Open Space Technology – my experience

Leave a comment

Introduction

In this article I want to introduce Open Space Technology. As it is the most efficient and effective kind of problem solving meeting I get to know so far I want to share my experience with you.

Open Space Technology - User Guide by Harrison OwenOpen Space Technology is effective in situations where a diverse group of people need to deal with complex and potentially conflicting material in innovative and productive ways. It is particular powerful when nobody knows the answer and the ongoing participation of a number of people is required to deal with the question. In the Open Space environment people tend to be creative, synergistic and self motivated.

Open Space Technology was created by Harrison Owen in 1985 and combines a complex problem solving meeting with the spirit of a coffee break.

Discovering Open Space Technology

The first time I heard about Open Space was in late summer in 2009. I was participating the Scrum Gathering in Munich with some of my colleagues. It was an excellent conference with lots of interesting sessions, field reports and practical exercises. It was the first time that I attended such an agile conference at all and I was impressed by meeting so many like minded people. As I started learning Scrum mid of 2008 by private study and gained first experience by implementing Scrum in my R&D Team, I had not so much exchange of experience so far. Thus it was amazing for me to listen and talk with people who are doing Scrum on a longer term and practice the Framework Methodology.

Beside all the Sessions at the Scrum Gathering there was an Open Space organized in the lounge of the Hilton, where the conference took place.

To be honest, at that time I did not understand how OpenSpace really works and I missed the facilitated opening as it was a Guerilla Open Space. Thus for me it seemed that it was not facilitated. There were just some comments from the Organizers of the Conference that there is an OpenSpace for talks. To participate you just should place your topic at one of the corners for a special time and then wait who comes and also wants to talk with you about this topic. Ok, I understood what was explained but as this took place beside all the organized Sessions it seemd a little bit strange for me.

Seeing Open Space from the Inside

Half a year later Deborah Hartmann Preuss, an excellent agile Coach, organized an OpenSpace  at my employer within an agile training. And that was the point when I started realizing what OpenSpace really is, how it works and how it needs to be organized and facilitated. For outsiders OpenSpace looks easy – when it is well prepared and well facilitated, and this is exactly the crucial skill you need to have to run an Open Space event – in my opinion

Here are the simple rules and principles for Open Space:

The Law of two feet:

If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing: use your two feet and go someplace else. You are encouraged to quietly withdraw and become either a Butterfly or a Bumblebee. A Bumblebee joins another group, perhaps fertilizing it while a Butterfly flies round or joins other Butterflies for informal discussion.

The four principles:

  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it’s over, it’s over

drawing of a meetingYou need to organize space for sessions. These spaces must be equipped with flip charts and whiteboards or panels. In addition you need different Markers, StickyNotes, IndexCards, ball pens and/or felt pens, chairs in a circle and perhaps tables. Depending on the overall topic you need eventually more stuff to organize.

Additionally you need enough print outs to document the participants, outcomes and follow-ups for every session…

In the space for the open planning there must be the marketplace organized with a large panel where you can visualize the session rooms and the initial time slots in a matrix. There must be space to hang up IndexCards.

Then you also need enough IndexCards and felt-pens. Off the mark you need to place posters with the rules and principles of OpenSpace. There are just a few rules but they are very important and existential to explain to have it work and make the unconference valuable.

How It Feels to Run an Open Space Event

Before the beginning of the OpenSpace event at my employer, which was organized by Deborah, I was a little bit afraid if it could work in our company, as I just had my experience from the Scrum Gathering in Munich which was rather disappointing for me.

Given that I was supporting Deborah by organizing the OpenSpace made me feel curious as it was something completely different to what I saw half a year ago in Munich. And when we started our unconference I was more and more surprised and encouraged that this Open Space had absolutely no chance to fail, everything made complete sense to me and as Deborah is such a phenomenal facilitator she started introducing Open Space to the participants which was totally energizing. And it worked. We had a great marketplace with lots of sessions and it took us about 20-30 minutes to fill the whole matrix of spaces and time-slots.

action plan - example for follow upsAt the end of the day we had an amazing outcome. We posted all flipcharts and documentation of the sessions on the walls of our large conference. We had lots of follow-ups and action items planned. This was the beginning for a lot of creative collaboration and the starting point for much better communication between fellow workers. And I’m delighted to say that this event was a milestone for our company in our agile transition.

Applying Open Space to Technical Topics

Some month after this event we had an additional OpenSpace event in one of our R&D sites where the overall topic was a little bit more technical. You need something like a core relational theme that is still open but should put boundaries a little bit the topics so that people know why they are coming. For example, when you have an overall theme like cooking, you could have topics like, desserts, breakfast, dinner, ingridents, how to set up a kitchen etc.

The OpenSpace in our R&D Site was on the second day of a two day workshop, The first day was more strategic, about gaining insights for a technical framework. So the first day was a perfect preparation, so that participants came up with related topics and ideas so we could talk about how to address hurdles which were found in the strategic outcome one day before.

At the end of the day there were lots of valuable outcomes, follow-ups and action items, again. It developed understanding for complex topics, for example: insights about crossfunctional teams for technical problems and challenges which need to be addressed. Communication between teams increased. And once again this Open Space event was a milestone for our agile development in the company.

Trying it On My Own

In December 2010 we organized a two day agile workshop for ProductOwners. The second day was reserved for an OpenSpace. About two weeks before the workshop started, the main facilitator for theses two days got an urgent invitation from senor management with the result that he was not available for facilitating the Open Space event. I was helping to organize this event and I had already collected different experiences with OpenSpace, in addition I’m an experienced Facilitator, and so I started to think about if I could facilitate the Open Space by my self. It was not easy to decide, as Open Space needs a proper preparation and good facilitation to be successful.

After some mindmapping for myself I dared to prepare and at the end, to facilitate this OpenSpace event. I had some support from Deborah in preparing all the stuff and she helped me in mentally reviewing the upcoming Open Space. You’ll find some interesting links at the end of this article which helped me preparing.

the Market Place

As the event starts I was a little bit nervous. But after facilitating the first minutes and explaining the audience what Open Space is, I calmed down and just came into a good flow of facilitation.

The participants came up with a lot of great and expectant topics. Thus it was no surprise that the marketplace was filled up in just a short time.

And once again, Open Space worked. There was so much valuable outcome, community building and again follow-ups to concentrate on later. The only special thing this time – I facilitated it for myself, made a great experience and guided the people for whom Open Space was new through a great unconference.

My Conclusion about Open Space

Open Space events are powerful, efficient, effective and highly recommended kind of meetings, where all participants deal with complex and potentially conflicting topics in an innovative and productive way.

Further reading:

(Special Thanks to Deborah Hartmann Preus for proofreading this article)

Agile Meteorites

Leave a comment

Time: 15 – 25 minutes (10 – 30 people)

Requirements: a stopwatch, different balls or toys for pets

Objective: Icebreaker, simulation of flow and TeamWork – Varaiation of that is the BallPoint Game

(out of Erich Ziegler’s ‘das australische Schwebholz)

Get to know each other

The whole group is standing in a circle – including the facilitator, he is the starting and end point. The facilitator starts to throw a ball to a person – establish eye contact before you throw the ball – this is important for all participants!

The person who catches the ball call out loud her full name. It is important that the person who has thrown the ball memorizes the full name of the person who catched the ball, needed for the next round. Now the person who catched the ball throws it to the next person with the same purpose – the person who catches the ball call out loud her name and the person who has thrown it memorizes the full name. At the end of the first round the ball took a zigzag round through the circle, so that everybody gets the ball exactly once and the ball is back where it started – at the facilitator.

Meteorites - Flow

Note: everybody need to take care that the ball does not fall to the ground!

Get into the flow

Starting the second round.

The facilitator establishes eye contact to the person he has thrown the ball in the first round, calls her name out loud and throws the ball to that person again. The person who catches the ball continue, establishes eye contact to the next person of the first round, calls her name out loud and throws the ball to that person again and so on.

A second time the ball zigzags through the circle in same order as before. This order is maintained throughout the whole game.

Let the ball flow through the circle for two rounds. When starting a third round, more and more balls (or toys) are brought into the game by the facilitator.

Target is to get into the flow, take care that people are concentrated and that the group takes care of each other.

After some rounds, the facilitator removes every ball (or toy) which arrives at him until the whole flow stops as there are no more items in the game anymore.

Ask the group what they observed and how has it felt.

Starting the Teamwork Challenge

The facilitator steps out of the circle and picks up the Stopwatch.

The person who catched the ball from the facilitator in the rounds before is now the start and end point. The objective now is to reach the best time the ball, just one in this level, need to flow once through the whole circle in the maintained order. The time starts when the first person throws the ball and is stopped when it reaches her again.

You will reach about 1:30 min in the first round, playing this game with approximately 20 people.

Challenge them to do better – let them find their own shape – they don’t need to stand in a circle anymore but the maintained order is still a precondition and that the person who starts throwing the ball is also still the end point. It is also required that every person touches the ball exactly once.

Perhaps they will find a shape which looks like the following picture. Be aware that this shape requires that the person who starts throwing the ball runs to the end point after starting the game so that she is able to catch the ball at the end.

Meteorites - Flow - Solution 1

Maybe they will reach a time about 45 seconds now.

Challenge them that they can do better – best result for a group of this size is 13 seconds!

After 2 or 3 rounds they will probably shape into one big cluster, forming their hands recreating a tube top down. The first person drops the ball in the tube at the top, get down to the floor and catches the ball when it arrives at the ground.
Maybe they find a complete other solution.
What is important, they now will work as a team, trying to reach the best time.

Now you don’t have a group anymore, you have created a working team. They might reach a time about 10-15 seconds.

Ask them what they observed, how it felt to be challenged and how they feel right now.

Make a debriefing and close the game!

how I became a certified StrategicPlay® Facilitator

Leave a comment

standard LEGO brickWhen I was a child, I was addicted to playing with LEGO®. It wasn’t unusual for me to wake up at 4-5 o’clock in the morning, even before going to the kindergarten or later to school, dump my tons of LEGO® in my whole playroom and start building models, spacecrafts, airplanes, fantasy buildings – whatever came to my mind.

This didn’t change until I get my first computer – at the age of 11!

I sold all my LEGO® for next to nothing at a flea market when I was 12 years old and never was sorry about that until nearly 2 and a half years ago.

LegoStoreAt that time, I had a walk through the city of Cologne and discovered a LEGO® store. I stopped gazing at the showcase and was totally fascinated to see Star Wars models built with LEGO®. I just had to enter the store and at that moment my mind changed immediately into the mindset of a young boy.

I walked through the store and was looking at all the bricks with the eyes of a 10-year-old. Incredible!

After this event I found myself more often in the toy department when I went shopping. And even more often, I bought LEGO® bricks or sets instead of buying food.

One year ago a key event happened. As I have been an Agile Project Manager and Certified ScrumMaster for about 3 years now, I was participating in an agile training in my company in spring last year as we are currently working on an agile transition to change the way we work.

We had a three-day training on agile principles and methods with external coaches. On the second day there was an agenda topic which was strangely called hands-on solutions with LEGO®.

I was delighted by the prospect of playing with LEGO® but had no idea which serious background this might be.

Olaf Lewitz, a StrategicPlay® Facilitator, did a workshop based on LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY™ (LSP). InStrategicPlay logo the beginning Olaf explained that LSP is a methodology for exploring and dealing with real opportunities and issues in real time and that it’s a process for groups and teams for thinking, communicating and problem solving. Amazing!

We had an interesting session with lots of fun in team building with StrategicPlay®. What a great experience. We used LEGO® for getting insights we never would reach by a simple discussion. My brain starts sprinting by these exercises. Awesome!

After this three-day training on agile principles which I helped organizing, Deborah Preuss, one of our agile coaches, asked me if I would be interested to help organizing a conference for agile games. I was delighted that she asked me and as I love to play serious games it was a pleasure for me, even if I did not know how such a conference could look like.

Some weeks later I was invited to participate in a two day planning workshop for that conference.

Hamburg WappenI arrived at a Friday morning in Hamburg and was a little bit late. When I entered the office where all the organizers for that conference met, I started to realize where I was: It was the office of Jens Hoffmann from Hoffmann Consulting and his wife Katrin Elster from StrategicPlay®. They share a big office. Was that real? I was at the heart of StrategicPlay®, the heartbeat of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY™? I was overwhelmed and daunted in once and a little bit nervous. There were 10 people sitting around a large table and I took a seat too.

This was the beginning of two days full of creativity, inspiration, energy and pure passion. Katrin, Mrs. StrategicPlay®, facilitated the planning workshop as a large StrategicPlay® session based on LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY™. It was incredible; we created the vision for the unconference for games for agile teams.

Katrin did an amazing job. After some warm up exercises with LEGO®, everybody started to build his own vision for this unconference. Afterwards we all build a shared model together where all individual relevant vision parts were put together to one common and broader vision. The Play4Agile was born!

We all had a great weekend in Hamburg and at this point I’d like to thank all participants for this experience which was unique for me. Thanks to Katrin Elster, Christine Neidhardt, Deborah Preuss, Ilja Preuß, Jens Hoffmann, Olaf Lewitz, Martin Heider, Jens Korte, Heiko Stapf and Andreas Thier. From the start of these two days I felt like arriving at home!!!

Some weeks after this impressive experience, Olaf facilitated a second, more extensive session with LSP in our R&D Site in Trier at my employer. Topic: ‘How to build a framework fit for feature teams’. And the outcome was one more time absolutely incredible! All critical voices from the beginning, ‘we don’t want to play LEGO®, we need to work on our issues’ went silent. Out of this second session we extracted guiding principles we’re still following.

My third session with LEGO® convinced me that I had to learn these StrategicPlay® Facilitator skills because it is such a great tool for gaining insights about oneself, impacts you’re struggling with and how to solve them. It creates a valuable outcome which no human brain is able to obtain by discussing, brainstorming or even just thinking about. You design strategies you should concentrate on for reaching a special goal. And most of all – it seemed that this tool was especially created for me!

passion in StroyTellingThus it was unavoidable that I participated in the StrategicPlay® Facilitator training by Katrin Elster and learned how to use this fascinating tool in a serious way. Last week I received my Certificate as a StrategicPlay® Facilitator and I’m looking forward to create my first workshop on my own to help teams and organizations to focus on realizing goals by using creativity.

In addition, at the last weekend the Play4Agile (#p4a11) unconference for Games for Agile Teams, which we started planning last year in Hamburg based on StrategicPlay® took place in lovely Rückersbach, near Frankfurt. It was a great success, participants loved it and I see so much overwhelming comments on Twitter about #p4a11. Great!

Today, three days after this unconference, I’m still totally energized by this happening, meeting friends, new friends and most of all we are all loving Serious Games and also some silly games which were just fun.

Yes, Serious Play rocks and I’m looking forward to facilitate my first workshop with LEGO®! Huuuuuuaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

Newer Entries