Create actionable consensus... fast!
I recently attended the Agile Open SoCal conference. It’s sort of an “unconference” in that they don’t have a prepared speaker list. Instead, people show up and propose topics at the beginning of the day, select the time and room they want to give that talk, and then everyone goes off to see or host the talks they’re interested in. The concept is known as an “open space” conference. I loved seeing the conference “schedule” materialize as people proposed their topics and selected talks to attend. If you get a chance to attend such a conference, I highly recommend it!
I learned a simple Agile game there that mirrors the Open Space concept on a smaller scale. It’s called Lean Coffee, and it works like this:
- participants write their names on a card (there were five of us)
- each participant proposes topics, one per note card, placing the cards visibly on the table
- participants vote on the topics they want to discuss (we used four votes per person)
- we work through the topics list in order of votes. A topic is allocated N minutes to start (we used 4)
- at the end of the timer, everyone indicates whether we want to continue on the topic (thumbs up), move on to the next one (thumbs down), or don’t care (sideways thumb). aka “Roman voting”. We gave another 2 minutes each time we continued a topic
That’s basically it, and I’m sure you could modify it any number of ways.
This game allowed a group of strangers to have some great discussions ranging from education reform to Joan Rivers. At no point did anyone dominate the conversation and push other people out. We had a high level of kindness, consideration, and respect. I believe we established this primarily as a result of the Lean Coffee process.
Both Lean Coffee and Open Space model some characteristics necessary for creating consensus quickly:
- Indicating interest
Lean Coffee and Open Space both start with a brainstorming session. Participants propose topics and explain a little bit about what they mean. Once all / most of the topics are proposed, people indicate interest in the topics. Once everyone has indicated interest, people make decisions about what to do next, as individuals and as groups.
We’ve been using these principles as part of our mob programming sessions. They help us get into a groove and make meaningful progress quickly. You can see how the second RubySteps open source project is shaping up as a result. I can’t wait to see what we come up with this week!
I have become a bit obsessed lately with these kinds of lightweight collaboration protocols - they’re just so effective, and so fun! Take a look at Lean Coffee and try it out with some people you know… I did it with friends the day after the conference, and it was awesome! Be sure to try it out with some people you don’t know, too. You’re sure to learn a lot.