Balanced Team Ann Arbor Has Kicked Off!

A brand new chapter of Balanced Team just got started in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Our first meeting took place on March 30, 2016 at the recently renovated ITHAKA/JSTOR offices in downtown Ann Arbor.

We had a small but engaged and very diverse group, which was the perfect way to kick off the chapter. There was a mix of people who had been to BT events before and those brand new to the idea, people involved in product development and people who are not. There were developers, product owners, UXers, QA engineers, a scrum master, and a project manager. There were people involved in product development and people who are not.  A big benefit to the mix of backgrounds and skills was the many great experiences and perspectives that were brought to the table.

The 2.5 hour event started with chatting, snacking, and name tag making.  After a presentation of Balanced Team’s history and values from Beth LaPensee, we moved into open space discussions.

Voting for open space topics.

Voting for open space topics.

The following topics were voted on and discussed throughout the evening. These were all really of the same flavor and blended together nicely:

  • Challenges with becoming lean within an organization
  • Dealing with pre-established designs/ideas as you transition to lean methods
  • Kicking off cross-team partnerships within organizations
  • What are some strategies one can implement to enhance collaboration between people with different roles?
  • Techniques for engaging stakeholders and customers into the design and development process
  • What are some strategies for striking the “right” balance of skills on a team?
Balanced teamers sharing their thoughts.

Balanced teamers sharing their thoughts.

Two recurring themes were evident throughout the discussion:

  1. The importance of good communication and the entire team having a shared vision of the “why”. Some suggestions of tactics to try:
    • Spend time explaining something to someone who doesn’t “speak your language” – try different techniques like sketching or pairing (see below)
    • Use tools/techniques with your team that get everyone engaged in discussions about goals and vision. Try impact mapping or story mapping.
    • Be open with your team about what your personal development goals are.
  2. Pairing as one of the fastest and most effective ways to develop empathy for your colleagues AND to further your own skill development. Things to try:
    • Developers can pair with a Product Owner, for example. This can be helpful because abstracting the technical concepts for a broader audience can also help the developer think about their work differently, more holistically.
    • Pair to develop empathy with your team members or others at your organization. You will learn what you can do to make things better for them.
    • Pairing can also be good for skills development, whether you want a deep dive into a known area or get an introduction to something new.

And there were some leftover topics that we didn’t get to.  There are surely some great discussions in here, so we’ll hold on to these for next time.

  • Balanced team with remote members… can it work? If so, how?
  • How to overcome parts of the team not being in the same location
  • Great tools for team communication
  • How can we advocate for QA having more time with UX team in hopes of better balance?
  • Roles of “project manager” or someone overseeing a project
  • How to combine lightweight discovery (UX) with TDD?
  • Balanced “team” as an individual?
  • Co-locating with team and with others
  • I have a great idea – how do I test it out?
  • Give developers empathy around what drives the business.
BT A2 members

BT A2 members (the ones who stayed to the very end, anyway!)

Everyone is looking forward to the next BT A2 gathering! Watch the MeetUp group for future events.

Thank you to ITHAKA/JSTOR for generously providing the location, snacks, and supplies!

Balanced Teams Ann Arbor Kick Off!


Balanced Team Ann Arbor is getting started!

On Wednesday, March 30 at 6PM we’ll host an evening of open space discussions on Balanced Team topics. Join us to get the conversation about building and working on multi-disciplinary, collaborative teams started.

Register on Meetup

To facilitate conversation, we’ll follow the Open Space format. The agenda is in your hands, so please bring your ideas or topics of interest. Possible topics could include: your lean success stories, challenges you are having as a member of a product team, transitioning to lean, collaboration within your organization, experimenting and learning from your users/customers, learning from mistakes, combining the different view points of different team members and stakeholders in an optimal way, etc.

Hosted and Sponsored by ITHAKA/JSTOR

Venue, drinks and snacks will be provided courtesy of ITHAKA/JSTOR, located at 301 E. Liberty St — corner of 5th and Liberty St. on the 3rd floor. If you want to attend, register on Meetup.

About Balanced Team

Balanced Team is a global movement of people who value multi-disciplinary collaboration and iterative delivery focused on customer value as a source for innovation. We’re a self-organizing group that learns from each other as we explore processes and methodologies to do good work with happy teams. We welcome people who wear many hats (design, development, testing, product management, marketing and sales, to name a few).

If you’re interested in Lean Startup, Agile, Lean, Agile UX, Lean UX, Devops, Customer Development – or anything else that values multidisciplinary collaboration and iterative delivery – we hope you will join the conversation!

Balanced Team London Salon 2015 – Post Event

On a damp, dark Saturday morning in November, a group of like-minded designers, developers, product managers, agile coaches, business analysts and project managers got up bright and early to meet at the Pivotal offices in London, UK for the Balanced Team London Salon 2015.

After a hearty, cooked breakfast (thanks Pivotal!) we kicked off with a presentation from Johanna Kollmann on the history of Balanced Team. Then participants interviewed each other and introduced each other in the opening circle. As the Salon was an unconference, with the help of post-its and sharpies kindly provided by Unboxed, we then co-created our agenda for the day.


We broke into discussion groups to share case studies and offer advice and support and share techniques and tips.

After lunch Adrian Howard facilitated a Failure SwapShop. This is a really fun game created by Luke Williams (@alukeonlife), who explains more on his blog:

For those not familiar with the failure swapshop it follows a very simple format:

  1. “Hi my name is ____ and I failed”
  3. Explain your failure
  4. Share the lessons learned

There are only 2 rules:

  1. We’re all friends
  2. Share only the lessons learned

The aim of the session is to encourage people to discuss their failures in a safe and supportive way, sharing only the lessons learned with those outside the room.


It’s surprising how good it feels to stand up in front of a room of people, share your name and say you’ve failed and hear a deafening cheer in response! Several people volunteered to come to the front of the room and share their own failures and lessons learned. This was a great way to bring the group back together after lunch, and set the scene for the afternoon. A few people commented on how they were keen to try this game at work. I think many organisations could benefit from encouraging their employees and teams to celebrate and learn from “failures” in this mutually supportive way.

Shared learning from Failure Swapshop

What the participants thought

Quite a lot of people who participated had never been to a Balanced Team event before. Here’s what some of our “newbies” thought of the event…

Francis Rowland, Senior UX Designer at EMBL-EBI


“It was a tough start to a Saturday morning, waiting for a train down to London, shivering in the cold drizzle. In the end, I was really happy I went along to the Balanced Team Salon. Apart from the frankly top notch food and refreshments, and the good-sized location, I particularly appreciated the feeling of the whole event: egalitarian, focused, open, and supportive.

I think everyone I talked to, from developers to product managers, event organisers, to other UX designers, wanted to find a way to share experience, so that we could all get better and doing what we do and working with other people.

There was no preaching, no dogma; there were no role-related factions. Everyone pitched in, the format provided ample opportunity to focus on important things; new relationships were formed, and I think most people came away with a positive feeling, and having learned something. That was certainly my experience.

So this “salon” turned out to be what I hoped it would be, and I’d happily do it again.”
Francis also captured what he learned in his amazing sketchnotes.


Marine Barbaroux, Service and Product Designer at Cambridge Consultants


“I’ve been following the Balanced Team group for a while, but never participated in any of their events. I love the philosophy behind the group, and I admit I was a little worried that the audience would only be designers… But it wasn’t the case.

Quite the contrary, actually: the audience of the event was diverse, only with the same interest in multidisciplinary teams that can actually deliver. The format is very simple: at the start of the day, people had explained what they were hoping to get out of the session, and it didn’t take long for many discussion topics to be generated. Somehow -don’t ask me how- I  ended up facilitating a discussion around the role of a designer in an agile environment, and it was nice to see that other people struggled where I do.

Despite the gloomy day outside, the atmosphere was good and warm: it felt really good to be mingling with new people who are happy to share their experience and failure. For me the day was a great success:

  • I made some contacts to help me with my daily job, passing on the agile love in my team (hint: subscribe to the Balanced team google group!)
  • I learnt how to actually get people to share their failures (and learning) in a fun way. It’s common understanding now that failing isn’t an issue as long as we learn, but it’s still a bit taboo in some teams… the technique explained in this post will be great help!

So yes, all in all, it was a good day. I left with new contacts, a warm feeling inside, and the trust that people are happy to give up their Saturday to help their community… isn’t that great?”

Lessons Learned

After the event, the organisers Johanna, Michele and Spencer had a retrospective to capture lessons learned. Our top lessons were:

  • Compared to previous London events, we had more first-timers than existing Balanced Team members. This meant that fewer folks had prepared stories to tell or case studies to share. Lesson learned: reach out to previous attendees before the event and ask them to prepare/contribute/lead sessions (e.g. sharing a case study/story, lightning talk).
  • Find space for smaller, break-out sessions and discussions. One open space worked for a small group in 2014, but did not work that well for our rather large group this year.
  • Organise an energising, facilitated post-lunch activity involving all participants – like Failure Swapshop.
  • We put effort into inviting a mix of roles, to reflect the balanced team theme, and achieved diversity in attendees. We recommend to approach sending out invites to the event with this in mind.
  • Actively seek participant feedback and re-plan throughout the day. A list of facilitation techniques would have been helpful to do this even better – something to prepare for next time.

Finally, if you run a not-for-profit, volunteer event, what do you do with any leftover cash? Due to the kind sponsorship of Cultivate, Pivotal and Unboxed, after covering the evening drinks bills we still had enough money left over from the small event fee to donate 8 places to Crisis at Christmas. This may be a model other Balanced Team Salons could consider.

Closing Circle

Balanced Team Salon: London 2015

On Saturday November 21st, a group of poly-skilled developers, designers, researchers, academics, entrepreneurs and product managers will be meeting for the Balanced Team Salon: London.

Come join us! 
Get your ticket on Eventbrite

If you’re interested in Lean Startup, Agile, Lean, Agile UX, Lean UX, Devops, Customer Development – and anything else that values multi-disciplinary collaboration and iterative delivery of value – you’ll find this of interest.

Rough schedule for the day:
10-11am Breakfast, make new friends, meet old ones, generate conversation topics.
11am-3pm Break out group discussions, fishbowls, etc.
3-4pm Share learnings, closing circle, tearful goodbyes.
4pm Drinks nearby at a venue tbc.

Do come: If you want to spend a day actively learning with your peers.
Don’t come: If you want to sit down and listen passively to presentations.

Thank you to our sponsors Pivotal Labs, Cultivate and Unboxed Consulting for making this event possible.

Pivotal Labs
Bentima House
168-172 Old Street
London EC1V 9BP

Balanced Team Salon: Chicago


Balanced Team is hosting a spring Salon in Chicago on May 2nd, 2015 from 10am–3pm. It will be an open un-conference format focusing on sharing our experiences and good conversation. Those new to Balanced Team are encouraged to attend. Also, it will be a time to get the conversation started ahead of the Balanced Team Summit in Grand Rapids.

Those attending will help set the topics for the day in the collaborative spaces of Pivotal Labs’ Chicago office, inside the Merchandise Mart. We will have Balanced Team experts coming in from all corners to share their experiences.

Space is limited to best encourage good conversation, so RSVP today. Pivotal Labs will be sponsoring food and drink throughout the Salon.



Balanced Team Los Angeles Salon


Balanced Team Los Angeles is back and will be hosting an evening of conversation and consumption on May 20th, 2015 from 6:30PM to 9PM at Rhubarb Studios in Downtown Los Angeles.

If you’re interested in Lean Startup, Agile, Lean, Agile UX, Lean UX, DevOps, Customer Development—and anything else that values multidisciplinary collaboration and iterative delivery of value—you’ll find this of interest.

To facilitate conversation, we’ll follow the Lean Coffee format. The agenda is in your hands, so please bring your ideas or topics of interest. Balanced Team experts will be on-hand for those interested in learning more.

A HUGE thank you to Pivotal Labs for providing the food and drink!

For early arrivers (6:30-7:00), there will be a drone flying demo and a chance to ride a Onewheel.

Space is limited and registration is open, so register today.

Balanced Team / LeanUX NYC Social, April 15th 2015


In cooperation with LeanUX NYC, Balanced Team is hosting an evening of conversation and consumption on April 15th, 2015 from 6PM to 9PM. CompStak will host at 36 Cooper Square in Manhattan.

To facilitate conversation, we’ll follow the Lean Coffee format. The agenda is in your hands, so please bring your ideas or topics from the conference! Balanced Team experts from around the country will be on-hand for those interested in learning more.

And to facilitate consumption, beer, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be provided courtesy of Catalyst Group, CompStak and Pivotal Labs.

Space is limited and registration is open, so RSVP today.

Getting from LeanUX NYC to 36 Cooper Square

A Balanced Team tour guide will lead a group to 36 Cooper Square after the first day of the conference. Just keep an eye peeled and an ear open: we’ll rally somewhere at the conference venue and head over together.

To get there on your own…

  • Share a taxi or ride-share service. You can get from Brooklyn to Manhattan via the Williamsburg bridge. That’s 5 miles or 15 minutes without traffic ($15+ by taxi).
  • Take the subway. There are several routes that will work, depending on how far you want to walk, so check these Google Maps directions or buddy up with a local.
  • When you arrive, just look for the Village Voice building, and head to the 6th floor.

Balanced-Lean 2015 Map 36coopersq

For more information

Contact the event committee.

Learn more about Balanced Team and LeanUX NYC 2015.

Balanced Team Summit 2015 interview

Rick Harlow and I had the pleasure of interviewing with West Michigan-based magazine RapidGrowth about the upcoming Balanced Team Summit. Here’s a nice little excerpt :

“To me, if I had to explain the value proposition,” says Harlow, “it would be: Everything from startups to large companies, everyone from experienced people to people just trying to learn about it. And hopefully it becomes, similar to that story map: We’ve structured an event to allow for a purposeful conversation around, what does it mean to work among a diverse group of people with different skills and talents to accomplish things?”

Please check it out here, rebroadcast to your social circles, and then purchase a ticket for the event! Enjoy!

Balanced Team Summit 2015: Tickets Available Now

We’re excited to announce that tickets are now available for the upcoming summit in Grand Rapids in June. Early bird ticket sales will run through February 15; standard ticket sales will begin after that. There are a limited number of early bird tickets available, so buy now and save some cash while you can! We’d greatly appreciate your early support.

Visit the event website for more information on ticket sales, and of course the event itself.

Your planning committee: Matt Fletcher, Lane Halley, Rick Harlow, Brittany Hunter and Gail Swanson.


Our call for proposals runs through February 6. We’re pleased with what’s come in so far, but we would love to hear some more ideas for great talks! Visit our CFP page for more information.



Balanced Team Salon, NYC, April 19, 2015

Update 3/11/2015: A Balanced Team / LeanUX NYC Social has been scheduled for April 15. The NYC Salon will be pushed back to a later date.

Please save the date for a Balanced Team Salon on Sunday April 19, 2015 in New York City! It will be hosted by CompStak at 36 Cooper Square in Manhattan. The planning committee includes Jonathan Berger, Ray Delapena of Catalyst, and Jeff Domke and Rick Winslow of CompStak.

The session will run for a half-day starting late AM or afternoon, depending on the Lean UX NYC conference schedule and visiting attendees’ plans.

The event will include brunch/snacks, beverages, socializing, small group break-out sessions and a recap, similar to prior BT Salons. Topics are entirely open for consideration, and we’ll solicit ideas soon.

Looking forward to making new friends visiting for the week, and seeing NYC BT’ers, too! More info to come…