Get all the highlights from this year’s two-day Path to Agility Conference held on the Ohio State Campus in Columbus.

On May 23 and 24, the Central Ohio Agile Association (COHAA) hosted the 9th annual Path to Agility 2018 Conference. The Path to Agility was developed to further COHAA’s mission to inspire creativity and innovation in the delivery of value. COHAA has engaged national and regional Agile thought leaders to provide session content focused on a mix of business, technical, and/or management topics.

Whether you are well along the path or just starting out, this conference can help guide you in the right direction. This year’s conference was insightful, organized, and full of practical information.

Centric Consulting was proud to be a Silver Sponsor of the conference, which took place at Ohio State’s Ohio Union.

There were many great keynote and speakers who presented at the conference. Here are some highlights from the sessions.

Opening Keynote: Lean by Nature – Stories from the Alaskan Backcountry and New Space Race

Presented by: Ben Kellie

Ben shared lessons and perspectives from growing up flying across remote Alaska and how that translated to helping build launch and landing sites for SpaceX and other startup commercial launch companies. Often, we find that the best way to run a lean operation is to have no other choice.


  1. Make the plan and plan to adapt
  2. Kill your ego
  3. Think outside the box to build within it
  4. Embrace the work
  5. Don’t panic; stay rational
  6. Adapt to real-time conditions
  7. Always weigh bold vs. old ideas – the risk is not always worth the reward

Breakout Session: Big Room Planning

Presented by: Mario Sylva

Any kind of planning is an exercise in uncertainty. Especially so in large enterprises where delivering value to the customer involves multiple teams within and across organizational silos. Big Room Planning has been used successfully by many organizations to connect the work of their agile teams to the overarching business strategy and to what they can deliver.

In this session, he shared the recent story on how Big Room Planning ideas were used in a large Fortune 100 company to align teams, stakeholders, leadership on desired business capabilities, surface uncertainties, dependencies, and reach a shared understanding and consensus on achievable outcomes in the near-term.

Big Room Planning is a group planning session for executives aimed at breaking down barriers. The session can be held in one day, ideally offsite. This is an effective tool for Introducing Agile concepts. The expected deliverables from a planning session are epics identified and soft commitments in three-month blocks.

Other Big Room Planning information:

  1. Common Enterprise Challenges
  • Long requirement lead time
  • Disparate teams not aligned to common goals
  • Lack of engagement and transparency
  1. Big Room Planning participants include
  • Impacted teams
  • Business & IT Leads
  • Dependency team POCs
  • Facilitator
  1. Big Room Planning Agenda Considerations
  • Emphasize celebrating the journey; learning
  • Set stage for upcoming quarter – Product Manager or Architect
  • Explain considerations; what we need to solve for customers; present vision
  • Emphasize team readouts and Q/A
  • Catalog issues that may be above the team for leaders to review
  • Aggregate team plans by quarter; visualize on Program Board at wrap up
  • Portfolio delivery down to team level
  1. Facilitation Considerations
  • Lead with a strong point of view – set an inspiring vision and clear direction
  • Lead through culture – set new norms that support creative work
  • Lead alongside – stay present and engaged with the work of your teams

Breakout Session: Living In a Distracted World

Presented by: Centric’s Shawn Wallace

We live in a very distracted world. These distractions have bled into the workplace and have affected our efficiency and made our teams take longer to accomplish tasks than necessary. More importantly, our ability to accomplish cognitively demanding tasks has been diminished. In this talk, Shawn discussed the data about distractions and how we as leaders and team members take action to be more efficient and more fulfilled in our careers.


  • Our brains are wired to do one thing at a time.
  • “Deep Work” was coined by Cal Newport and is defined as the ability to focus without distraction on cognitively hard things.
  • It takes approximately 23.5 minutes to get into a Deep Work zone
  • Context switching is very expensive because it keeps you out of the zone. In other words, interrupting your people costs you 46 minutes.
  • The Deep Work Zone can last up to 6 hours. On average, people get one daily and two maximum.
  • There is a massive economic and personal opportunity for those who recognize the potential of resisting trends and prioritizing depth.
  • Two core abilities for thriving in the new economy
  • The ability to master hard things quickly
  • The ability to produce at an elite level in quality and speed

Tips for fighting distractions:

  1. Know where you spend your time
  • Use tools to measure
  • Measure communication channels
  1. Reduce the number of in-process items
  2. Utilize time locks
  • Go ‘Head’s down’
  • Put work time on your calendar
  • Put learning on your calendar
  1. Fix the context-switch
  • Use asynchronous communication (Slack, Jira, etc)
  • Ensure that you will not be interrupted if you need to get something done
  • Accept that you cannot do everything
  1. Manage/ Reduce Communication Channels
  • Set goals; turn off all but most important alerts on your phone
  • Resist social media
  • Train colleagues and managers on your communication policy

Download Shawn’s presentation here!

Breakout Session: Agile and Continuous Delivery

Presented by: Dan Rice

A recent study found that global enterprises are keenly aware of the critical importance of agile and continuous delivery to succeed in today’s app economy. Some 81% agree that the two practices are critical to successful digital transformation. Adding continuous delivery practices to an agile working environment improves new business growth by 63% more than using agile alone and improves operational efficiency by 41% more.

In this talk he discussed the many benefits of implementing the best practices around agile and continuous delivery, the roles that will benefit from a combined approach, the technology you should implement to achieve maximum benefit from an agile and continuous delivery approach and CA services available to help you achieve success.


  • Agile alone is great. Continuous delivery alone is great. These concepts are even better together.
  • Automation increases customer satisfaction and employee retention.
  • Agile plus DevOps yields 78% improvement in customer experience and 45% increase in employee productivity.
  • Happier people are more productive.
  • Big Room Planning connects strategy to delivery.
  • Buy-in increases overall success.

Impediments to Continuous Delivery are:

  • User story composition
  • The time it takes to deploy new features
  • Tools

Breakout Session: Incentives – Silent Transformation Killers

Presented by: Stephanie Sharpe

Why did your transformation fail? The often overlooked or underestimated aspect of an Agile transformation, incentives. The goal of transformation is to change behaviors. Without understanding the incentives in place and how they are driving behaviors, it’s difficult if not impossible to truly transform!

Many organizations have incentives in place that they don’t even identify as incentives. For example, roles that carry prestige incentivize people to aspire to the role for the prestige alone. What types of people will end up filling that role? What behaviors are rewarded to get there? Role-based yearly competency assessments are another incentive that drives behavior.

What behaviors will you exhibit if your new role is “Scrum Master” but your yearly assessment is based on the role description of Systems Business Analyst? We have all seen Dan Pink’s talk about motivating knowledge workers. When we discuss incentives, we are usually talking about extrinsic motivators that are in place. Harvard Business Review published an article titled, “Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work” and specifically talks about how extrinsic incentives only create a temporary behavior change.

So the real question is, how can we change our incentives from extrinsic to intrinsic and align them at all levels of the transformation?

As leaders, we need to be aware of this factor and begin uncovering and tackling it early. Misaligned incentives or incentives driving behavior away from agility often show themselves as other symptoms. Questions we should be asking:

  • What incentives are in place at each level? (Teams, managers, senior leaders, etc.)
  • What roles does HR have in place for assessing people’s competency?
  • How are our incentive structures enabling or inhibiting our agility?
  • How can we align incentives at all levels?
  • Which incentives should we drive toward if we want the transformation to sustain?


  1. In some instances, people are rewarded for working long hours.
  2. In some instances, punishment is used to incentivize performance, resulting in resources working to avoid punishment.
  3. Potential effects of incentives by role were discussed.
  4. If unchecked, negative workplace behaviors will be used to manipulate others, which leads to more negative work behaviors. Consider ways incentives can go bad that could end up promoting negative behaviors.
  5. Incentive plans and extrinsic motivators have temporary compliance. When the incentive goes away, so does the behavior.

Incentives to drive behavior:

  • Purpose
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Enjoyable work
  • Creative freedom
  • Challenging problems
  • Employees

Closing Remarks: Perform Like a Champion

Presented by: Aaron Davis


Information without implementation is insane. What are you going to do with it?

  • Implement
  • Execute
  • Break the huddle

Champions and Championship teams:

  1. Keep their mind clear from the clutter
  2. Must know the ‘why’
  3. Recognize and appreciate their left tackle
  4. Who are your left tackles: Appreciation should be timely, meaningful.
  5. Are not afraid of watching game tape
  6. Are not afraid of change: What are some changes you can make and execute? Who will hold you accountable?
  7. Do not get comfortable or arrogant: How can we improve?
  8. Championship teams crave new knowledge
  9. Championship teams know their high pay off activities

Attributes of champions

  1. Goals
  2. Discipline
  3. Resilience
  4. Positive attitude

Know your why. If your why is not strong enough, your work habits will show it. The speaker encouraged everyone that as you go home… you slow down. Take some time for yourself. Rejuvenate, refuel, refocus. Life will hit you. If you don’t take time, life will take time. You cannot win on empty.

The presentations from all the speakers, including those highlighted above, have been posted under “Sessions” on The Path to Agility site.

About Shawn Wallace

Shawn helps customers strategically leverage technology to improve their architectures. Shawn is a former U.S. Marine Infantryman, enjoys all things tech, learning things, building things, shooting sports and his family.

Learn more about Shawn and follow him on Twitter (@ShawnWallace).

About Path to Agility

The conference was developed by the Central Ohio Agile Association (COHAA) to further COHAA’s mission to promote the use of Agile practices and principles. COHAA has engaged a number of national and regional Agile thought leaders to provide session content focused on a mix of business, technical, and/or management topics