Five things I learned by teaching a training course “from the back of the room”

Our Agile Foundation Certificate training course is delivered using a “back of the room” approach. Almost all teaching points are taught using activities, discussions and self-authored presentations. We don’t use Powerpoint, we don’t use a screen projector. We do use internet searches, two-minute talks, Lego, balloons (with faces on them), Jenga blocks and origami.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned from delivering the course a dozen times:

  1. BOTR (“back of the room”) really works. Lugging a suitcase of Lego and Jenga up the stairs on the Tube I sometimes think it would be better to just talk to a slide deck. But the feedback that we get for our course is almost entirely positive. People seem to like it. And our pass rate is currently ninety-five percent, so they also remember and understand what they’ve learned.
  2. Showing is better than telling (especially for skeptics). We explore Agile techniques using physical activities and we encourage our delegates to research various Agile methodologies online and come back, not only with praise, but also with criticism (‘one star’ Amazon reviews of a method’s textbook are often a good place to look). This approach seems to work particularly well with people who are skeptical or unconvinced about whether an Agile approach will work for them, or for their project, or ever.
  3. People want to hear about real Agile projects. When we’re not delivering Agile training, our “day job” is working on Agile projects, maybe as ScrumMasters, maybe as Agile coaches. People really want to hear about this real-world experience. It’s a distinct advantage of using Agile practitioners to deliver the course.
  4. People take games very seriously. Even though the tasks that we set people in the training aren’t really important, people get totally absorbed. And that’s a good thing. We can use games in the training room to show important ideas in a safe (sometimes called a “safe-to-fail” environment). But it also means that if you’ve got any complex points to communicate – you should do them before you get out the Lego.
  5. Once you’ve tried BOTR – it’s hard to imagine doing it any other way. We’re now looking to develop other training courses, workshops and executive briefings using a back of the room approach. We know Agile and iterative approaches work. So when we do develop something new, we try it out at every step with real users, incorporating their feedback as we go.

If you’d like to be involved in that process – or you’d like to know more about attending our “Agile Foundation Course” please get in touch.

Softening the big bang

Change is good! Poorly communicated change is bad…

How often have you been in a situation where a business change has been forced upon you, has been presented as a fait accompli? How did it make you feel? Included? Receptive? Positive? Ready to run with it?

Probably not.

By its nature a digital transformation project will have an impact on a lot of people, processes and technology. So how do we communicate change in a way that feels less of a “sucker punch”? Some of the terminology we use doesn’t necessarily help. Look again at the first sentence of this paragraph where I use the word impact.

impact

noun

1. the striking of one thing against another; forceful contact; collision:

The impact of the colliding cars broke the windshield.

Do we want to break the people, processes or technology? Erm, no. We talk of “big bang” implementations. That phrase also raises stress levels. Just because a change needs to be implemented in a short timescale doesn’t mean that it will be stressful, out of control, badly planned, a failure.

Planning change is important. Communicating change is paramount to success

So what techniques can we use to manage the successful communication and buy-in needed for a programme of work to be understood, well received and, dare I say it, applauded?

Don’t be afraid to share

With many modern development projects taking advantage of alternative methods of delivery – for example Agile, which encourages open communication, collaboration and working towards the “common goal” – those teams working well together is key to the successful delivery of the project or product. However, it is equally important to share the knowledge, successes and, potentially, failures to a wider business and technical community.

Early and frequent communication can be used to generate a “buzz” around the delivery simply by showing/informing those that will be affected by the change how progress is being made and how their working life will be improved by the transformation. I’d even go as far as to suggest that some employees will be excited by the difference it may make to their customer’s lives: for example, introducing a mobile case management solution to a social worker that reduces the time needed to update notes while offering a more secure way of carrying or accessing case information, may result in less stress about case file security and generate more time in their day to have higher quality face to face meetings with clients.

Some ideas for information sharing:

  • Expanded ‘show & tells’ – a key part of the Agile methodology is to host regular sessions where the latest features of the product are demoed to the product owner (the project’s main business representative). These can be extended to include wider stakeholders or end users who may bring some valuable critique to the process
  • Programme highlight dashboard – where highlight reporting is generated for key stakeholders, is there really much additional effort needed to pick out key information that can be shared with the entire business?
  • Corporate Social Media – do you have an internal collaboration site, for example Yammer? Set up a programme-specific group and ask the team members to post updates on milestones met, challenges overcome, etc.
  • Don’t forget the traditional channels – these could include notice boards or paper flyers even if they’re simply used to point people to an online medium

Identify your digital champions

Sharing information using traditional or modern methods is one thing but identifying people that can talk about the project with knowledge and enthusiasm can be a great way to disseminate information virally through their existing networks. We call these people ‘digital champions’:

Digital champions inform and inspire people to embrace business transformation

Identification of these people can be a challenge in itself but introducing and then nurturing an open channel where the programme team encourages anyone to come and visit the team at work, ask questions or to attend the ‘show & tells’ should help draw out those who are genuinely interested. It’s important not to assume that you know who your best advocates will be. Traditional programme structures may put communications responsibility at the door of senior managers or business stakeholders. I would agree that they have their part to play, but if you’re a front line employee hearing someone enthuse about an upcoming business change, you may listen more intently to a colleague than a senior manager.

Do something!

Whatever method of communication you settle on isn’t as important as making sure you do something to educate, inform, and inspire those immediately and peripherally affected by change.

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family” – Kofi Annan

Don’t we all feel better when we know more about a subject? Let me hear your thoughts by posting a comment below.