holland, Agile Finland, and many more. But there seems to be little or no direct contact between such communities. One European speaker (Elad Amit) said to me there's a lot of "inbreeding" in Europe. Most ideas circulate in their own communities, but they don't permeate national borders.
As a result of this, Europeans on the international stage are hard to find. Despite the fact that some parts of Europe are leading the world in Agile and Lean thinking, Europe is not so experienced in delivering international experts, writers, bloggers, and speakers. And despite its size, Europe also seems underrepresented in the boards of international alliances, consortiums, and institutes. And there’s no denying it: Europe has itself to blame for that. It's cultural diversity and language differences make it hard for Agile/Lean thinkers and practitioners to collaborate with each other, and transcend their national interests. And therefore I believe that Europe must try harder to make a difference and to make better contributions at the international stage. Otherwise it will just remain a collection of many small countries that prefer to ignore each other.
I blogged about this before. And it appears that this suggestion struck a nerve with many people. The LinkedIn group of the Agile Lean Europe network already grew to 1,000 members in just three months!
Last week, at the XP2011 conference in Madrid, 32 people from many European countries got together and created a shared vision for the fledging ALE network:
The Agile Lean Europe (ALE) network is an open and evolving network of people (not businesses), with links to local communities and institutes. It helps people in European countries by spreading ideas and growing a collective memory of Agile and Lean thinking. And by exchanging interesting people with diverse perspectives across borders it allows beautiful results to emerge.
(Well, actually we played with Lego. But this is my attempt at a condensed version of the result, which was much more colorful and interesting.)
The people at XP2011 also generated 30 ideas for projects that they hope to see emerge from their collaboration. But of course, that will take time, effort, motivation, and (in some cases) money.
Note that the ALE network created its vision and ideas only a few days ago. I could not contact the international institutions earlier, because there was nothing for me to show yet. The network had to validate and motivate its own existence first. But now it has.
It is important to understand that the informal ALE network has no central authority. It is not a consortium, alliance, or institute. And it has no board of directors. There is no competition with anyone. There is only a network of people collaborating across Europe, while they are having fun and enjoying a diversity of perspectives and cultures. There is also no official membership. Anyone who participates in Agile/Lean communities, and who can somehow identify themselves with the challenges our European continent is facing, may consider themselves part of the Agile Lean Europe network. We had Americans and Canadians ask if they could join the network because they like Europe. But they need not ask. Anyone can join the group, as long as they agree on its focus on Europe.
(Oh, and we intentionally have not defined what Europe is. The current definition is something along the lines of “You’re part of Europe if you sing a song in the Eurovision Song Contest.”)
This brings me to a word of caution. Some skeptics don't see the value in "yet another community". Some have called the focus on Europe a "xenophobic tendency". But I beg to differ. I believe there is work to do at the continental level which is not taken up by the global institutions nor by the local communities. And a network with a focus on collaboration across many different cultures can hardly be called xenophobic. We have the EU, the UEFA, and the Eurovision Song Contest. So why not Agile Lean Europe? But I welcome healthy criticism, because it enables me to learn how to communicate better what we do. I'm not always good at that. I can only hope people trust our best intentions.
So, what do I want from the Agile Alliance, the Scrum Alliance, and the LSSC? Well, at some point the network will generate projects that require international support. Maybe even sponsoring. I'm sure the people doing those projects will be knocking on a few important doors. But right now the people in the ALE network only need one thing: encouragement. They came up with ideas like Bathtub Conferences, ALE 2011, Agile Couch Surfing, ALE SOS, an ALE Train, Expert Exchange, Training Apprentices, and many more. But coming up with ideas is easy. The hardest part is implementing them! A positive word of encouragement from the Agile Alliance, the Scrum Alliance, and the LSSC would help a lot. Something like "That's cool what you're doing there. Keep it up. Call us when you need us!" I’m sure it would motivate people. It would certainly motivate me!
Note the use of the word "me" in this text. I can only speak for myself. There is no central authority in this network. There are only individuals, trying to overcome geographical and cultural barriers to work together and promote Agile and Lean thinking and practice in Europe.
I hope you let us know what you think of that.