Monday, 13 March 2017

Agile Principles 104

After trial and error, doing and studying, reflecting and more reflecting from my experiences of teaching the agile principles as described in Agile Principles 101, Agile Principles 102 and Agile Principles 103, a flash of insight came to me after running some facilitated workshops with clients.

One of the reasons I love to teach is because I get to meet so many inspiring people! Another reason is that I learn so much more, and so much quicker as well!  So teaching the agile principles to 1000's has also helped me learn them, and learn about them in so many ways I could never have appreciated the first time I read them!

Anyway, back to this story! I had been facilitating collaborative sessions with different people in different workshops for a few years. One of the great things that work well in collaboration sessions with any number of people, is breaking up the big group of people to work in sub-teams. Depending on the objective, carefully selecting sizes between pairs/triples/quads/pents/6's produce good results, or better results.

I came across the excellent Training From the Back of the Room and The Ten Minute Trainer by Sharon Bowman who puts these kinds of insights across extremely well!


In these books and in her training sessions, I learned the new teaching paradigm - "the person doing the most talking is doing the most learning". 

Talking causes us to formulate abstract experiences in our memory into concrete communication efforts - which means we need to more fully understand those vague things we think we know. It also allows us to get validation and/or corrective feedback from others we share with.

For this learning objective, sub-teams of 4 work best. 

The even number causes much more thought, talking and strong consensus by all sub-team members on any range of logical points discussed, as well as greater emotional impact than other sizes.  These sub-teams cause everyone in the entire session to fully engage in the topic because everyone has a voice and much more likely to be heard. It's true! (and it's common sense...) :-)

I mentioned this approach to one of the younger agile coaches I was working with at the time, and he tried it in his next training session. He came back with positive results. In the glow of the successful moment - he also mentioned this approach to a few other agile coaches...and now it is spreading organically. Nice! :-)

I explained this approach to another 1 of my long-term agile collaborators and he has been using it ever since. Chris C convinced me to blog this approach so that everyone gets the benefit. And now I have. Enjoy!

The method

  • Timebox the whole module to 30 minutes
  • Ask the trainees to self-organise into balanced groups of 4 - they need to discuss and figure out what balance means to them. Sometimes it is gender, age or role based, or combinations of all these and more. Balance is always good thing to discuss and dive deeply into.
  • Ask them to self organise the writing of the 12 agile principles down on large super sticky post-its, in a 3 minute timebox. They need to coordinate and work fast together.
  • Ask the teams to rank the agile principles from the most important (at the top) to least important (at the bottom) in single list, in a 5 minute timebox.
  • Ask each team to number each post-it with eg a black pen so that we can know later what the ordering was.
  • 1 person from each group then volunteers to give the entire group a 30 second pitch timebox about why they chose the order they did - highlighting the decision making as well as perhaps any contention in the team.

Post Mortem 1: Much deeper understanding of what is important and why to the organisation and how that is reflected in the ordering of the agile principles that cover people, process, technology, customers, market, culture and pretty much every other "lever" an organisation has

    • Optional, fold-in
      • Get each group to pair with another group and then combine their orders into 1 consensus ordering of the 12
        • Repeat until all groups' 12 principles are folded into 1 single consensus list and the big group is whole again. Any odd number group waits until the next round when there will be even number groups again.
    • Update the post-its with their "global" ranking
Now, ask them to return to their original sub-teams in front of their own post-its. Take all the post-its off the wall to reset the next round of ranking.
  • Ask the team to now rank the agile principles from the easiest (at the top) to the most difficult (at the bottom) to achieve in their environment, in a 5 minute timebox.
  • Again number them, this time in a different colour pen eg green
  • Again ask for a group's volunteer to tell all the others what their ordering is, and why, in a 30 second pitch timebox.

Post Mortem 2: Much deeper understanding of the art of the possible in the organisation as people disagree from their own experience and perspective what is easy and what is difficult. This can be a heated conversation when senior managers are involved but, in terms of creating that shared understanding of reality, invaluable to bring on and manage the friction!

    • Optional, fold-in
      • Precisely as before, "pair" the groups and get them to create a single consensus list of easy to difficult
      • This one will probably require much more time as people generally have totally different perceptions, but this is also the beauty of transparency and shared understanding.

The Final Post Mortem

Deeper ownership, accountability and understanding throughout the aligned trainees - win! Also, the opportunity to use this output to create the initial backlog to become more agile - i.e. transformation begins with everyone on the same starting block/page. Ie, win, win, win!

Many people - myself included - had horrible experiences and/or horrible feedback from our time in school or post-school education. As a result, some became uncomfortable at voicing their opinion or knowledge in front of others. Groups - especially large ones - intimidate most. 

This approach helps everyone to connect with fewer people and share+receive a lot more as a direct result. Hence the learning that happens actually is deeper and hence more useful and usable for trainees. The optional fold-ins suggested, though they take a little longer, cause deep alignment amongst attendees. And you can use this approach for many other topics, and not just for training modules - workshops too!

Definitely this is a great approach, if not the best approach, to teaching and making the agile principles much more "sticky" in the learners' hearts and minds.

For my full collection of hard ground, hard sought, and deeply dug pearls on agile mindset f0undations - please read What Is Agile?

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