How to Facilitate a Large Open Space Event

Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue

Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue

Facilitating an open space event looks easy and actually involves a lot of preparation—in advance of the event and the day-of. Planning for an appropriate room setup, thinking about how to layout the marketplace, identifying enough rooms/spaces for the group size… there’s more to it than walking around a circle and explaining the principles of open space!

Jake Calabrese and I co-facilitated the open space at Scrum Gathering San Diego earlier this year, and we had many, many conversations leading up to the event about how we could make it easy for all 1000+ people to connect and participate.

We talked about how the chairs would be setup—there was even a brief question of whether or not to have chairs. We discussed having mirrored marketplaces on two separate walls to make it easier for people to see the all of the proposed topics. We debated ways to engage the full group—all the way to the person in the last row who might not be able to see across the room. And we tossed around methods to share the principles and law of open space to connect the group with the structure.

Most of our plans were thrown away the day before the event when we saw the physical space.

And all of our planning was incredibly helpful.

Facilitating an open space can feel like taking a leap across a huge valley and hoping others will do the same. It’s significantly harder when you’re talking about a large group. Because Jake and I had spent so much time talking about—dreaming about—how we wanted the open space to be, we had developed a strong alignment to serve the group. The event was not about the two of us. As we walked around the empty ballroom with its 1100 chairs, one solid wall for posting topics, and quirky square-shaped layout (it’s hip to be square?), I wondered how we were going to bring the energy we wanted into the space.* Honestly, I was worried.

We re-imagined the marketplace setup to use one wall and allow for someone to take photos of each session time easily—that enabled for sharing on the ballroom projectors and social media. Sticky notes to indicate locations for each time were created, so people could easily identify a space for their topic; this avoided the format and readability challenges of a grid on the wall and also made it easy for additional spaces to be identified and used.

Posters were colored and hung throughout the ballroom and spaces with the principles and law of open space. Logistics were redesigned and taken care of the day before.

The morning of the event, Jake and I walked into the ballroom together. People were there and excited about the lightning talks that were going to be starting the day. And my nerves calmed. We sat together in the back corner and listened to the lightning talks. The speakers were fantastic, and the group loved the humor they sprinkled throughout. The cheesier the joke, the more they loved it. I enjoyed hearing the group laugh together and wanted to amplify it. Minutes before we opened the space, Jake and I huddled together to get clear: all of the logistics and planning and details were out of our hands (we gestured throwing that stuff away), and we chose what feeling we wanted to bring in (silliness).

We started in the center square, did not walk around the full shape, and then Jake followed his instinct to engage the back of the room by running to the back edge of the group. And I shocked him by running to the other side to engage another part of the group. In the moment, it was the only thing that could have happened. There was a group wave that was electrifying to be in the center of. We referred to the principles and law of open space that had been printed in the conference programs. The process to populate the marketplace was explained, and we got out of the way. I have never witnessed a group—especially one so large—be so organized and thoughtful in announcing topics. There were two microphones setup, and a line formed at each; they naturally alternated speaking without outside facilitation. It was beautiful.

With the marketplace populated, it was time for lunch. We’d been worried that the group would lose energy going to a break right away, and it didn’t seem to mar the day. Jake and I nearly face-planted into our meals as our bodies crashed from the adrenaline high we’d just experienced. We had been well-used in service of the group.

*If you find yourself wondering how to bring energy to a room, the secret is in the people in the room! I’d worried myself silly because I’d been sitting in an empty room the day before. The warmth and enthusiasm of real, live humans is far easier to work with than a room full of empty chairs.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Analyzing the System through Value Stream Mapping

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

In any organization, there exist a multitude of processes and activities, and it’s not always clear how the work groups are connected to one another. Each group can optimize its processes, but how does that impact the overall organization?

In helping organizations become more agile, I get to learn about the various ways that people inside and outside of the technology group do their work and how that work fits together. How does value flow through the organization to customers? In order to be more aligned, efficient, and able to pivot, a clear understanding of current processes and activities is needed.

That’s where value stream mapping helps.

I recently facilitated a value stream mapping exercise with representatives from all parts of an organization, IT and non-IT. After explaining the concept and goals of value stream mapping, the group started outlining at the whiteboard how they work today. The first version was high-level and showed how work flowed from one group to another before reaching the customer. A more detailed version highlighted the variety of tools used to manage work at various stages and the complexity of the system. Processes existed for many different workflows, and it was difficult for the group to create a clear visual of how value flowed through the organization. Realizing how difficult it was to see the full system was a powerful discovery on its own. And even without a perfect visual, potential problems and gaps became apparent that could be addressed.

Inevitably in any organization, there are handoffs between groups, redundant activities, and complicated processes. The ability to recognize those potential areas of waste can be difficult. In introducing techniques like value stream mapping, we are enabling transparency across work groups and the ability to make decisions that optimize the whole system rather than component areas. An entire organization can increase its agility when its employees understand how their work fits into the big picture and are able to adapt their work to better achieve the organization’s goals. That’s incredible.

So if you want to help your organization be more agile, consider facilitating a value stream mapping workshop. Invite representatives from the respective work groups, introduce the concepts and goals, walk through an example value stream map, and watch what emerges from the group.

 

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The Importance of Facilitation Skills in Scrum

Photo by Eva

Photo by Eva

A great facilitator can make Scrum events meaningful and productive, not just for the current product or work but also for the overall health and development of the team.  The facilitator controls the process and does not provide content, so the team and other attendees are responsible for generating the output—his role is strictly one of helping the group manage the information they already possess, or can access, to achieve a necessary result in a timely and collaborative manner.  He makes it easier for the group to work together.  What might that look like?

A great facilitator can: 

  • Keep a group focused during Sprint Planning to understand the Sprint Goal and the work of the Sprint.  Each team member is engaged and participating in the conversations, disagreements about the goal or work are constructive, and the Development Team can clearly explain to the Product Owner and Scrum Master how it intends to accomplish the Sprint Goal and create the anticipated Increment.
  • Enable the Development Team to keep the Daily Scrum to 15 minutes that improves communications, eliminates other meetings, identifies impediments to development for removal, highlights and promotes quick decision-making, and improves the Development Team’s level of knowledge.  The team feels energized for the day afterwards.
  • Foster collaboration during Sprint Review between the Scrum Team and stakeholders about what was done in the Sprint and the next things that could be done to optimize value.
  • Lead an empowering Sprint Retrospective where the Scrum Team improves its development process and practices to make it more effective and enjoyable for the next Sprint.  The team becomes stronger through open and honest discussion as it Inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to people, relationships, process, and tools.

If you want to develop your facilitation skills, the Agile Coaching Institute is offering its Agile Facilitator class in Dallas on November 12-13.  It’s a wonderful course that provides techniques and practice–I attended it last year and came away with some new ideas on how to facilitate meetings that has been really beneficial!  For more information about the course, please visit the Agile Coaching Institute website.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

A Retrospective on Listening (and Talking)

Photo by Britt Reints

Photo by Britt Reints

Do you know how to design a retrospective to be engaging, produce new thinking, and lead to clear actions for the next sprint?  I find it to be an exciting challenge to facilitate great retrospective, so much so that one of my friends refers to me as the “Retrospective Diva.”

This week I had the opportunity to design and facilitate a retrospective for one of my teams, and I wanted to share not just what I did but how and why.

Context

The team is working on a very large and important project, which has kept them feeling busy and overwhelmed.  In meetings, team members are often multitasking to keep up with the workload.  Talking to team members one-on-one, I found that they have ideas about how to address some of the project challenges better and feel like they talk about the same problems in retrospectives only to find that nothing changes.  Team members are ready to adopt changes, but there are some destructive conflict behaviors (both active and passive) that need to be addressed.

Defining the Retrospective Goal

After talking to individual team members about what they wanted to address in a retrospective, I found it difficult to identify a common theme.  I reflected on the situation more and realized that they were talking to their manager and me… and I wondered what it was like to not talk as a team about how things were going.  I recognized the indicators of unhappiness present in their body language and tone of voice, and I realized that they were too distracted in meetings to recognize what was being said and not said.  It was clear: the team needed to think about listening and talking more openly.

Designing the Retrospective Agenda

Now that I had selected the goal, it was time to outline the retrospective itself.  How could I provide safety for everyone to participate?  What activities should I use?  Where did the team need to look for future actions?

Set the Stage - 5 minutes

I would only have one hour for the retrospective, so I had to plan my time wisely; knowing how important it would be to have everyone participating, I wanted to engage them within the first five minutes.  In Set the Stage, I would explain the retrospective goal and how I selected it to gain their buy-in and approval to explore it for the hour.  To establish a light tone and invite participation, I decided to open with a quick show of hands--who liked to talk?  Who liked to listen?  Who liked to work alone so they didn't have to talk or listen?  I made sure to laugh as I said the last one.  

Gather Data - 10 minutes

As I thought about what kind of data I wanted to have the team reflect upon, I kept coming back to the question: what is it like to not talk as a team about how things are going?  I wanted them to recognize the differences between the open flow of communication and the communication they’d been experiencing.  The metaphor of a traffic light came to mind.

  • Green – Speaking honestly and fully what’s on your mind / hearing what is being said and how it is being said
  • Yellow – Guarded or cautious in what you say / hearing the words being said but distracted as a listener
  • Red – Not speaking at all or advocating strongly for your ideas / checking out or being closed to other ideas

To gather data, I described the red/yellow/green metaphor and gave each team member a piece of paper with a traffic light image on it.  They indicated on the paper which color best represented the last sprint for them and collected them; I shared the overall results on the whiteboard at the front of the room by putting a check mark next to the color indicated on each paper.  What did they notice about the results?  Were there any surprises?  

Generate Insights - 15 minutes

To generate insights, I wanted them to discuss in pairs what it was like to be in a particular color—red, then yellow, then green.  This way each person would be encouraged to participate and speak more openly.  Rather than let the pairs discuss all of the colors for a long timebox, I wanted to break it down into separate timeboxes for each color with some group sharing in between.  

Decide What to Do - 20 minutes

After reflecting on what it felt like to be in a particular color and what caused them to be in that place, the group could brainstorm options on how to get more green in the next sprint (decide what to do).  I made a note to myself to be prepared to ask questions so it would be clear what the actions are, who the owner is, and how the team would know they succeeded at the end of the sprint.  

Close the Retrospective - 5 minutes

To wrap up, I would recap the action items and how they would be reviewed periodically during the sprint and in the next retrospective, thank everyone for their participation, and invite them to give me feedback outside of the meeting.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Providing Safety as a Coach, Facilitator, or Scrum Master

Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation

Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation

Have you ever been in a meeting where you could’ve heard a pin drop because it was so quiet?  Where people were not saying what was on their minds?  Why does that happen? 

Hint: it’s usually related to a lack of safety in the room

Where does safety come from?

Someone once told me that my competence provided safety to the people I coach—a lovely thought, and I can see truth in it.  My experience and knowledge allow me to provide teaching and mentoring, as well as reassurance that you’re not stuck with the status quo.  And I also see where my expertise occasionally makes others feel less safe—afraid that they will be caught doing something wrong or breaking rules.  In those moments, it’s as if I embody someone’s own conscience.  Safety has something to do with how you show up and create the environment, and it is also dependent on how others show up and interact within the environment.

I’ve seen the silent meetings occur when the facilitator ignored the group dynamics and neglected to create an environment for everyone to freely share opinions.  And I’ve also seen the silent meetings happen despite a facilitator doing just about everything in his control to foster a judgment-free environment.  Sometimes people aren’t ready to open up.  Skilled facilitators work hard to help people share and participate in meetings, and sometimes people are not ready for that right away.  Perhaps “getting real” is uncommon, either for the individual, the team, or the organization.  It can take time for folks to feel comfortable voicing their opinions; the facilitator must provide the safe environment at every opportunity so it is there when they are ready.

The art of providing safety

From June to October, I spent some of my weekends building a trebuchet with friends for the annual DFW Trebuchet Toss Off.  It’s a fun activity, and I enjoy being part of a team that builds something tangible (far different from my day job!).  This was my third year participating, and my role is that of Safety Czar.  Because honestly I’m not much of a builder, and I can’t carry much physically, but I do pay attention to group dynamics and making sure that those who are about to use a power saw are wearing safety goggles.  We had a lot of challenges this year with our trebuchet, and my schedule didn’t allow me to be at every build. I feel like I didn’t really fulfill my role this year.  I noticed when certain people were disengaged during the builds where I was present, and I didn’t do much to pull them into the active conversations.  I didn’t take a strong enough stand against some of the physical safety issues; while no one was really hurt, we did cause some damage that could have been prevented.  That doesn’t feel good. 

Coaches regularly see the places where people become uncomfortable—whether it’s the person who isn’t ready to face the real transformation that lies ahead or the team that isn’t ready to take the next step.  The coach stays with them in the moment and uses her skills to deepen the learning and forward the action.  It is not easy to do.  In fact, it can feel exhausting.  Listening intently, asking questions with curiosity, acknowledging and championing the strengths you see, and challenging old thinking… all in service of the person/people you are coaching.

I think that’s the key to providing safety: acting in service of them.  A Scrum Master assigned to a new team can facilitate an amazing retrospective and draw out the introverts if he acts from a place of serving the team as a whole.  A coach can ask hard questions of a team and provide a reality check if she acts from a place of serving the team.  If you act from a place of right/wrong, us/them, waterfall/agile, or win/lose, then safety is lost.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Facilitating Great Sprint Retrospectives

Photo by AlienGraffiti

Photo by AlienGraffiti

Last month's DFW Scrum user group meeting was on Overcoming the fear of Sprint Retrospective.  I love retrospectives, so I was excited that the group was going to talk about them for an entire night.  Here's why the topic was suggested:

Sprint Retrospective is by far the most underutilized and under appreciated meeting. Team members dread to go these meetings. Every Scrum Master has his own technique on how he overcame this and still there is always room to grow. Can we request a retro meeting please? Where we can share some thoughts on how different Scrum Masters of our group handle it & has seen success? :)  Thanks

I agree that retrospectives are probably the most powerful and most underutilized ceremonies in scrum.  And I think it's because most people don't know how to facilitate them well.  Excellent retrospective facilitators know how to instill trust for openness and sharing, inspire creativity and brainstorming to generate new ideas, read the room to pick up on what’s not being said, handle conflict in a positive manner, maintain the timebox, and guide group decision-making.  How do you learn to do all of that?  Below is a lunch and learn presentation that outlines the format of retrospectives with some tips and tricks:

Great retrospectives don't just happen--they are the result of good planning and facilitation.  Thankfully following scrum means a facilitator gets an opportunity to practice his skills each sprint!

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Agile Facilitator and Coaching Agile Teams classes coming to Dallas

Photo by philosophygeek

Photo by philosophygeek

I am SUPER-EXCITED to share that Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd from the Agile Coaching Institute will be coming to Dallas the week of June 9th offering two of their classes: the 2-day Agile Facilitator and the 3-day Coaching Agile Teams.  You can sign up for one class or both, and registration is online at http://www.agilecoachinginstitute.com/class-schedule/  This is the only scheduled standalone Agile Facilitator class so far this year--perfect for those who have already attended the 3-day CAT class!

Lyssa and Michael are incredible instructors, and last year the 3-day CAT class opened my eyes to the full spectrum of skills a coach can use.  I am really looking forward to June!

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

End-of-Year Retrospective on Learning and Change

Photo by Roy Wangsa

Photo by Roy Wangsa

It's the end of the year, which makes it a perfect time to reflect and show gratitude, and I facilitated an organization-wide retrospective at a lunch and learn to do just that.  It's been a long year with a lot of hard work, and it feels like the benefits are becoming visible to all.

As a quick check-in, I asked the group to describe 2013 in one word, and to further set the stage, I followed their thoughts with a short summary of the organization's wins.  There was a lot of learning and growth that took place over the year, and it was worth exploring.  They broke into small groups and drew pictures of what it felt like to learn and change in 2013.  The creativity was great--an exploding brain, a juggler, a rainbow above blooming flowers and rainfall…. WOW.  This gathering of data and generating insights revealed that learning and changing had been difficult, but it had been worth it--YES!

As an agile coach, I felt obligated to ensure some valuable action came out of this retrospective even though the year is nearly over, so I asked the group: who helped you to learn and grow in 2013?  Each person wrote down names of individuals and then selected one person to thank by the end of the week.  We closed by talking about what people are excited about learning next and how to best use the lunch and learns in 2014.  It was an overwhelmingly positive session.

I've already seen some Thank You notes floating around the office, and I'm hopeful to see more over the next few days.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Using Games in Retrospectives

Photo by David Maddison

Photo by David Maddison

Retrospectives have been a hot topic amongst my Scrum Masters recently as they focus on their facilitation skills and helping their teams improve.  They're channeling the true purpose of sprint retrospectives and experimenting with different activities.  It's amazing to see this group learn from each other and watch the excitement spread to their teams.  Activities from Innovation Games and Agile Retrospectives are being used; one Scrum Master tried the Non Musical Chairs game from Tasty Cupcakes and shared feedback via email with me:

It was  HUGE hit and very successful!!

I think they loved being ‘not just sat there, writing or talking’ as it as an active retrospective, which involves moving, thinking quickly and working as a team.

I’m very happy with the retro method and so is the team.

Only problem now is to find something better to do for the next one!! A great problem to have!

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.