Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

How to Set Off a Brown Bag Session in Your Company – In 60 Minutes

First of all: What’s a Brown Bag Session? “A brown-bag seminar, session or lunch is generally a training or information session during a lunch break. The term “brown bag” refers to the packed lunch meals that are either brought along by the attendees or provided by the host.” (Wikipedia) At my current employer it is called Feed Your Brain and at my former employer it was called Pizza Driven Development.

At my current employer I successfully set off a “Brown Bag Session” with minimal effort (60 minutes), so I like to share this experience with everyone who is thinking about setting off a Brown Bag Session at her company but doesn’t know where or how to start.

This is what I did:

1) Find a sponsor – 10 minutes
“Do food” is always good and it is even better if you have a sponsor who is willing to pay for the pizza (or salad or sandwiches or…).
Adequate sponsors for your Brown Bag Session could be HR, CTO or CEO. Those people are interested that company folks get together and learn: Personal development and team building are the magic words. And both can be achieved very low priced with a Brown Bag Session. (The average costs for food for 30 people are about 180 €.)

2) Find a suitable day and room – 5 minutes
Check Outlook (or other tool) to see which convenient room is available over lunch in the next months. Block the room.

3) Find initial speakers – 10 minutes (2 minutes per speaker :))
This maybe the hardest part: Inspire some of your colleagues (you will know who to ask) about the idea of Brown Bag Sessions, offer yourself for the first sessions, ask external friends or ex-colleagues, … If you’re really having problems to fill the speaker slots for the first 3-4 sessions you could even show some TED talks or other conference videos (LKCE, SmashingConf etc.)

4) Inform everyone about the first session – 15 minutes
Depending on your company culture there will be different options how to do this: E-Mail, Intranet, Wiki, Flipchart… Even better a combination of those options.
You should provide at least the following information: What is a Brown Bag Session? Why are we starting this at our company? What is the first session about? Where will it happen (room)? What time? What will be future sessions be about/Who are your speakers? Who to contact if someone is interested to be a speaker in a future session?
Use an easy Google form (or other) to get information with a deadline: Who wants to attend? Who wants which pizza (veggie or non-veggie)?

5) Find a Pizza delivery service (or other) & talk to them – 10 minutes
Exactly. Find it and then talk to them. In my case I stopped by and explained that there would be an easy way for them to earn around 180 € on a weekly basis if they will deliver on time. They liked the idea… 😉
Maybe you even have an in-house canteen or cafeteria? Maybe you have a good reason not to ask them…

6) Order Pizza (or other) – 10 minutes
With the Google Doc (see 4) you know who will attend and who wants which food. Order on time because there is nothing worse than hungry people in front of a speaker. In my case I order already in the late afternoon on the day before the Brown Bag session.

That’s it. Start like this and then inspect & adapt…

Advanced ideas:

  • Think about how to document your “Brown Bag Sessions”:
    We record every Brown Bag Session with a camera and then provide the video plus PDF-presentation in our Wiki. It’s cool to review and there may be people who missed a talk.
  • Ask people what topics they like to hear about:
    Either at the beginning of a session using Post-Its or again via a Google form.
  • Have a shared Brown Bag Session:
    Some people are afraid of or think that they do not have enough to speak about for 1 hour. It is fun to have three different speakers with three different topics in 1 hour. Alternative: Do it like a world cafe with three groups. In that case the initial speaker stays at his table and repeats his talk for three times.

Let me know what you are thinking about Brown Bag Sessions and comment if you’re having trouble to set one off.

Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
Meeting Facilitation, Training

Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts

What are Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts (IFMAs)? 
IFMAs are artefacts that help meetings to get instant feedback in meetings from participants.

Why would you use IFMAs?
All participants should feel responsible for a successful and meaningful meeting; it is not the sole responsibility of the meeting moderator or facilitator. Most reasons why meetings do not produce successful and meaningful results are either endless discussions, lost focus or dwindling concentration.
IFMAs can help to address those causes in an entertaining and easy way by participants themselves.

How to use IFMAs?
IFMAs are introduced at the beginning of the meeting or the workshops. Each IFMA has a name and a meaning. Whenever a participant feels the urge to use the IFMA she grabs it, holds it up high and shouts the name of the IFMA.

Example, please…
Here we go! I experimented with different IFMAs in the last years. Those are my favorites:

Instant I need a break clown Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I need a) Break-Clown

Instant Focus-Police Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I need more) Focus-Police

Instant I'm lost - Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I am) Lost-Professor (please rewind that conversation)

It is important to introduce the IFMAs at the beginning of the meeting. It will raise the willingness of the participants to ask for breaks, focus and orientation and thus help your meeting or workshop to be more successful. You will most probably earn some smiles as well, when holding up those Playmobil® figures when explaining their meaning.

Of course, you don’t have to use Playmobil® (although those are fun). LEGO® might be a bit small here, but a buzzer (on a mobile phone application) or a hotel bell or simply some colored cards will work as well.

Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts

Conference et al.

#p4a14 – Play 4 Agile – My Highlights

For the third time in a row I had the pleasure to participate at Play 4 Agile (Un-)Conference at Rückersbach. Three years ago Play 4 Agile 2012 was my first experience with Open Space technology and even my first encounter with the Agile “Play” Community. (Thanks to Sebs for introducing me back then!)  In review this year’s Play 4 Agile was intense and  enlightening as ever.

My personal highlights from #p4a14 (un-ordered):

Gamification Pre-Event
I felt honoured to be asked to help facilitate the “Gamification” Pre-Event together with Katrin and Thorsten. None of us are Gamification experts, but we were holding three sessions about “Gamification and Agile” at Play 4 Agile 2013 together with Birgit. In the last year Katrin attended the Gamification Class at Coursera, whereas I read some books and articles about gamification and made some real-live experiences with a team at CHIP. 🙂

pre-event Gamification p4a14The Pre-Event was mainly based on Kevin Werbach’s Gamification Design Process. Some results after only 3,5h were amazing and could actually work for real. My 2 favorites were Carpe Diem (Objective: “Experience more life to prolong your life.”) and a prototype on how to make house-cleaning more fun (Objective: “We want a clean and organized house.”). But I think all groups turned out with a valuable result.

“Show Me Your Data”
My session “Show Me Your Data” was about understanding and loving Kanban Metrics. (See my blog post here.) As I played it on several occasions last year (Limited WIP Munich and my new employer) and got lots of feedback on how to improve the game, I tried to bring “Show Me Your Data” to the next level. And I failed! 🙂
After 5 minutes I knew that the changes I introduced were not going to work. So the participants (and me) struggled hard and I stopped the actual game. But then started a (for me) fruitful discussion on how the game could work or could have worked.
Thanks for every participant for their input.
I personally was surprised that I got along with the failure pretty well and saw more the new opportunities that the failure created. (“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”)

Buy me a Feature
It was great to find my new colleague Tom among the #p4a14 participants. At our company we are struggling with prioritization on what to do next (or rather first, as the backlog is overfilled…). To have a common understanding in the company on how hard it is to decide and to reach at least some kind of agreement among managers, Tom introduced “Buy me a feature” to prioritize what should be done next about 9 months ago. We thought it was a good idea to get feedback on this approach. So Tom held a session on how and why we are using “Buy me a Feature” and how the process evolved over time. The participants were curious and gave some very valuable feedback and suggestions on how to improve. Loved it.

buy-me-a-feature p4a14

Creative Suitcase
creative-suitcase p4a14This was probably the best session I attended at #p4a14. Katrin helped us packing our “Creative Suitcase” and selecting reminders on how to stay creative. I have my suitcase with me most of the time and opened it already some times in the last week…

LEGO Serious Play “Time Capsule”
I was happy to co-facilitate a LEGO Serious Play Session together with Katrin, Melanie and Sabine. The goal was to create a Time Capsule on “How I have changed my World in 6 Months”. The participants will get a photo of their model in 6 months time. I was messing around with my GoPro during that session and you can get an impression here:

This year I felt that there were quite a number of spiritual and coaching sessions proposed, and less “play” sessions. I’d loved to have more focus again on “play” next year, but I know it always depends on the people and their interest and energy.

Play 4 Agile is always about people and talking and discussing and laughing. With my life partner Mel (who was attending this year for the first time) we set as a goal for #p4a14 to have as many laughing fits as possible and we think, we did quite well! 😉

Play 4 Agile 2015 will take place on February 20-23, 2015. Can’t wait.

Good Question!

Helpful Questions For Deciding On The New Job

In November I switched jobs. This post features a list of questions I asked myself and the possible new employers before I decided on the new job.

Switching jobs can have different reasons. I was lucky as I decided for myself to switch, so I could take my time to find a new employer and tried not to rush myself. I felt privileged because I didn’t have any difficulties to be invited to job interviews.

Nevertheless, job interviews mirror only a small extract of the working reality: Normally both sides try to represent themselves as glory and shiny as possible. Consequently, it will always be a bet when deciding on a new employer (or a new employee). The whole truth mostly reveals only 6 to 9 months after starting on a new job.

There is nothing much you can do about that.
Accept it, try to ask the right questions and carefully listen to the answers in the job interviews.

The following questions I either asked myself or the possible new employers during the job interviews. Finding the answers helped me with my final decision.

  • How was I treated as a job candidate? (How long was the reaction time on my application?
  • How was I treated before the first, second and last job interview?)
  • How is the company evaluation on kununu.com? What’s the general image of the company?
  • How big is the new challenge?
  • Could the company clearly define the expected job duties?
  • How much Change Agent vs. Project Manager vs. Agile Coach is asked for?
  • Is the company’s vision and mission clear and was it mentioned in the job interview? (Do I like it?)
  • Do I like the company’s product(s)? Do I understand them?
  • How much budget is there for future training?
  • How much fun can I expect?
  • What impression did I get from my future colleagues?
  • Can I get more inside information from ex-staff members? Maybe even the person who formerly executed the job?
  • How authentic was the impression of the company during the job interview?
  • How many leave days?
  • Is there a company pension plan or something comparable?
  • What’s my impression of the company’s building? About the working space? (Also a view of the restrooms can tell a lot…)
  • How much money will I earn?
  • What’s my perspective in this job in 1 or 2 years?
  • What’s the decision when I listening to my heart?

There is one outstanding question I would advise everyone to ask and then do:
Can I work for 1 or 2 days at your company?
The reaction on this question itself should already tell you a lot about the company…

I spent a day at two potential new employers and it helped me a lot with my decision: When spending a day or two with your potential new employer you will notice a lot of things you will never see during a job interviews. The observations help you to find better answers to the questions above…

During the time of the job interviews I also read “Decisive” from the Heath Brothers. They introduce the WRAP process to make better decisions: Widen Your Options, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, Prepare To Be Wrong.
Definitely a good reading when you are switching jobs… 🙂

Please let me know if you found this post helpful. If you have any remarks or more questions that could help, feel free to leave a comment below.

Meeting Facilitation, Scrum

SWOT Matrix: Validating results after 4 months

Have you ever used the SWOT Matrix? Did the results bring about a decision? And then? Have you used the results after some time to validate your decision again? This post describes how I used a SWOT Matrix to help a team to try working with Scrum. After 4 months we validated what we thought then defined as strength, weakness, opportunity or threat.

A “SWOT analysis (alternatively SWOT Matrix) is a structured planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture.”
Prepare a four-square quadrant using 4 or one huge flip-charts. Each quadrant is named one of the following words: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

SWOT MatrixStrengths: characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others
Weaknesses: are characteristics that place the team at a disadvantage relative to others
Opportunities: elements that the project could exploit to its advantage
Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project
(Source: Wikipedia)

I asked the team to write on post-its what the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats are if we try working with Scrum for 3 months. After everyone had finished writing, explaining and sticking their post-its, we simply clustered the post-its and then dot voted the cluster (“What are the most relevant cluster for that quadrant?”).

SWOT Matrix

By now the SWOT Matrix helped the team already to identify and address all factors related to the change (“Try working with Scrum”), both positive and negative. It also helped team members to understand that they are not the only ones who see a threat or an opportunity. Or the other way around: Team members understand that their identified weakness of the change might as well be ruled out by several strengths of other team members.

Having identified all the factors with the SWOT Matrix I pushed them in a direction with the final question: “How high is your resistance to try working with Scrum for 3 months?” (I made some good experiences in the last months with avoiding “Yes-No-Decisions” but rather to start an experiment with asking about the resistance to something and then try to reach an agreement.) As the resistance to try it was rather low, we worked with Scrum in the last 4 months.

P1010096

This week we validated our decision to work with Scrum and as well checked which of the assumed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats really came true.
It was great to review the dot voted clusters from 4 months ago and then validate if those have proved true. For this purpose I simply prepared a flip chart with a range from “yes” to “no” next to the names of the cluster and asked for each “After 10 Sprints: What has proved to be true?”

As a result we had a good discussion about the clusters that didn’t turn out to be true and what to do about it. (Could be a nice topic for a post as well. :)) Again we finished the meeting with asking about the resistance to keep on using Scrum. As you can see: There is hardly any resistance.

P1010097

Conference et al.

Knackered at Lean Start Up Machine Munich

“Lean Startup Machine (LSM) is an excellent excercise in learning how to validate ideas quickly and figure out which of your assumptions are wrong.” (Jameson Detweiler, Co-Founder & CEO LaunchRock) There is actually not much more to say about the Lean Startup Machine event which I attended last week-end (Aug 9-11, 2013) in Munich. Besides: I hated it, I loved it, it had an unsustainable speed, it was exhausting, it was intense, I learnt a lot, I definitely got out of the building, I am very happy I could attend it and, yes, I definitely recommend attending a Lean Startup Machine when there’s one near you.

Lean Start Up Machine Munich

Made it stick:
Don’t ask “Can I build the product.” but rather “Should I built it.”
If you are familiar with the Lean Startup books, you know this already. Still people think and talk very quickly about a solution before validating their assumptions about the problem. LSM forces you to start with the problem, validate it and only then start to think about a solution. Which helps is the following:

Don’t think “Minimal Viable Product”, but rather “Minimal Viable Experiment”.
If you start with a product already in mind, you are more likely to restrict yourself. If you think in experiments you are and think more likely open. LSM teaches you hurtfully that most (of your) product ideas will turn out not to be working. But you learn that fast, as:

Lean Start Up Machine MunichNobody can predict the future.
True. I knew that before, but forgot. So do a lot of people: they are trying nevertheless, like to draw a plan, spend a lot of money and find out much later.
The same is true about LSM: I expected more fun, took it too easy, hated the mentors who kicked our a****, then tried harder, was still frustrated, but felt really happy in the end. And also on the following day.

This was the output of the team I was working with at the end of LSM Munich:

  • A simple landing page with a possibility to select emails of interested persons
  • At least 20 face to face interviews, including a simple Concierge MVP approach
  • Facebook Page, Twitter Account to drive traffic to the landing page
  • A reasonable insight that the idea could work and how we can move on
  • Several empty bottles of beer and pizza boxes (Thx for the catering again!)

Related articles in the WWW:

Books, Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

Activity for Team-Building event: The one thing…

The other week the team I’m working with as a Scrum Master had their first team event. We tried an activity that I found quite useful: The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting.

Some of the team members know each other already from working together in former teams, others just joined the team or our company and are not very familiar with the others. Our team event was planned for only half a day, the activity was an ongoing activity until the team stand-up the next morning.

At the beginning of the event I presented The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting simply on a flip-chart with a QR code and explained the rules:
team building activity

“During the event find out one thing about every team member that you didn’t know before the event. Remember it and post it via the Google Drive Form that is linked to the QR code.”

The Result

The result the next morning was a long list of things we discovered about our team members that we didn’t know about before the event. So with 10 team members we gathered over 90 things. Of course, everyone got access to the list and could read what the others found out about others and about oneself.

Not all of mentioned things can be taken seriously, but we definitely learnt new stuff about the others. When we start to share other aspects of our lives than work with our colleagues, we also start to speak openly with them about other things. Here is again a connection to Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. (Read related post “Job or Joy” here)

the one thingWhy I liked the activity?

  • It is an on-going activity during the team event.
  • It is easy to generate via Google Drive From.
  • It has a straight-forward list as a result.
  • It has a “Nerd” flavour. (Uuuh! QR code! Uuuh! Type in stuff with my mobile phone! Uuuh! So cool. :))
  • It influenced the “quality” of small-talk during the team event as you needed(wanted to gather data…

If you try this activity, please let me know your experiences.