Yesterday in Leeds, we welcomed to the Malmaison hotel a host of senior representatives of businesses and organisations across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors for a workshop exploring skills and behaviours required of digital leaders.
To frame this exploration, we invited our guests to participate in two Agile simulations, or Agile 'games', facilitated by our expert coaches Mike Robinson and Laurence Wood.
We find simulations to be a fruitful way to explore real-life situations and challenges in a safe context – allowing participants to reflect on what tends to drive our behaviours in the workplace and how we can improve.
First, Mike ran a session of the Coin Game. This well-known simulation demonstrates a key principle of Lean – that smaller batch sizes optimise flow along the value stream.
Workshop participants were invited to work in teams on a 'production line' with two timekeepers representing the customer and the CEO. Progressing from one end of the production line to the other, participants were asked to turn 16 coins and pass them to the next person in line, ending in delivery to the customer.
Different scenarios were played out over several rounds. First, all 16 coins had to be turned before they were passed to the next person in line. Then, batches of four coins; then one; and then different batch sizes for each person in the line. The customer timed how long it took to receive the first batch, the CEO how long it took to receive the last batch.
This simulation prompted a discussion around the importance of being able to dedicate whole teams to a project or work stream. Some of the workshop participants explained how difficult it is in their organisations to enable people to devote 100% of their time to projects, with staff often needing to work across several projects or to split their time between projects and BAU (Business As Usual) work. But as the Coin Game helps to illustrate, flow is optimised only when teams are dedicated to the work.
Cancel the Vacation
Laurence next ran a simulation called Cancel the Vacation to prompt a discussion around the importance to digital leaders of prioritisation.
Our workshop participants were asked to form groups, then collectively agree and write down six elements of what makes for a great holiday. Having done this, they were asked to stack those elements in order, from most important to least. Then, they were asked to apply MoSCoW prioritisation (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won't have this time). Finally, they were asked to decide whether the absence of any of the must-haves would really result in them cancelling their holiday.
Digital leadership should be about planning rather than plans – and about conversation rather than writing. Consequently, the simulation from the start encourages people to discuss the elements of a great holiday face-to-face, rather than tasking an individual with isolating themselves and write a specification over which they then feel ownership. Face-to-face discussion encourages shared ownership and is aided by visualisation, displaying sticky notes on the wall.
Prioritisation is a vital leadership skill in digital organisations and so it's vital to understand what it requires of leaders. Everyone agreed that leaders often cause challenges for teams by categorising too many features as high priority. The simulation accordingly prompted them to consider what 'must-have' really meant.
With 'stack' prioritisation (arranging the elements of a great holiday in order), the participants instinctively started to define processes with each other and to reach broad agreement. But when they were asked to do a MoSCoW prioritisation, the discussion became more contentious and more difficult, but also much more useful – definitions of what exactly was meant became clearer, and engagement in determining what was truly important became stronger. In some cases, a #1 priority became a 'should-have' rather than a 'must-have'.
Reinforcing this message, Laurence challenged the participants: if your sibling could no longer come on holiday with you, would you cancel the whole thing? In response, one of our guests provided a real-life example: his team's categorisation of a story as must-have evaporated when he asked whether they would be prepared to come in over Christmas to complete work on it…!
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