Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

How to Set Off a Brown Bag Session in Your Company – In 60 Minutes

First of all: What’s a Brown Bag Session? “A brown-bag seminar, session or lunch is generally a training or information session during a lunch break. The term “brown bag” refers to the packed lunch meals that are either brought along by the attendees or provided by the host.” (Wikipedia) At my current employer it is called Feed Your Brain and at my former employer it was called Pizza Driven Development.

At my current employer I successfully set off a “Brown Bag Session” with minimal effort (60 minutes), so I like to share this experience with everyone who is thinking about setting off a Brown Bag Session at her company but doesn’t know where or how to start.

This is what I did:

1) Find a sponsor – 10 minutes
“Do food” is always good and it is even better if you have a sponsor who is willing to pay for the pizza (or salad or sandwiches or…).
Adequate sponsors for your Brown Bag Session could be HR, CTO or CEO. Those people are interested that company folks get together and learn: Personal development and team building are the magic words. And both can be achieved very low priced with a Brown Bag Session. (The average costs for food for 30 people are about 180 €.)

2) Find a suitable day and room – 5 minutes
Check Outlook (or other tool) to see which convenient room is available over lunch in the next months. Block the room.

3) Find initial speakers – 10 minutes (2 minutes per speaker :))
This maybe the hardest part: Inspire some of your colleagues (you will know who to ask) about the idea of Brown Bag Sessions, offer yourself for the first sessions, ask external friends or ex-colleagues, … If you’re really having problems to fill the speaker slots for the first 3-4 sessions you could even show some TED talks or other conference videos (LKCE, SmashingConf etc.)

4) Inform everyone about the first session – 15 minutes
Depending on your company culture there will be different options how to do this: E-Mail, Intranet, Wiki, Flipchart… Even better a combination of those options.
You should provide at least the following information: What is a Brown Bag Session? Why are we starting this at our company? What is the first session about? Where will it happen (room)? What time? What will be future sessions be about/Who are your speakers? Who to contact if someone is interested to be a speaker in a future session?
Use an easy Google form (or other) to get information with a deadline: Who wants to attend? Who wants which pizza (veggie or non-veggie)?

5) Find a Pizza delivery service (or other) & talk to them – 10 minutes
Exactly. Find it and then talk to them. In my case I stopped by and explained that there would be an easy way for them to earn around 180 € on a weekly basis if they will deliver on time. They liked the idea… 😉
Maybe you even have an in-house canteen or cafeteria? Maybe you have a good reason not to ask them…

6) Order Pizza (or other) – 10 minutes
With the Google Doc (see 4) you know who will attend and who wants which food. Order on time because there is nothing worse than hungry people in front of a speaker. In my case I order already in the late afternoon on the day before the Brown Bag session.

That’s it. Start like this and then inspect & adapt…

Advanced ideas:

  • Think about how to document your “Brown Bag Sessions”:
    We record every Brown Bag Session with a camera and then provide the video plus PDF-presentation in our Wiki. It’s cool to review and there may be people who missed a talk.
  • Ask people what topics they like to hear about:
    Either at the beginning of a session using Post-Its or again via a Google form.
  • Have a shared Brown Bag Session:
    Some people are afraid of or think that they do not have enough to speak about for 1 hour. It is fun to have three different speakers with three different topics in 1 hour. Alternative: Do it like a world cafe with three groups. In that case the initial speaker stays at his table and repeats his talk for three times.

Let me know what you are thinking about Brown Bag Sessions and comment if you’re having trouble to set one off.

Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
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Good Question!

Helpful Questions For Deciding On The New Job

In November I switched jobs. This post features a list of questions I asked myself and the possible new employers before I decided on the new job.

Switching jobs can have different reasons. I was lucky as I decided for myself to switch, so I could take my time to find a new employer and tried not to rush myself. I felt privileged because I didn’t have any difficulties to be invited to job interviews.

Nevertheless, job interviews mirror only a small extract of the working reality: Normally both sides try to represent themselves as glory and shiny as possible. Consequently, it will always be a bet when deciding on a new employer (or a new employee). The whole truth mostly reveals only 6 to 9 months after starting on a new job.

There is nothing much you can do about that.
Accept it, try to ask the right questions and carefully listen to the answers in the job interviews.

The following questions I either asked myself or the possible new employers during the job interviews. Finding the answers helped me with my final decision.

  • How was I treated as a job candidate? (How long was the reaction time on my application?
  • How was I treated before the first, second and last job interview?)
  • How is the company evaluation on kununu.com? What’s the general image of the company?
  • How big is the new challenge?
  • Could the company clearly define the expected job duties?
  • How much Change Agent vs. Project Manager vs. Agile Coach is asked for?
  • Is the company’s vision and mission clear and was it mentioned in the job interview? (Do I like it?)
  • Do I like the company’s product(s)? Do I understand them?
  • How much budget is there for future training?
  • How much fun can I expect?
  • What impression did I get from my future colleagues?
  • Can I get more inside information from ex-staff members? Maybe even the person who formerly executed the job?
  • How authentic was the impression of the company during the job interview?
  • How many leave days?
  • Is there a company pension plan or something comparable?
  • What’s my impression of the company’s building? About the working space? (Also a view of the restrooms can tell a lot…)
  • How much money will I earn?
  • What’s my perspective in this job in 1 or 2 years?
  • What’s the decision when I listening to my heart?

There is one outstanding question I would advise everyone to ask and then do:
Can I work for 1 or 2 days at your company?
The reaction on this question itself should already tell you a lot about the company…

I spent a day at two potential new employers and it helped me a lot with my decision: When spending a day or two with your potential new employer you will notice a lot of things you will never see during a job interviews. The observations help you to find better answers to the questions above…

During the time of the job interviews I also read “Decisive” from the Heath Brothers. They introduce the WRAP process to make better decisions: Widen Your Options, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, Prepare To Be Wrong.
Definitely a good reading when you are switching jobs… 🙂

Please let me know if you found this post helpful. If you have any remarks or more questions that could help, feel free to leave a comment below.

Books, Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

Activity for Team-Building event: The one thing…

The other week the team I’m working with as a Scrum Master had their first team event. We tried an activity that I found quite useful: The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting.

Some of the team members know each other already from working together in former teams, others just joined the team or our company and are not very familiar with the others. Our team event was planned for only half a day, the activity was an ongoing activity until the team stand-up the next morning.

At the beginning of the event I presented The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting simply on a flip-chart with a QR code and explained the rules:
team building activity

“During the event find out one thing about every team member that you didn’t know before the event. Remember it and post it via the Google Drive Form that is linked to the QR code.”

The Result

The result the next morning was a long list of things we discovered about our team members that we didn’t know about before the event. So with 10 team members we gathered over 90 things. Of course, everyone got access to the list and could read what the others found out about others and about oneself.

Not all of mentioned things can be taken seriously, but we definitely learnt new stuff about the others. When we start to share other aspects of our lives than work with our colleagues, we also start to speak openly with them about other things. Here is again a connection to Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. (Read related post “Job or Joy” here)

the one thingWhy I liked the activity?

  • It is an on-going activity during the team event.
  • It is easy to generate via Google Drive From.
  • It has a straight-forward list as a result.
  • It has a “Nerd” flavour. (Uuuh! QR code! Uuuh! Type in stuff with my mobile phone! Uuuh! So cool. :))
  • It influenced the “quality” of small-talk during the team event as you needed(wanted to gather data…

If you try this activity, please let me know your experiences.

Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

Retrospective activity: Significance Story

Remind team members in a retrospective of the significance and meaningfulness of their jobs. After some bafflement they could realize again that their jobs are important and do create value.

This Monday I was inspired by the following tweet:

I tried to work with the answer (“Remind them why their jobs are important.”) in a retrospective activity straight ahead and thought it worked quite well.
Like a User Story Form (“As [role] I want [desite] so that [benefit].”) I asked each team member to complete the following empty columns by wiriting post-its:
My work as [role] has [this concrete significance] for [target group, user]. (Significance Story)

Retrospective activity: Significance Story

In the [target group, user]-column you will find several, different post-its. Ask in the next step what the expectations might be that those users have on them as a team. Let them again write their answers on post-its and stick those in a new, empty comlumn.

Finally let the team decide in a discussion which “Top 3” of the user’s expectations they want to measure up to preferentially.

 

2 3

Be surprised about the outcome.
In my case the team wanted to measure up to the exectation of being a team that creates value and that makes a difference. 🙂

Books, Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation, Scrum, Scrumban

Check-In Activity for Agile Retrospectives

Fortunately retrospectives are already a standard at our company now. Not only our developers teams, but also our sales team, our team assistents and as of late also our management (surprisingly, the last.. :)) have regular retrospectives. Because it has become standard to have retrospectives there is also the chance of falling into a dull routine, both for the team members and the facilitator (mostly myself). To counteract this dull routine we try to do different activities. I tried the following Check-In activity in the last weeks:

Esther Derby and Diana Larsen suggest in their book “Agile Retrospectives” as a Check-In activity to ask every participant “In one or two words: What are your hopes or wishes for this retrospective”. No post-its, no explanation, just one or two words. This always works great.

This question inspired me to ask participants an even more general question as a Check-In excercise: “Why are we doing retrospectives anyway?” I do this as a kind of fast brainstorming and jot everything down on a flipchart. It is surprising what the participants are coming up with. I heard everything from “I don’t know.” (Oops!) and “Because you told us to.” (Ooooooops!) to “Kaizen. Continuous Improvement.” (Thx.) and “We don’t want to do mistakes a second time.” (!!!)

It is also a good excercise to remind the participants of the principles of the agile manifest, one of them is: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” (Dare to ask if everyone knows and understands the Agile Manifesto… and maybe be surprised.)

And, of course, it is a good excercise to jolt the participants from their retrospective routine.

BTW: I recognized only days ago that Esther Derby and Diana Larsen book “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” is legally available also as eBook! Buy it!

Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

How to Deal with Results from an Agile Retrospective?

Have you ever heard a team complaining about results of a retrospective not being realized? I have. And it’s important to change something immediately after hearing it.
Realizing the agreed improvments from the retrospective is one of the agile principles of the Agile Manifesto:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. (http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html)
So if you are earnestly doing an agile “Inspect & Adapt” and do not realize the agreed improvements of a retrospective, you are missing the whole point and are doing a simple “Inspect”.

The answers to the following questions could help to make sure improvements are realized:

  • Who is responsible to realize the improvement?
  • How can you be sure that the improvements are not forgotten?
  • How are your improvements logged?

Who is responsible to realize the improvement?
Always agree in the retrospective who will be responsible for putting the improvement into effect. This can one or two persons. Write their names next to the agreed improvement. Do not assign the responsibility to the whole team as nobody will feel responsible then.
Problems that the team can’t solve themselves are impediment and  it’s then the Scrum Master’s job to push it up to the management: fast and direct. And it’s the Scrum Master’s job to get on the management’s nerves until the impediment is solved.


visualize improvements from retrospective
How can you be sure that the improvements are not forgotten?
Visualize the results of the retrospective. What seems to be working very well with us is to put a copy of the agreed improvements on the team’s board: Everyone sees it everyday at the Daily Stand-Up. Alternatively: Improvements turn to User Stories that are done within the next (!) sprint. Here it’s the Scum Master’s job to make sure this happens.

How are your improvements logged?
With “logged” I mean the structure of your agreed improvement in the retrospective:
1) Write whole sentences and not bullet points. This may take a little longer, but you (and everyone else) will understand them also after a few days.

2) As mentioned: Assign one or two responsible persons for the improvement.

3) Agree on a deadline when the improvement should be put into effect (or at least agree on a date when the team gets feedback on the status of the improvement)

Related post:
3 Retrospectives in 2 Days

Good Question!, Scrum

Scrum of Scrum introduced. Yes!

It’s great to witness how a company changes from somewhat “old school-ish” to something agile-like: Last week we finally started with a Scrum of Scrum and it turns out to be working pretty well only after a few days.

Actually most of our teams have been working with some kind of agile process for some time now: some are doing Scrum, some Scrumban, most are doing Kanban (although predominantely it’s more a visualized work-flow than “real” Kanban). All of them were having a Daily Stand-Up (or Daily Scrum) right from the beginning: some were having theirs in the morning, others before lunch and others after lunch.

I visited several Daily Stand-Up every day and experienced what happens to issues or tasks depending on other teams. Either a team member was planning to talk to the other team (and most often forgot about it right after the meeting: Damn short term memory…) or the issue was bounced via a project manager like myself (who most often missed the crucial part. Sorry…) or the team just simply complained about the fact that it had to wait for another team (but was not doing anything against it). In the end the tasks normally moved to the “pending” column and stayed there for much too long.

Funny enough we actually were doing a kind of Scrum od Scrum since about a year: It was the earliest meeting of the day with all Tech Leads dealing with only one question: Are you about to put something in another team’s way today? It is only natural that the info that was given in this meeting was not up to date anymore (as the last Daily Stand-Up of the teams were at least over 16 hours away).

Introducing a Scrum of Scrum does not only optimze communication but also enables fast and direct communication. We now have a synchronisation of all teams within 30 minutes: First all Daily Stand-Ups of the teams, then the Scrum of Scrum meeting.

All dependencies or impediments between teams are solved or at least communicated within 30 minutes. There is no failing because of short term memory, project manager etc. (see above).

Must read: Advice on Conducting the Scrum of Scrums Meeting from Mike Cohn

BTW: Our UXD are having a UX Scrum of Scrum at the same time. It seems to be working fine. We are still working to get our Product Owner to have their Product Owner Daily Scrum…