January 27, 2010 Meeting: Agile Coach Alan Atlas of RALLY on Social Contracts in Agile Adoptions (Meeting Venue: MICROSOFT WALTHAM, 01/27, 6:30PM)



WEDNESDAY January 27,2010, 630PM to 830PM


Alan Atlas is a practicing Agile Coach at RALLYSoftware. Alan’s experience includes working as a Hardware Development Engineer at Bell Labs and a Sr. Development Manager in Web Services at Amazon.com. At Amazon he spearheaded the use of Scrum throughout the company. While at Amazon, he and his team used Scrum for over a year to successfully deliver Amazon S3, the industry-award-winning web service that provides unlimited Internet-connected storage, in 2006.
Alan is a CSM, a CST, a graduate of Brown University (BA Psychology), UMASS (BS in EE), and Georgia Tech (MSEE).

Learn more about ALAN ATLAS here.


Successful agile adoption is in fact cultural change. Culture includes written and unwritten ground rules. These rules are part of the core content of culture. When adopting agile practices like Scrum, new rules are in play. Understand the rules and honoring the sanctity of these rules is at the root of successful, robust adoptions. Dishonoring these rules can be a the root cause of failure.

Social contracts are plain-English working agreements by and between stakeholders and participants in any agile adoption effort.

A key point of cultural leverage is the middle manager. The line manager has relatively little cultural influence while upper management is often segregated from non-executive work…. and workers. This leaves the middle manager to “keep the culture”. The middle manager with a title like AVP or Director is the point of leverage where social contracts can be put to excellent use. However, they are often left out of training and other transformation activities in favor of putting all efforts into the teams.

Middle managers can stunt agile transformations actively due to fear and distrust, or passively due to ignorance.

One way to educate middle managers is the use of social contracts to provide a framework for conversation that can be used to set expectations, and to educate the middle manager to the new cultural milieu.
Attend this session to learn:

  • Some common anti-patterns (and anecdotes) regarding middle managers in agile transformations
  • The shape of the new role of middle managers (yes, there is need for them)
  • The structure of social contracts for use with managers and between managers
  • Techniques for training a manager in Agile management practice using social contracts

01-27-2010 MEETING AGENDA:

6:30 PM: SCRUM ORIENTATION: Scrum as described by Dan Mezick

7:00 PM: Food and networking time. LIve music from BOB MAC WILLIAMS




Bob MacWIlliams plays eclectic instrumentals and songs on acoustic guitar. Bob hails from AUBURNDALE, Massachusetts and plays for us during the break

Bob MacWilliams on MySpace: links, MP3 audio, song clips, more


NOTE: Plan to show up if you register. If you register but are a no-show, that fact will be written to your attendance record. Please do not register casually. If you register, make a commitment to attend. Those who register AND subsequently attend will get priority seating at big meetings like this one. If you register but are a no-show, we know who you are, and you will not get early seating next time.

DO NOT register casually for this meeting, as you do us a big disservice to usm by distorting the actual count for the seating and food. Registration is an explicit commitment to attend.


Vote-Per-Ticket, a Value Creation Engine for Regional Communities of Interest

This note describes the proposed system of “vote per ticket” (VPT) in which participants purchase tickets and attend events, and in so doing intentionally support organizers in the ecosystem that are delivering the most value at that point in time. The model can be used in any market where a large number of user groups exist, such as Boston.

Original date of note: 01/07/2010 by Dan Mezick

Vote Per Ticket (VPT)

The system supports and encourages a diversity of user group organizers who self organize around each other’s events. With VPT all the user group organizations are incented to cooperate while continuously delivering real value to the attending community-at-large. Value here is defined as extremely high-quality, extremely low-cost events that people are actually willing to pay for.

Event organizers in a community are encouraged by the VPT system to focus on the attending public and serve them. The attending public funnels rewards via VPT to the consistent producers of the perceived highest value. This self-reinforcing system encourages more and more value creation for the entire community. The system facilitates community wide collaboration, customer value and overall community growth.

Vote-Per-Ticket Explained

Vote-Per-Ticket (VPT) is a system of continuous economic feedback at the community level based on a ‘special offer’ or ‘discount’ code that identifies a purchase with a specific group, via a code. Purchasers use the code at purchase-time to self-identify with one specific group. Thus, “Vote Per Ticket”.

For example, BROWNPAPERTICKETS.COM provides an online ticketing service. This service allows the operator to define a code that the purchaser can enter at purchase time. For example as an event promoter selling tickets, I can define the codes ‘PMI’, (“PMI”), ‘ABZ’ (for Agile Bazaar) , ‘SPIN’, “(Software Process Improvement Network”) and the like. In this example, each code represents a user group in Boston that sends purchasers over to buy a ticket for Agile Boston’s XYZ event.

For people in the community that attend events, the proces sis simple: get online, buy an event ticket, and specify a code. That code tags that ticket purchase and associates it with a user group or organization. Presumably this organization is bringing the event to it’s membership, but is not the organizer per se.

VPT is a mechanism designed with specific objectives: It is optimized on:

1. Event quantity and variety
2. High attendance
3. Continuous feedback from attendees/group members
4. Responsiveness on the part of organizers
5. Maturity of community’s knowledge level (domain understanding of Lean/agile/Scrum)
6. Growth in community numbers


Say it costs $100 to buy a ticket to the XYZ event. The rule is that 25% of the cost goes to the group that sent the ticket buyer indicated at purchase-time. Thus the ticket purchase is a fund-raiser for the organization associated with the purchaser’s indicated sign-up code. If we run an event that costs $100, then $25 goes back to the originating user group leaving $75 for the promoter (us) for each ticket sold.

Everyone running events operates the same way. In an ideal world, if any group is running an event, the group with a big list and very loyal supporters always gets a nice payoff from ANY community event that people pay to attend. VPT incents every group to promote every other group’s events; rewards the groups that deliver the most value with ongoing material support, and puts the ticket purchaser in charge of the feedback process.

VPT is a “short account” (ie, “continuous”) capital allocation mechanism that delivers rewards to those organizations that deliver the most value and encourages efficient operations, higher frequency communication with “customers”, community growth, “passive collaboration” via the Vote Per Ticket mechanism. Its is adaptive. The key effect is the focus on the customer and customer’s perception of value. Thus each “agent” or individual in the system is involved in shaping the form and content of the community in a continuous manner, via the VPT feedback mechanism.

Advantages of the VPT System

“Vote Per Ticket” is adaptive. As event organizers act, some may underperform and others may out-perform in the eyes of the community-at-large. The VPT mechanism provides a conduit for feedback flow. It is responsive.

The purchasers of tickets are in charge of sending positive and negative feedback in the form of economic “votes” every time they purchase a ticket. That means the VPT increases the responsiveness of the community to changes in perceived value of any and all groups and event organizers in the ecosystem.


FIRST: The Customers may be familiar with many user groups in the community but it can only vote for one on a per-ticket or “per event” basis.

For example a single agile enthusiast may enjoy meeting from Agile Boston, Agile Bazaar, the PMI, and SPIN. But when they buy a ticket for an event, they can only enter one code. That code represents a tiny vote on the part of the buyer. The buyer is in authority over who gets 25% of that ticket purchase.

The vote is supporting a specific group. The assumption is that the best group in the eyes and mind of the purchaser gets the vote (the one who delivers the most perceived value). VPT is a system of meritocracy that institutionalizes a continuous flow of immediate feedback. .

SECOND: Community is supported. The user groups are incented to promote the events of others. Groups get paid for selling tickets for events run by other organizations. This builds community.

THIRD: Quality is supported. Groups doing the best job get the most votes at purchase time.

FOURTH:All groups remain independent but very connected, via the ticket. This encourages and supports a diverse ecosystem. The mechanism to accomplish this is the coded ticket, which is a boundary object. A boundary object is an object held in common across social worlds:

“Boundary objects are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds.

FIFTH: Optimization. The entire community is now optimized on quality, quantity, value and merit. This leads to all kinds of emergent cultural effects that become reinforcing as the community employs the coded ticket to provide continuous feedback from the attending public to all organizations in the ecosystem.

SIXTH: Simplicity. For ticket buyers, it is simple. At the time of payment, they enter a code. That code is a vote that explicitly says “send 25% of this purchase to the group of my choice”

I want to see this done in Boston. It is simple to implement and can cause a doubling of user group development and growth by providing a continuous voting mechanism that funnels resources to the user groups which ticket purchasers believe are most deserving of support.

I believe that the simple VPT mechanism can double the size and improve the overall health of any user group ecosystem.


Boundary Objects on Wikipedia


About the Author

Dan Mezick: An expert on teams and a trusted adviser to CxO-level executives worldwide, Dan consults on enterprise-wide culture change, implementing Scrum, and the often difficult adoption of authentic Lean principles.

He creates and teaches specific, useful tools and techniques for facilitating successful enterprise-wide adoption of agile and Scrum. Dan’s articles on teams and organizational dynamics appear on InfoQ.com, ScrumAlliance.org, and AgileJournal.com. Learn more about Dan Mezick’s agile writing here.

He’s the organizer of the Agile Boston user group and a 3-time presenter at Agile2007, 2008 and 2009, an invited speaker to the Scrum Gathering (Orlando) in 2010 and a news reporter for InfoQ.com

Reach Dan at:

dan.mezick [at] newtechusa [dotcom]

You can learn much more detail about Dan via his Agile Coaching page here.