Extreme Tuesday Club: 2017 Retrospective

2017 was a transformative year for XTC. I can say it’s the year we definitively stepped up from “not quite dead” to “vibrant and engaged”. I can lay the credit on this to a couple of changes we made to the format at the start of 2017:

  • Reduce occurence from weekly to fortnightly
  • Ensure that there is a defined topic every meetup

These changes (plus some early visits from Kent Beck) helped focus the XTC community, and help recall past glories. However, we’re always looking to improve…

On Tuesday, 12th December 2017, XTC held a retrospective. Using a simple sad/mad/glad format, mixed in with beer and pizza, we produced the following:

img_20171212_205401672

We grouped all the stickies by themes, and proposed some actions for improvement in 2018.

Themes

Venue

XTC has been held at The City Pride since April 2016. These points were raised about this venue:

  • Only pizza available (sad)
  • Beer is a bit meh (sad)
  • Limited disabled access (sad)
  • “old man’s pub” (sad)
    • (not actually raised as a card, but we did discuss this in relation to diversity)
  • Pizza is gr8! (glad)
  • Quiet room (glad)

Topics

The topic of the next meetup is decided at the previous meetup. At some time during the meetup, an organiser will ask people to propose topics. After all the proposals have been collated, attendees will then vote on the proposals. The proposal with the most votes will become the topic of the next meetup, and the person who proposed the topic is expected to help run the session. These points were raised about topics:

  • Imperative absolutes (mad)
    • “How you should do things”
    • Always/never
  • The community drives and runs the topics (glad)
  • “Conversation” format (glad)
  • Different viewpoints! (glad)
  • Debate! (glad)
  • More people, topics, discussions (since 2016) (glad)

My take: don’t tell people what to do. Talk about what you’ve done, and what you’ve learned.

Format

The format was relatively undefined in 2017. Instructions to topic hosts were loosely “do whatever you want”. Facilitation was very light.

  • I don’t like structured discussion (sad)
  • Some sessions lacked a clear start and end and were worse for it (sad)
  • Ambiguity in facilitation (mad)
  • In depth discussion I can hear. (glad)
  • Variety of format (glad)
  • Open debate (glad)
  • Smaller groups means I can remember names (glad)
  • Opportunity for community?
  • XTC Clinic?

My take: general style of format OK, but we can tighted up on facilitation

Attendance

Attendance was one of the big success stories for 2017. Changing from weekly meetups in 2016 to fortnightly meetups in 2017 seemed to provide a sense of scarcity and urgency, and people really responded to the topics. Mid-way through the year we experimented with “old-style” events (no set topic). There was a definite drop-off in interest and sign-ups.

  • Not a very diverse crowd (sad)
  • Lack of diversity (sad)
    • Physical abilities
    • Neuro
    • Gender
    • Ethnicity
  • Way more attendance (glad)

We did discuss the “diversity” topic once. Happily, we did get a much more diverse attendance that night. However, on average the points raised reflect issues with the general attendance.

Other

We had trouble putting these points into other themes or categories:

  • Why didn’t I start coming again sooner? (written as a mad, but actually a glad)
  • Passion and enthusiasm of everyone (glad) 
  • Coming to XTC again! (glad)
  • XTC is still going (glad)
  • Joe Schmetzer (glad)

 

Actions

Here are some changes we agreed to trail/experiment with in 2018:

Defined Host each Event

a.k.a Who’s going to be the “Joe” tonight?

We need to ensure that every event always has someone who understands the format, ensures that everything happens as it should, and can help facilitate talks, etc. It can’t be “Joe” every event 🙂

Playbook / Checklists

We want to make sure that things aren’t missed, and there’s some sort of predictability about the events. The playbook needs to consider at least the following:

  • Pre event:
    • Selecting a host
    • Working with the topic proposer to add an event description
    • Promoting the event on Meetup, Twitter (anywhere else?)
    • Getting materials for the event (e.g. pens, stickies)
  • During each event:
    • Setting up the room
    • Welcoming attendees
    • Ordering pizzas
    • Introducing the topic vote
    • Introducing the speaker
    • Facilitating talk, as required
    • Tweeting!
    • Taking the vote for the next topic
    • Paying for pizzas
  • Post event:
    • Claiming expenses
    • Posting photos to Meetup
    • Blog post

What else?

Extra Hosts

Currently, there are 6 organisers for XTC: myself (Joe), Nader, Nigel (a.k.a. sleepyfox), Tom, Samir and Jeff.

I’d ask the existing organisers to review their availability and commitments (Over 2016, I hosted the bulk of the meetups, with a scattering of support from Nigel, Tom and Samir. Nader has a conflicting meetup, Nigel has moved out of London, which makes it hard for them both to participate in the future).

We’d be interested in finding new organisers who would be willing to help out. Ideally, we’d like to get a more diverse group of organisers.

Code of Conduct

As discussed in our “diversity” topic, we’d like to introduce a code of conduct. More to come on this topic.

Breakout Corner

Even though we have a chosen topic each meetup, we’d like to explicitly welcome those who don’t care to talk about anything in particular (or just the topic at hand).

Discussion Guidelines

We’d like to provide more guidance to people introducing topics at XTC. A set of guidelines that reflects the essence of XTC (for example, we value stories about experiences over absolutes). More to come on this topic.

Explore Alternative Venues

I think most people are generally happy with our current venue, but we recognise that we are excluding groups of people who might otherwise come. We’re keen to introduce some extra events outside of the normal pub location, if only to see what sort of response there is. #XTCXtra

Conclusion

Some changes are coming to XTC in 2018. Most of relatively minor.

What do you think? Please add some notes to the comments.

XTC 2016 Retrospective

xtc-squareIt’s been about 15 months since I first volunteered to help out with the organisation of the Extreme Tuesday Club (XTC). When I first started visiting XTC around 2005, I would turn up and could pretty feel assured that someone would be there (or more often 10-20 someones), and there would be awesome conversations. At the end of 2015, XTC was dying. The previous organisers had moved on, leaving XTC to mainly run itself. This was a problem: no one had turned up for over 3 months. My assumption is that people had drifted off to the slew of alternative meetups that had sprung up with better organisation and more focused topics.

With this in mind, the other organisers and I made the following changes over the last year:

  • Changed the meetup registration from the old spam filled wiki to use Meetup.com.
    • I think this was probably the biggest improvement over the last year. The old EditMe wiki was atrociously difficult to update (especially on a phone). It looked unprofessional and awkward. Meetup.com allows a single click to sign up, which greatly reduces the friction of signing up.
  • Changed the venue from the Bishop’s Finger to the City Pride.
    • The Bishop’s Finger was a great pub for our meetups – when we had the use of the upstairs room. However, towards the end of 2015 the manager of The Bishop’s Finger got fed up that no-one was using the room, and so they gave our booking away to another group. This meant that we were stuck downstairs in the noise common room, which many people (including me) found far too noisy to have a coherent conversation.
    • The City Pride has been marginally better, but probably not that much. The upstairs room is not always available, though the pub manager is generally happy to let us go up if the room is not being used. Some people have commented that they are disappointed about the menu at the City Pride (only pizzas are available)
  • Created a new XTC Slack Group
    • At this point in time, there has been no real discussion on the group. Having said that, it hasn’t really been promoted effectively.

Over the year, there were a number of good meetings. For me personally, the XTC Christmas Special felt like I had a number of good conversations. I was especially grateful to the people who came to XTC in October, and gave me some excellent feedback on my presentation on Value Streams. The Celebrating Jean Tabaka meetup was especially well attended, although I couldn’t make that one myself.

Despite my intention to attend as many XTC’s as possibly, I think I only managed to make about 10 or so meetups in 2016. There was still a very large number of meetups over the year that were completely empty. In general, I think that people will not turn up to any meetup unless there is a clear theme or topic of conversation. It is clear that XTC has declined a large amount from its zenith in the 2000’s. Chris Matts wrote a piece in 2015 about this in his article on Communities of Need & Community of Solutions. He wrote the following:

The needs of the London XTC community have pretty much been met. They know how to write software in small teams, and there are no significant community needs outstanding. As such, those interested in personal development now gravitate towards the software craftsmanship community.

I’m not sure I fully agree with this assessment, especially given that I see XTC as more than just XP. Rather, I see this as a disassociation from the original founders of the group, along with much more focused “competition” in the meetup space.

In the XTC Christmas Special meetup, I asked people what they wanted out of XTC. Based on this feedback, For the coming year, I’d like to try some of the following changes:

  • Change to fortnightly meetings. Currently, there are not enough core regulars who will consistently turn up to XTC every week. I’ve reduced the frequency of the meetings to fortnightly to try and make it easier to get more people coming on the same night.
  • Think about more focused discussions. In principle, I think it’s core part of XTC that people can turn up and talk about anything that is on their mind, without having to schedule a topic in advance. This will always be part of XTC. However, having a clear theme or topic seems to help people to decide to come.
  • Solicit more volunteers to help manage the community. Personally, I don’t have the bandwidth to give XTC my full attention.
  • What about XPDay 2017?

I’d like to invite everyone to the meetup on Tuesday 10th January 2017 to discuss Aspirations for XTC in 2017. Please come along and join in the conversation!