When the rains came down and the flood waters rose in Nashville TN one month ago, it became clear the Agile Alliance would have to “respond to change” rather than “following the plan” for our annual Agile 2010 conference—with the conference scheduled to open in only 14 weeks.
Leaders and the conference team at the Agile Alliance faced a daunting set of challenges. We needed to:
- Assess the implications of the flooding
- Act with integrity and thoughtful consideration of all parties
- Identify reasonable alternatives
- Move without delay to reduce the uncertainty
- Deliver value to our customers and partners
When Phil Brock (Agile Alliance Managing Director) and I (Board Chair) discussed the news of the weekend floods on Monday morning May 3, we quickly determined that the last responsible moment for making a site decision was upon us. Nashville was under water, and we had no time to lose. Conference attendees were already making flight reservations and family plans. The conference organizers were set to announce the program. Speakers needed the program schedule to make their plans. Many potential conference goers awaited the program to make their decisions about attendance. Sponsors and exhibitors needed to understand their space and resource constraints with plenty of time. In Nashville, the Gaylord Resort staff needed to resolve their contractual obligations and get on with the business of restoration without distractions. And every day we delayed potentially was a day of lost registration income - income that the Agile Alliance counts on to fund other programs.
Coordinating with Todd Little (Conference Steering committee chair) and Jim Newkirk (Agile 2010 Conference director), we all pulled together a meeting of the conference steering committee on a day’s notice. The steering committee members all agreed that our priority was to preserve the conference dates if at all possible, in order to minimize the disruption. Preserving the dates was no slam dunk. Conference venues that match events of our size are typically booked 18-24 months in advance, and finding locations that still had our dates open was a long shot.
In those first few days, Jim maintained constant communication with his organizing group who prepared themselves for re-thinking the program. I jumped on Twitter to begin disseminating information about our actions as early as possible. Agile2010 Twitter followers helped to pass along the news. Between Agile Alliance staff, Steering committee members, and Conference organizers, we self-organized a crisis team to handle many different aspects of the work.
Meanwhile, Yvonne & Jessica, our Elastic conference planners, were earning their name - stretching their capabilities to get accurate information from the staff at the Gaylord Resort in Nashville while also identifying other potential sites for the conference, just in case. By our Steering committee meeting, they had discovered: a) the Gaylord was no longer an option, and b) three site possibilities in two cities. The Steering Committee decided that Yvonne, Jim and Phil would visit the viable sites over the coming weekend (Mother’s Day weekend in the US). Agile Alliance board members voted to trust the site visitation team with decision authority, so that they could take advantage of opportunities to negotiate the best possible terms. In addition, the Gaylord staff appreciated the collaborative understanding and care we extended to them in their dire situation.
Once the visitation group toured all the alternative venues and selected the Orlando site, the rest of us moved into our part of the action. I worked with Phil to get the contracts signed and delivered to relevant parties within a 24-hour window. (Another event was also looking at the site for the same dates. We closed the deal first!) The conference organizers promptly got to work on the formidable task of re-mapping the program schedule to the new spaces. In the end, we announced the new location on May 11 and the whole conference program announcement was delayed by only a week, from May 6 to May 13.
And though we all felt the urgency, everyone stayed focused on their part. The team worked through the process deliberately, checking our quality standards and maintaining our values every step along the way. While much was out of our control, we attended to the things we could and kept the process moving forward. All of us committed to our collective ownership of the event.
Maybe the best part was the support we felt from our Agile community as we worked through the crisis. We asked for patience and we got it. We appreciate our colleagues for showing their confidence in our ability to meet the challenge.