How to Make Your Agile Workshop Effective
How to Make Your Agile Workshop Effective
This article describes the key strategies to make an agile workshop engaging enough for the participants.
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The Agile movement that took off with its formal journey around the turn of this century is turning 20 soon! Millions of IT professionals, consultants and academicians have read about, written about and practiced the Agile values and principles in the last couple of decades. That is testimony to how solid those principles are and how they are valid in the dynamic, ever-changing business and technology trends.
You may also like: Explore the Scrum Values Workshop
Today, when an organization gets ready to transform itself into the Agile ways of working one of the first things that they do, is to get their workforce trained in the Agile values and principles and a chosen Agile model.
Typically this training is delivered in person in a workshop format – not through remote Video/Audio sessions. Often the objectives of this workshop would include ‘hands-on’ sessions to enable the participants to experience the Agile ways of working as they get ready for their Agile journey through the organization’s transformation.
This article describes the key strategies to make this workshop engaging enough for the participants. Implemented well these strategies will render the workshop effective as the first step to meet the organization’s broader agenda of transformation.
Understand the Audience
- Get a view of the background of the participants – The division/department they represent, their roles and key responsibilities.
- Assess their Agile experience – Are they completely new, are they familiar with Agile practices, are they somewhat experienced in implementing Agile practices or are they very experienced in Agile concepts and practices Eg. played a key role in an Agile team.
- Make them articulate their expectations from the session and how they could contribute to the organization’s Agile transformation journey – Just by asking each one to speak or asking them to write down their points in sticky notes and paste them on the walls so that the facilitator or other participants could read out to the class. When it is clear upfront that certain expectations would not be met in the workshop make that clear to the participants and suggest any pointers for help.
Provide the Big Picture View
- Start with the question ‘Why the organization is embarking on the Agile transformation?’ Summarize the objectives of the transformation and the Key Performance Indicators. Where available show them the Transformation Roadmap.
- Explain to them that the leadership is committed to implementing changes in the ways of working. Show them who is driving the transformation and who are all involved in taking the strategy forward through the organizational hierarchy. If available, show them the structure of the team that steers the transformation agenda. An example of a team structure is shown below.
- If available play a short video of the Sponsor or a leader from the Agile Transformation Office speaking about the significance of the transformation initiative and how the teams could participate and benefit.
Engage the Audience
Presenting a bunch of slides or delivering a monologue could soon leave the participants bored. It is critical to get the audience engaged and make them experience the fun of learning. Here are some tips.
- Organize the participants into sub-teams to participate in group exercises and games.
- Pack the session with exercises – these could be group exercises or challenges or scenarios given to individual participants to think through, solve and present to the group.
- Have a set of games handy and use the appropriate ones at the right time. Typically these could be planned just after the breaks to energize the participants.
- Have the agenda items as physical stickers. Draw up a Kanban board and move the agenda stickers on the board from To-do through to "Done". This is more visual and experiential than showing an agenda slide.
- Time-box all agenda items including the breaks, exercises, and games. Keep reminding the participants about the time-box. Use stopwatches/online timers as appropriate.
- Provide ample opportunities to the audience to describe their specific contexts and scenarios which they may want to share with the team, seek viewpoints and understand different perspectives
- Ask questions and encourage each participant to speak. Often only a few members in the sub-teams speak. If that is the case encourage everyone to speak, may by asking engaging questions to people who haven’t spoken yet.
- Initiate debates on key topics so that the teams could put forward their viewpoints and agree with / refute points from other teams with the sole objective of learning as a group.
- Frequently quote from your experience as an Agile practitioner. Describe anecdotes, stories and funny moments relating them to the Agile concepts and principles.
Make it Visual
- Have key content posters and display them on the walls of the room. Typically the Agile Values and Principles, Scrum Framework, INVEST principles and such foundational contents could be displayed ad posters.
- Use flip charts, color pens, and sticky notes liberally. In group exercises that include team presentation, ask the audience to write their points on the flip charts and present them to the team. This makes a significant impact compared to a team member just speaking without any visual aids. Where relevant ask the individuals to ‘like’ the points in the posters. And call out the point that received the maximum number of ‘Likes’.
- Show supporting videos at appropriate intervals. This not only helps break the monotony but also brings multiple perspectives to the audience.
- Where necessary and feasible get a practitioner to make a guest appearance and speak to the audience for a short time – say 10 minutes – narrating their experience in implementing Agile DevOps principles, challenges, good practices and benefits that they have seen.
Take Care of Logistics
- Make sure to take care of the logistics well in advance. Do a dry run of the presentation to verify that the laptop, the projector, the audio, and video equipment work as expected.
- Have enough moving space in the room to enable the participants to move to the walls to paste their flip charts or take the center stage to make their presentation.
- Try to have round tables in place of rectangular ones. This will enable better team discussions.
- If coffee/refreshments would be served during the session make sure to provide advance information about the breaks to the caterers/facilities /admin team. Where needed have dedicated space/table for the coffee/refreshments to be served.
- Make sure to have space to temporarily store the used flip charts and sticky notes during the session so that they are not scattered around in the room distracting the audience.
Have a Co-Facilitator When Required
Sometimes having a co-facilitator will help in cutting the monotony. Especially when the workshop is a long one and involves heavy content, switching between two individuals will make it interesting for the audience.
It will also help one of the facilitators plan the next segment of the session while the other facilitator is presenting. When conducting group exercises and games a co-facilitator would well support providing ‘on-the-scene’ guidelines or instructions and maintaining the schedule.
Feedback needs not to be only at the end of the workshop through a formal questionnaire. Agile is about Shift-left, fail fast and learn fast! Seek interim feedback from the audience. At the end of the session, you could do retro and identify what went well and what would need improvement.
You could also interact with the participants during the breaks and feel their pulse on what they like and what else they might want. Make adjustments to your presentation, delivery style, etc. based on interim feedback. In many cases, you may not meet the same participants again in an Agile workshop. So make sure that their feedback is made useful to them in the same session!
Prepare, Prepare, and Prepare!
- Prepare for the session well in advance. Even if you are an expert on the topic it is important to prepare for delivering a given session.
- Even though you might have conducted the workshop many times before make sure to go through the content a couple of times before the workshop. This will help you make any tweaks based on the potential; expectations/context of a given audience.
- Plan for some changes in the games and exercises in your workshops each time. This will make you creative and help you put key points in perspective using different examples.
To conclude good Agile workshops will add significant value to the transformation journey of the organization and stay in the minds of the participants and stakeholders for a long time! The initial one is a crucial first step in the organization’s Agile journey. It is critical that it is effective and provides a jumpstart to get the teams motivated and look forward to contributing.
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