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An Attempt at Using Open Space Technology

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An Attempt at Using Open Space Technology

John Vester talks about the benefits of using Open Space Technology to talk about technology issues with the engineering group at his corporation.

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On the last Tuesday of the month, my team offers an afternoon session called "Tech Tuesday." During this event, one of the thought leaders of our team provides a deep dive into a particular technology, framework, pattern, etc. This is in contrast to lighter-weight "lunch and learn" sessions that are also hosted at our location on a periodic basis.

Given the Thanksgiving holiday and planned vacation times, we decided to try something different for the November Tech Tuesday. We decided to try the purpose-driven concept of Open Space.

What Is Open Space?

Open space technology is defined by Wikipedia as follows:

Open Space Technology (OST) is an approach to purpose-driven leadership, including a way for hosting meetings, conferences, corporate-style retreats, symposiums, and community summit events, focused on a specific and important purpose or task — but beginning without any formal agenda, beyond the overall purpose or theme.

Aside from having an overall purpose or theme, there is not a formal agenda, but one is determined by the participants themselves as part of the session. In our case, it was an ideal time to have attendees bring ideas with them on just before our long Thanksgiving holiday.

How We Implemented Our Open Space

The meeting invitation was updated to let everyone know that we were going to try an Open Space event for our next Tech Tuesday. The ask was that attendees plan to bring all topics that they wish to discuss during our session.

When everyone arrived, the allocation of time was broken down as follows:

  • 15 minutes: attendees documented their ideas on Post-It notes.

  • 15 minutes: ideas were grouped and placed on white board, attendees were allowed to vote on their top three choices.

  • 90 minutes: topic discussion (highest voted first, then next highest until time was utilized).

Our Results

In our 90-minute discussion period, we were able to discuss the top five ideas. One of those ideas was noted as "beer fridge" and was initially added for humorous purposes, but gained traction when a C-level executive questioned if it was actually a possibility. He was not opposed to the idea; he just needs to understand all the potential ramifications and risks before going forward.

The other four ideas represented challenges that had been either pain points or technology ideas for quite some time. Again, having the C-level executive present (which was not planned or expected) made a significant difference to the productivity of the session.

In one example, the team wasn't happy with the current set of tools in place for builds and deployments. The executive told the group to survey the market and determine alternatives that remove the roadblocks that are currently in place. As a result, a Proof of Concept is now being planned, which has had a very positive impact on our group.

Conclusion

Use of the Open Space concept turned out to be a very productive session for our engineering group. During the topic discussion portion of the event, we were able to work through some challenges and even reach a consensus within sub-topics of the items that were discussed. Having a C-level executive attend the session, with decision-making ability, was an unexpected bonus which allowed some items to become actionable after the event concluded.

While I don't expect to use Open Space for most of our Tech Tuesday events, I believe there is value in holding Open Space sessions on a periodic basis.

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Topics:
agile ,open space technology ,work life

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