26 April 2017

Peer conferences, part 2, checklist


If you want to know more about what a peer conference is, general tips and tricks, different formats etc., do read part 1 first.

Notice, this checklist is based around how we run SWET with a conference center, shared costs among participants, experience reports, abstracts etc. but even if you choose a vastly different format I think a lot of this still applies; there's simply stuff you can ignore.

Finally: I'm in no way an expert but I couldn't find this kind of information so I basically shared my lessons learned... and since SWETish, EASTish and SWET 8 all felt like great peer conferences this, as a minimum, should be great enough.


  • Set the group of organizers (my recommendation 3-4)
  • Schedule a startup meeting (e.g. Skype video or face-to-face)

First meeting

  • Set a date and duration (typically a Sat morning to Sun lunch)
  • Set the max and min amount of participants (my recommendation 10-13, incl. organizers)
  • List potential locations and start the process of booking one of these
  • Set the general format for the conference (see part 1)
  • Decide if you will have an opened or closed (invite only) invitation
  • Start discussing a topic/theme
  • Set organizer deadlines (e.g. deadline for invitations to be sent)
  • Set participant deadlines (e.g. when they need to confirm if they will attend)
  • Set how you will interact with participants (e.g. Slack, email, Facebook or Skype)

Prepare invitation

  • Book the place where you want to hold the conference
  • Decide who you want to invite, if invite only
  • Decide where you want to advertise your conference if open invitation
  • Practical details (see invitation below), e.g. "when should we start in the morning"
  • Send out the invitation (see below)


Email (example, personal invitation):
Hi Helena,

April 1st we will host the first iteration of PCSA at Amalias Hus (http://www.amaliashus.se), Gränna and we would love to have you as a participant! PCSA 1 is an invite only, peer conference. The topic for the conference is "Leading testers". In the attachment you'll find an explanation of what a peer conference is, a detailed description of the topic and other useful information related to the conference.

Why I want you to attend

Ever since we met 2013 you've been my main inspiration on how to lead, coach and support testers, so for this topic I think you're the perfect fit. I hope you can bring a very people centered view point to the questions and your broad experience in leading teams should be a valuable compliment/sanity check to some of the more "test lead centered" participants. I also value your ability to respectfully challenge and question people when you want more details on how they came to certain conclusions. Finally your dedication and passion for testing is something I think will inspire others during the conference, which is important to.

What happens now?
By February 19th we need to know if you'll attend

By March 31st we need to have your abstract

Best regards,
Erik, Göran and Sigge 

Attachment or open invitation:


These are the things I find important to establish with external parties such as the conference center, catering etc. Some of these will not be relevant to your setup, keep that in mind.
  • Price for both minimum and maximum number of participants (hotel, food, facility etc.)
    • Is tax included or excluded?
  • What is included and what is not, in the price above?
  • Here's the schedule we suggest, will this work for you?
  • When do we need to report food allergies/preferences?
  • What food will you serve? (menu suggestion)
  • What facilities will be available to us in the evening?
  • Will there be a bar/snacks available in the evening?
  • When may we check in and when must we check out?
  • What equipment (projector, whiteboard, sound, flipchart etc.) will be available?
  • Do you prefer if participants contact you upon questions or should I do that for them?
  • When is the last date we may change the number of participants? (e.g. cancellations)
    • What will we have to pay for after this date? (e.g. only room, only conference or both)
  • How do you best get to the location with public transport?
  • How much parking space will be available?
  • Can you manage the splitting of costs (including cost for the conference room)?
  • When will we pay (e.g. on check out) and is there a deposit fee?

Waiting for people to confirm

To keep track of invited people setup some spreadsheet/system.
Example: For SWET 8 we had a spreadsheet with the following columns:
  • Name
  • Email
  • Order; we had a list of 30+ names and had to keep track of who to invite first.
  • Who among the organizers invites this person
  • Invited (yes/no)
  • Response (yes/no/maybe, empty = no response)
  • Arrives; we had different prices for arriving late on Friday or early on Saturday.
  • Allergies
  • Abstract sent (yes/no)
  • Comment; e.g. "will answer after the weekend but will probably attend"
We later created a separate list with name, arrival day and allergies so that participants could fill this out themselves.

Handling abstracts

When all participants had sent in their abstracts we set up a new spreadsheet (we like spreadsheets) with one column for the participants' names and one column each for organizers. We then scored the abstracts from 1-5 in our respective column and summarized the result.

After that we listed the top ~8 abstracts and discussed if we wanted that order or if we wanted to change anything; for instance in the case of SWET 8 we had a couple of fairly similar abstracts so we opted to skip one of them even though it made top 4 and then switched order of a at least two other after considering experience, how much discussion we anticipated etc.

Finally we showed the participants the top 5 of our modified speaker list (ranking of abstracts).

Communication to participants

Here are all the things I can find in Slack and email, which we sent out to participants prior to the conference but after all the registration was done:
  • A detailed schedule (see part 3)
  • Food menu
  • Asked for suggestions for evening activities
  • Clarified the topic a bit and gave more examples
  • Feedback to some of the abstracts
  • Who would participate and where they were living to simplify car pooling
  • Reminder of the abstract deadline ~4 weeks and ~1 week before.
  • Kept the participants up to date with our (the organizers) work, e.g. when we planned to set the speaker list etc.
  • Sent out all the abstracts to the participants
  • Various information about payment etc. given by the conference center (see Contracts)
  • Explained the process around the lightning talks
  • Contacted the individual speakers to tell them who would facilitate their talk
  • Various clarifications and details asked for by participants


This may seem like a lot but let's be clear: What you basically have to look into is:
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Who will we invite?
  • What format should we use?
... the rest will come pretty naturally. For instance we (Göran Bakken, Sigge Birgisson and I) had no checklist when we organized SWET 8; basically the first peer conference anyone of us had organized. Most of the details (schedule, food, deadlines etc.) either came from questions/needs that popped up naturally, things that the conference center informed us about and we just forwarded or it was copied from previous iterations of SWET.

... but I wanted you to learn from stuff we for instance though of a little late (like the schedule) so that you can do an even better job than us.

Good luck!

Part 3

Part 3 will cover the actual conference including things like check in, facilitation etc. Stay tuned!

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