Agile transformation・leadership・agile coaching

Agile workshop: how to get your organization convinced that Agile is worth trying

Learn how to gain buy-in, engage customers, and foster collaboration with our Agile WoW workshop.
Agile transformations are hard. While they bring a multitude of advantages to an organization, enabling it to move faster, better respond to changing environments and customer needs, and deliver superior business outcomes, the process of transforming an organization involves multiple steps and numerous hurdles.
I have written extensively about this in my blog – check the Agile Transformation tag to see all related posts.

Today, I want to focus on one of the biggest obstacles to Agile transformation: organizational buy-in. Get it right, and people will be excited and motivated to shift to new ways of working. Without it, your transformation efforts are likely doomed.

Let’s face it: people generally don’t like change, especially when it affects them directly. Even if we understand that the upcoming change is beneficial, the power of habit is strong, and getting out of our comfort zones isn’t easy. Your motivation and determination need to be strong, and the incentives must be extremely appealing to change the old routine and adopt new ways of working.

Another problem is that not many people are familiar with Agile. For many, it is no more than a buzzword. Throughout my career, I’ve encountered numerous people with an "Agile allergy" who say, “I’ve tried it once; it was horrible. We spent all our time in meetings.” The deeper you dig, the more you realize something was fundamentally wrong with how Agile frameworks were implemented. But once convinced that Agile is bad, it’s tough to change their minds.

In this blog post, I would like to suggest a simple and elegant way to gain your company's buy-in, help them understand what Agile truly is, and simultaneously get them motivated and excited about the upcoming change. This approach revolves around the concept of an Agile workshop, specifically designed to address these challenges and turn skeptics into advocates.

This is a workshop that I have designed and implemented numerous times with my clients. It is called Agile WoW (short for Agile Ways of Working but also the effect it always produces) and it serves three main purposes:

  1. Hands-On Agile Experience: Help participants get hands-on experience with Agile ways of working and compare it with the waterfall approach, reflecting on the pros and cons.
  2. Customer Engagement: Understand what it means to engage the customer in the product development process and how important it is to keep receiving detailed feedback as frequently as possible.
  3. Principles of Servant Leadership and Growth Mindset: Understand the underlying principles of servant leadership and growth mindset.

Quite a lot of valuable learnings, right? And you can get all of it within only a couple of hours!

The workshop is divided into two sections (behind the scenes we call them Waterfall and Agile, but for the participants, it is "Part 1" and "Part 2" as we don't want to prime them, especially if they are skeptical about Agile). Each part takes roughly one hour, and with interventions and breaks, you should plan for at least 2.5 to 3 hours. The workshop can be done for any number of teams (each team is 5-7 people), but you need to ensure each team has its own table (or floor space) and you need to prepare in advance materials for each team: role cards, a big set of Lego, and some craft supplies (pipe cleaners, stickers, colored paper, etc. – each team gets a different set of materials).

Workshop structure:

First Round:

  • Team Manager: Distributes the resources and assigns tasks.
  • Customer: Comes in at the end to evaluate the final result (ideally briefed prior to the workshop and has a set of "secret" requirements unknown to the team).
  • Builders: Everyone else on the team.

  • Each team is given a set of requirements for objects they need to build. For example, building a park with specific items such as a playground, pond, café, parking lot, etc. Requirements can be as detailed as you like, such as specifying that the pond must have at least two ducks.
  • The team plans the work for about 10 minutes, then builds for approximately 30 minutes, and finally presents the result to the customer and receives feedback. It's important for the customer to assess the final results critically, pointing out areas that don't meet expectations.
  • After this, a mini-retrospective is conducted to discuss what went well and what went wrong.

Second Round:

  • Product Owner: Helps the team to set priorities and incorporate customer feedback.
  • Customer: Engaged throughout the process, providing feedback when the team asks. The customer will again have a set of "secret" requirements, but they are encouraged to reveal them as long as the team asks questions.
  • Builders: Everyone else on the team.
  • Agile Leader: One person per 3-4 teams. Ensures collaboration across teams, resolves impediments, and empowers the teams to achieve more.

  • Each team is given new requirements (e.g., if in round 1 we build a park, in round 2 we take on a more ambitious project like building a city). Each object has specific requirements and customer value (e.g., a fire department has higher customer value than a movie theater).
  • The teams work in sprints: 5 minutes to plan, 10 minutes to build, and 5 minutes to reflect on results and get customer feedback. Three sprints will give the teams the same building time as in round 1.
  • Once done, we conduct another mini-retrospective and debrief the overall results.

Key insights

Apart from experiencing the waterfall and Agile approaches and learning to collaborate with customers, participants usually notice one more thing. In the first round, each team works independently, using their resources and protecting their know-how. It's almost as if they are competing with each other (even though competition is not mentioned in the briefing). In the second round, if Agile leaders follow their instructions, they help teams share resources, learn from each other, and collaborate instead of competing. In some cases, I have witnessed teams combining their efforts to build one Lego city instead of multiple ones. This demonstrates that the ultimate goal is to satisfy customers, not to outperform other teams.

This workshop not only provides a tangible understanding of Agile but also fosters a collaborative mindset essential for a successful Agile transformation. By the end of the session, participants will have experienced the benefits of Agile firsthand and will be more open to embracing it within their organization.

Given this structure, I am sure that you can easily design the workshop yourself and experiment with different approaches. The beauty of this workshop lies in its flexibility and adaptability to various contexts and team dynamics. You can tweak the roles, requirements, and even the objects to be built to better suit your organizational needs and objectives.

If you want to get access to all the role cards and requirement cards along with detailed instructions for facilitators, check out my Agile WoW online course. This course provides comprehensive materials and guidance to help you run the workshop smoothly and effectively, ensuring that your teams gain the maximum benefit from the experience.

Should you prefer to have the workshop organized and facilitated by an experienced professional, we offer tailored facilitation services. Please use the form on our website to get in touch with us. We will be happy to discuss your needs and arrange a session that will leave your teams inspired and ready to embrace Agile ways of working.

Stay tuned to our blog for more insights and tips on Agile transformations, and don't forget to explore the resources and courses available to support your Agile journey. Remember, the key to a successful Agile transformation is continuous learning, collaboration, and an unwavering focus on delivering value to your customers. Let's embark on this journey together and transform the way your organization works, one sprint at a time.
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