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#105: Scrum Conferences & Neurodiversity with Brian Milner

July 03, 2024     25 minutes

Join Brian as he delves into the powerful response to his talk on neurodiversity at the Global Scrum Gathering in New Orleans, which emphasized small but significant changes to make environments more accommodating.


In this episode, Brian shares his memorable experience at the Global Scrum Gathering in New Orleans, emphasizing the event's stellar organization and inclusive atmosphere. He reflects on the success of his talk on neurodiversity, which resonated deeply with attendees and sparked meaningful conversations.

Brian also underscores the importance of attending conferences for networking, learning, and expanding professional connections. Encouraging listener feedback and engagement, Brian hopes to inspire more inclusive practices within teams and the broader Agile community.

Tune in for insights on fostering inclusivity, the value of professional gatherings, and much more.

Listen Now to Discover:

[1:08] - Brian warmly welcomes listeners and invites you to join an engaging conversation about the value and insights gained from Agile conferences.
[2:45] - Brian kicks off with heartfelt gratitude to the behind-the-scenes teams whose hard work and dedication ensure these conferences run seamlessly and effortlessly.
[5:04] - Brian celebrates the often-overlooked joys of conferences, from hearing fresh voices and engaging in hallway conversations to making meaningful connections and sparking innovative ideas.
[9:57] - Brian highlights and commends the Scrum Gathering for its intentional efforts to accommodate and include attendees with neurodiversity and those with additional needs.
[14:15] - Brian shares that the goal of his talk was to demonstrate how small changes can create a more inclusive environment, such as playing neurodivergent-friendly music, dimming bright lights, and establishing quiet spaces.
[20:18] - Brian discusses the overwhelmingly positive response to his talk and expresses his hope that these inclusive practices will be adopted widely, transforming the way we all work with our teams.
[23:08] - Brian encourages listeners to attend future conferences to gain new insights, broaden their horizons, and forge valuable connections.
[24:20] - Do you have feedback or a great idea for an episode of the show? Great! Just send us an email. If you’d like to continue this discussion, join the Agile Mentors Community.
[24:33] - We invite you to like and subscribe to the Agile Mentors Podcast and pass this episode along to a friend.

References and resources mentioned in the show:

Slide Deck From Brian’s Talk
#76: Navigating Neurodiversity for High-Performing Teams with Susan Fitzell
Scrum Alliance’s Global Scrum Gathering
AJR Brothers
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Join the Agile Mentors Community

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This episode’s presenters are:

Brian Milner is SVP of coaching and training at Mountain Goat Software. He's passionate about making a difference in people's day-to-day work, influenced by his own experience of transitioning to Scrum and seeing improvements in work/life balance, honesty, respect, and the quality of work.

Auto-generated Transcript:

Brian (00:00)
Agile Mentors, how the heck are you? How's your week going? Hope it's going pretty well for you. I wanted to spend some time with you on this week's episode because I just had an event that took place that was really, really a phenomenal event. And I wanna kind of share with you some personal insights that I had from it and just sort of give you a picture of what it's like. If you've never been to a conference before, Maybe I can entice you to maybe go to one. I think you'll benefit from it. And I think you'll kind of see your career maybe even go in new directions if you decide to go to one.

We just had the global Scrum gathering that took place in New Orleans. That was the 2024 conference. And the Scrum Alliance has changed things up a little bit. I don't know if people are familiar with this or if you're aware of this, but... Scrimmelines used to have two conferences every year. They used to have one that was somewhere in the US, and then they would have another one that was mostly in Europe. But now they've kind of switched up their strategy.

They're going to have one in the US one year. And then next year, it'll be somewhere else globally. So they're really leaning into that global title here for global Scrum gathering. Next year's, I believe they announced here at the end of our conference, is going to be at Munich. So still staying within Europe, but that's not always going to be the case. So there won't be one in the US next year. It'll be the first year that that happens. So every two years, if you're here in the US, you get a chance to attend. If you're somewhere else in the world, maybe there'll be one that appears in a location near you. And that might be a little bit more convenient for you to attend.

But I want to talk about this one that was in New Orleans. And I have to start by just, I want to say to all the support staff, to all the people who volunteered their time from. from the teams that helped set up the rooms to the program team that helped kind of put this all together and create the environment and select the talks and everything else. Phenomenal job. Just phenomenal job.

I couldn't have asked for it to have been run any better. I saw zero hiccups in my time there and just had a fabulous conference. It was a great time. Enjoyed the heck out of it. Enjoyed New Orleans. It's always great to realize I had not actually visited New Orleans prior to this of all the places. It's not very far from where I live, but for whatever reason, it was just one of those black holes in my map. It was one place I had never been to and it was a place I loved. I thought it was just amazing to meet some of the local people there. and to get a flavor of what it was like on Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street and some other parts of the town after the conference. It was just a really great experience. I was very pleased with the whole thing. And so I just want to make sure that that's out there, right?

There's a lot of volunteers that go into working for a conference. I've been a part of that group from time to time. I've reviewed different submissions. If you're not familiar with that process, Speakers at a conference submit their ideas. It's no guarantee anyone's going to get picked. In fact, it's a very, very small percentage. They end up getting picked. So it's a very tough process for the reviewers. And it takes a team of them. They have different tracks that they take submissions in. And they kind of have to whittle those down.

One of my friends who was on the team was describing to me, you might have one talk on, or you might think about a topic like daily scrums. And you might have five submissions on daily scrums that are all amazing talks. They all sound like they'd be incredible with great speakers. But somehow they have to whittle that down. They can't have five talks on Daily Scrums. They've got to limit it. And they've got to have talks on things that they feel the majority of the visitors are going to be interested in. So it's a thankless job that goes on behind the scenes.

And I just want to publicly thank them. I know I got to rub shoulders with several of the people on different aspects of the teams and just really, really appreciate all the work that you guys did to make it such a successful conference. I really always enjoy the scrum gathering conferences. I think they're, they're, they're a fun event. they, they always have a Monday mingle kind of activity.

That's always, something you, you write home about if you will, just something fun to do. this year we had a location was not very far from, the hotel so we could walk there. And just had lots of things that were going on there, food and drink and that sort of stuff. But it just gives you a nice kind of off campus place to unwind and interact with other people and kind of maybe meet some people that you wouldn't get a chance to otherwise. So I always appreciate some of those social events.

Even though I'm an introvert, I just enjoy having different space, kind of a different opportunity to do that sort of thing. And I just want to say, you know, the talks I heard this year were incredible. I heard some really good first time speakers that had never spoken before. And I love the fact that, you know, they're doing that, that they are expanding and it's not just the same crop of people that you hear every single conference. You know, it's a different set of people and it really depends on your topic. It depends on what it is you're trying to talk about.

So I was really thankful to get to hear some new voices there in our community. And the only thing that I wish I could change about that, and this is the same no matter what conference it is, every conference I have this issue, it always seems like the ones you want to go hear the most are if you're speaking, they're happening when you're speaking, or they're all grouped into the same time slot. And you'll get three or four talks that you really wanted to go to. And you got to pick.

You got to choose one of those that you can go to and kind of just plug in there. I'm not one that likes to bounce between the different rooms. I don't have any problem if someone does that. I don't have any problem if someone does that in my talk. But I just like to commit. And that's kind of the way I look at it, is when I come in there, I'm committed, I'm here, I'm giving my full attention.

I want to learn from this person. and leave with something I didn't know in advance. So really, really enjoyed that. There was a talk that was put on by women in Agile that was three new speakers that were three women who had not spoken before. Really enjoyed that and loved their approach. They have a mentor for each person that kind of helps them prepare and get ready for it. So that was awesome.

Really enjoyed listening to that. And just... I don't want to call out any specific talk because they were all so good. I will say there have been years in the past when I have had sort of slots where I've thought, there's not really one I want to hear in this slot. So maybe I've set out or I've done something else. That wasn't the case for this one.

Every slot had something I was like, I've really got to go hear that. I've got to hear that person talk or really want to hear about that topic. So just really enjoyed that.

Couple milestones, kind of, I noticed that happened here. One of my mentors and someone I've had in the podcast, David Hawks was there and he's kind of publicly announced this now that he's retiring, he's stepping back a little bit from doing this stuff and he gave his last conference talk. So it was neat to be there to see his last one. He's a really engaging speaker and always has really deep kind of... needy content for you to chew over that you leave thinking about. So it was kind of an honor to be there for the last thing that he did at a conference.

And the other thing to say is that I really kind of just enjoy the one -off conversations, the hallway conversations. There's breakfast and lunch every day. And when you do those, you sit down at a table, you've got to find a spot. And sometimes I'm just trying to find any open spot. But what I'm trying to do is find the table with people that I don't know, that I haven't met before, that I want to. maybe rub shoulders with and learn a little bit more about what they're doing their organizations.

So those are a great time that they're kind of built in naturally to try to meet some new people. And you know, I'll tell you, I wore a little thing at this conference before it broke on me, but I had a little pin that was kind of my emotional, no, it was my social meter. That's what it was. And it had like a high and a low ranking on it. And you know, I'd start out every day with it on the high ranking. I'm ready to go. I'm excited.

And as the day went on, it would kind of go a little bit further down. And by the end of the day, I was spent. I didn't really have any more I could give out. And I just wanted to wear that sort of a visual fair warning to people. If they saw me and they saw where my meter was, they could say, OK, Brian's kind of running low. Maybe. Maybe I'll wait till tomorrow and have that conversation.

Not that I'm going to be mean or rude to anyone, but just there are times when you just are all empty. You're just out, and you don't have anything more that you can give. And that's certainly the way I feel sometimes at the end of some of these long days. I've been known sometimes to just go up and spend time taking a nap in my room, maybe doing some emails or something, just something to give me a break to go away.

And that's sometimes something I need in these kind of big social environments. I do want to really, really congratulate the Scrum Alliance on one thing that I noticed particularly here in this conference. They clearly made an effort to make some accommodations for some different personality types, neuro types, and you know, I've shared with this podcast before that my talk here at the Scrum Gathering was on neurodiversity and how to be more inclusive of different neurotypes in your teams. I'll get to that talk in just a second.

But there were things that I had been studying and learning about that were small accommodations that people could make that helped some of these different neurotypes. And it was clear that the Scrum Alliance had deliberately made an effort to do that. One thing that I didn't know was going to happen until I got there, for every keynote presentation they had on their big video monitor, they had transcription.

So there was closed captioning of anything that was being said, which is a very important feature for some various neurodiversity types. And I was very, very pleased to see that. I just thought that was a good change that they made. Small change, not really anything big that they had to do to do that, but it makes a big difference for a segment of the population.

And I'm really thankful that they did that. The other thing that I noticed that they did was they had a quiet room. There was a room that was right in the mix of all the other conference rooms where presentations were going on that was a quiet room. It was dim lighting. They had some nice cushy soft like beanbag chairs that were in there. They actually had like some soft quiet like atmospheric kind of effect noises going on like waterfalls and that sort of thing. Rain rainfall, ocean waves, things that were very peaceful and quiet.

And they also had made available in that room earplugs for people. And for those that have noise sensitivities, sometimes you can walk into these conference rooms and I can say, I've been guilty of this as a speaker. I want to create an exciting atmosphere. So I blare the upbeat music as people are coming in just to get people in the right kind of excited mood.

Well, if I have noise sensitivities, that's going to not only not be exciting, it's going to be painful. And having the ability for someone to self -regulate that and say, I'm going to put my earplugs in for this, because it's just a louder place. It's a louder room. Even just listening to certain talks, you would hear a talk next door where a speaker would just their plan for their talk was much more interactive. So there'd be a lot of audience participation and shouting outs and clapping and laughing and that sort of stuff.

And it can be disruptive for the room next door. I don't fault any rooms for being more interactive or fun for the attendees, but you know, noise has a bleed through effect. And I was just happy that they thought that far ahead and said, you know, we're going to have some people here who might have that sensitivity to noise. And it doesn't cost very much for us to provide a handful of earplugs.

I don't know how many of them were taken, but I would imagine there wasn't a ton. They didn't run out, as far as I know. But having a place like that, I took advantage of the quiet room. I knew that it was a place where I could go and collect my thoughts. And I would sit down with my laptop and maybe just make some notes of things I wanted to make sure I captured. No one was going to interrupt me.

That was kind of the rule of the room. There was no talking in that room. So I could focus. I could come in there and do what I needed to do without disturbing anyone and really kind of recenter before I headed back out. There were some who used it for meditation and other things. And I have no problem with that. If that works for people, then I'm happy for them to do that.

For me, it was just a quiet space. And I just needed a quiet space, somewhere away from all the hustle and bustle, what was going on. So just kudos to the Scrum Alliance there for that. I think that they made a couple of really intentional moves there to be more inclusive. And I, for one, as part of that neurodivergent community, really, really appreciated it.

So thank you there to the Scrum Alliance. If anyone here is from the Scrum Alliance listening. Big kudos there for you on that. The other thing here is I do want to talk about my talk just briefly. And just to let you know that I did a lot of preparation for this talk. It really was the culmination of about a year's worth of research. I've done talks at other conferences before.

I tried to let people know that this one was different for me. This one was very different because it was very personal. I was gonna be sharing things about my own medical diagnosis. And that's just not something that's common that I have in conference talks. I don't normally go into a conference talk and say, hey, here's what I was diagnosed with.

So that made it very, very personal. But it's also something that is prevalent throughout my family. So I was sharing information from my family as well. Again, like I've said here on the podcast, I wouldn't share that if I didn't have permission. I don't volunteer that for others in my family. If they say that it's OK, then I will. If they don't, then I don't share that information. But it was very personal. And I was much more connected, I think, to the material. I really, really had a vested interest in the outcome.

You know, I wanted to show some real practical ways that people could make small changes and become more inclusive. So that was my goal. And one of the things I tried to do, if you attended my talk, you may not even recognize all these things, but I wanted to first teach by demonstration. I wanted to kind of have things in place that... that would show that you can make small changes to be more inclusive.

So just a couple of things I want to highlight here. One was a very, very, very subtle thing that I don't think anyone caught. But I did have music on that I turned down fairly quiet. I didn't want it to be that loud. I wanted to be loud enough for people to hear, but I didn't want it to be very loud. And I just had a playlist that was playing where I was playing one band in particular. I was playing a band called AJR.

Some of you may be familiar with them, some of you may not, but AJR is a trio of brothers who are neurodivergent and their music is very neurodivergent friendly. They've sort of been seen as kind of, I don't know how to put it, but... figureheads, I guess, of neurodivergent movement. There's lots of neurodivergent people who go to their concerts.

There's lots of commentary and stuff about how they're very open about that in their lyrics. So that was a slight little nod there. If anyone caught that, then congratulations. You caught the most subtle way that I did that. But that was one of the ways I was trying to make it a little bit more friendly. One of the other things I did, I turned down the lights in the room.

There was overhead cans that you would have kind of typical in any kind of conference room. But they also had some like a chandelier that was over the middle of it. There were kind of some circles. And I found the light control panel and found out I could turn off the cans that were in the room and just have the overhead kind of chandelier. And it really kind of brought the light level down. It wasn't dark. It wasn't... so dark that you couldn't see in the room or anything like that. It was still enough that you could see. No darker than you would find in maybe a restaurant, right?

But it was a lower level of light. And that was very intentional. I was trying to help people who had light sensitivities to not have to struggle or worry about that. So that was something I did intentionally. I. Probably the biggest thing I did was I set aside two tables at the back of the room that I call quiet tables. Most of the time you go to a conference, there's an expectation that you do some interactive kind of work there.

I had a lot of data to get out, so I couldn't do as much interactivity as I normally do in a talk. But I did have one big activity that I did kind of towards the back part of my talk. And I wanted to have a couple of tables that if people just were not comfortable, group participation. They didn't want to have to talk to others. They wanted to just come and show up and take in the information.

I wanted them to be able to do that. So I set aside two tables. I put a little sign on the table that said, this is a quiet table. If you sit here, please understand these seats are designated for people who don't want to be a part of group activities and would rather just sit quietly while we have any kind of a group activity. And I set those aside. And I.

As people were coming into the room, I saw people that were starting to sit at those tables and I walked over and I just wanted to check on the people that were some of the first people sitting there and saying, I don't want to interrupt you.

I just want to make sure that you've seen the sign so that you know what to expect here at this table. And I had these three wonderful women that were sitting at one of the tables and they responded very emphatically like, yes, no, we absolutely read that. We loved it and we felt like, hey, he gets us. And that just made my day. I was just so excited that they felt that way and they felt welcomed, right?

That's kind of what I was trying to do is create a welcoming atmosphere that nobody felt left out. Everybody felt included, normal. I did some other things too, like we put out some little badges that said, embrace neurodiversity, that people could put on their name badges, just to kind of raise awareness across the conference from that point on.

I also put little fidget toys at each spot that people could take with them. Just a small little fidget keychain kind of thing that people could have. Not anything terribly elaborate, but just a small little thing. So all these things were just ways I thought of in advance to try to make it a more welcoming environment for people to participate.

Getting to the talk itself, as a speaker, I'm pleased with how it went. It kind of went the way I'd hoped it would go. One small technical thing with a poll that I did at the beginning, but you know now I'm kind of insider baseballing this and I don't really Didn't really Contribute hugely in any negative way. I was able to call out the numbers and we just moved on right

That was not a major part of the presentation anyway So, you know, I'm I'm as pleased with how it went as I probably could have been for anything like that I I could tell things were resonating with people. I got nods.

I got verbal agreement from people in different parts of the talk. So, you know, and we stay within our time box. We met that the way we needed to. So that all went pretty well. But you don't really know until after. And it's after that really kind of made my conference for me because... not just immediately after, but for the remainder of that conference. I spoke on Tuesday. It went on, the conference was Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

So for the remainder of day on Tuesday, into the night on Tuesday, and then before I left on Wednesday, I just had random people that would come up to me at various points and thank me for giving the talk. I had one person tell me, thank you and said, I felt seen. And that just almost brought a tear to my eye. I was so excited to hear that.

And that was part of what I was really attempting to do there, is I wanted people to understand that there are differences in how people process things and how people's brains work. And hopefully we can take that back to our teams and change how we approach how we work with our teams. I'm not going to go too much into the detail of the talk. We will make the slides available here in our show notes. So if you want to see the slides like I gave the presentation, I gave it the presentation, we'll make that available for you.

There's no recording of it, unfortunately. The Scrim Alliance doesn't do that. They don't record them and then publish them later. Some conferences I know do. do that, but the Scrum Alliance is not one of them. But I will make the slides available to you if you want to dig into that more.

The other thing I'd say is if you really want to dig in the topic more, find my previous podcast episode, which we'll also put in the show notes. That was with Susan Fitzell. She is a specialist in that area and helped me to understand some things. And that was a kind of key episode. on that topic.

So those are some places I can point you to if you want to get into that, the heart of that, that topic area. But, you know, hearing those kinds of things, those personal kind of congratulations and just people who I didn't know who'd come up and say, you know, they felt seen and that just made the conference for me. I was so pleased that that was the case.

Because just as it was very personal for me, it was personal for them too. It connected to them on a very personal level. And I hope that that can make a change in our teams. I hope that that's something that some of those people who are in the room can take back and implement just one thing. One thing they can change in how they work with their teams. All in all, it was a great conference.

I really enjoyed it. And Scrum Alliance just put on a great conference this year. as they always do. They always put on a great conference. So thanks to my friends at Scrum Alliance for inviting me and having me there to speak. Thank you for all the volunteers who worked on it. Thank you to each person that I had a conversation with, especially the new friends that I didn't really know before the conference.

I... I really enjoy, and the ones that I haven't seen for a while that I kind of got to rub shoulders with there. Again, I really appreciate you coming up and saying hello. And I did have a few people from the podcast who came up and said, hey, listen to the podcast. That's always a pleasure when that happens.

It just helps me to know that, hey, this is actually resonating. This is making an impact for people. So. I heartily appreciate that. If you ever see me at a conference, please do. Don't hesitate. Come up and say hello and tell me that you listen to the podcast. You'll make my day if you do that. So that wraps up Scrum Gathering 2024, New Orleans.

I should say global Scrum Gathering. And if you didn't attend this year's, if you're in Europe, maybe consider attending the Munich one next year. I don't know where the following year is going to be in 2026, but it will be back here in the States somewhere. And we'll have to wait and find out where that's going to be.

On my calendar, the next conference I have coming up is an exciting one for me. It's Agile 2024 that's taking place in Dallas. So if you go to the Agile Alliance, agilealliance .org, you can find information about that conference and join me there. I'm going to be talking about conflict and how we can have conflict competent teams. So I'm excited to talk about that and dive into that topic with everyone in Agile 2024. So.

Just wanted to give you a brief recap of what happened there and what it was like, and give you an insider view of what it's like. If you haven't ever attended a conference, I encourage you to give it a shot, especially, you know, I'm based in the Dallas area.

If you happen to be in the Dallas area and you're on the fence about attending the conference there in July, you got no excuse. It's in your backyard, right? It's right there. You'll hear some amazing speakers. You'll widen your network.

You'll be surprised at kind of the connections you make and what you walk away with from a conference. So just highly encourage you to give it a shot. So that'll wrap us on this episode. It was just me, so I won't do a separate little closing thing. If you wanna give me any feedback on this, just reach out to me and send me an email podcast at mountaingoatsoftware .com and I'll get that.

Or you can go to our Agile Mentors Community and post in our discussion forum there. That's a place where you can interact with me. As always, like and subscribe, all that social jazz. Make sure that you... You keep this in your inbox. We always appreciate that. And as we always ask, tell a friend. If you liked the episode, if you liked any of our episodes, pass that on to a friend and let them know about this podcast that you found. That's it for this time. We'll see you again on another episode of the Agile Mentors Podcast.