Saturday, September 19, 2009

My take on the "Typical Elearning Projects"

Sorry, I can't help it if elearning firms don't believe in the value of communication and feedback!
(Images from project cartoon.com)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Five ways to encourage participation in the classroom


In the last couple of days I've had some fascinating conversations with my colleagues about why some students don't participate enough in class. While I understand that part of this could go down to individual personalities, the more I think about it, the more I believe this is a facilitation problem than a participation problem. I don't want to sound cocky, but I've very rarely had the feeling of 'pulling teeth' in a classroom. Though I'm thankful to my participants for being kind to me, I guess I do something that helps me get the kind of participation I expect. The key for me is that I value mental stimulation more than overt participation. So even if a student doesn't speak out very often, I'm usually satisfied if I can confirm that she was mentally stimulated throughout the training. I've tried my hand at breaking down some of my thinking about the tiny little things that I believe affect student participation and here are some of my views.

1 - Create a vibrant Training Environment

Imagine yourself in the vibrant outdoors on a bright day. What feelings does that kind of environment evoke for you? Most people tend to feel really enthusiastic in an environment like that - I feel like playing cricket or just lying on a grassy patch and day dreaming or playing with my dog or going on a picnic with friends. OTOH, imagine a dimly lit boardroom. Does it generate the same enthusiasm in you? Probably not. While I'm not trying to create stereotypes here, I guess you see my point that a bright, vibrant environment can create a much more positive impact on participation than a dimly lit, dull environment.

Tips you can use

  • Lighting: Consider a room with natural light. There's a lot we've discovered about the benefit of sunlight in the classroom, so I won't harp on that too much. Very often though, you have little control over the venue you get. What we do have control over, is the lights in the room. Can you switch on every single light in the room, to make it bright enough? If its not bright enough, can you bring in halogen lamps to make the room brighter? I often see presenters switch off lights before they begin their presentation. Avoid this -- it not only puts people to sleep, but it also puts all the focus on the screen. If you want to make a connection with your audience, they should be able to see you. If your projector is not good enough to work with the lights on, ditch it! Use whiteboarding or flipcharting - they have their own benefits.
  • Colours: I'm obsessive over colours in the class. And I'm talking about the things we can control in classrooms. When people walk into a classroom, do they see black and white charts or charts with simple, vibrant crayon/ felt-pen drawings? When you do presentations, do people see vibrant, colorful pictures, or do they see a monochrome, black text on white background slides? Colours evoke emotions and people like to express their emotions. There's a reason why we prefer color pictures, color movies, etc. How about using that in the classroom?

2 - Question your Questioning Style

Questioning is a great way to facilitate Socratic discussion. Questioning however is a subtle art to master. I've often seen trainers use questioning the following manner:

Trainer: How did you think you performed on our company values? (momentary pause) Do you think you did well? (momentary pause) What I want to know is how you felt you did on each of our seven values? (momentary pause) How happy do you feel about your performance on the values?
Students: Deathly silence.

You might need some context here. The trainer uses every question to clarify her previous question. In our minds we often know the answers to the questions we're asking. So when after a momentary pause we don't get an answer, we clarify the question by rephrasing it and rephrasing it and rephrasing it. In the minds of the learner however, you've asked 4-5 questions without giving them time to think. The consequence -- deathly silence. It may lead you to believe that your students aren't participating, when in fact they're processing your rapid fire series of questions.

Tips you can use

  • Use the PPP technique: I love to remind myself of the PPP technique each time I even think of asking a question. PPP stands for Pose, Pause and Pounce. It defines the series of steps to for group questioning, i.e. state the question, pause for 5 or more seconds and then identify someone who's ready to answer.
  • Open Ended vs Closed Ended questions:Use Open Ended questions to spark discussion and closed ended questions to steer conversation in particular directions. Questions are like power steering for your facilitated discussion. "What do you think about Obama's policies?" is an open ended question that could go anywhere, and "Do you feel that policy benefits native Indians?" helps to steer the discussion in a specific direction. I like asking for a show of hands and to urge people to respond to closed ended questions with a "Yes? No? Maybe?" set of questions as well.
  • Understand the Dreyfus level of your audience: I like to think of how appropriate my questions are for my audience. I've written about the Dreyfus Model earlier and I usually ask myself if I'm asking the right kind of question for the skill level of my audience. If you ask your Novice audience a Competent question, then you're more likely to get a blank stare and similarly a Novice question for a Competent audience will make them feel patronised!
  • Put heads together: For shy groups I prefer not to ask a question to the group. Instead I like to break the group into smaller teams and I then ask each group to put their heads together for a minute to discuss a particular question, post which I collect responses from each group - thereby triggering rich discussion. What this helps me do, is give the shy students a smaller, safer environment to express themselves and it also helps me rein in some of the over-zealous participants if any.

3 - Use Visual Reinforcement:

People remember visuals, long after words are forgotten. The question to ask yourself is - "How do I provide visual reinforcement for discussion in the classroom." There are loads of benefits to visual reinforcement:
  • People are hardwired to being visual, so pictures and drawings resonate with most of your audience.
  • By capturing what people say in a classroom, you personalize the experience to the group instead of making it seem like a staged show.
  • Pictures help you describe what words can't. For example, when I'm throwing out examples from my personal life in class, I bring out pictures of my wife and my dog, so people can identify with my stories.

Tips you can use

  • Use visuals effectively in your presentation. Garrey Reynolds has written a great post here on the effective use of visuals. I have expressed my own thoughts here and here's another set of examples.
  • If you cant use slides for some reason, use a mindmap -- mindmaps are great for capturing group discussion and are living, breathing evidence of the discussion in a group. Here's an example from one of my training sessions.
  • Try your hand at simple drawing: If you've followed my blog long enough, you'll know that I'm a great fan of simple hand-drawn sketches. I find The Back of the Napkin framework and the Versatile Visual Vocabulary tools very useful for classroom discussions. I've also written up a article here, which you may find useful. People enjoy watching other people draw and the act of sketching on the fly, naturally seems to open up your topic for commentary.

4 - Build a strong camaraderie

Every one of us struggles to question authority. Regardless of how outspoken we consider ourselves to be, there's usually someone who we will not question in public. One thing I don't like to portray myself as, is the authoritative expert. OTOH, I prefer that my students identify me as a slightly more experienced peer (a bit of an oxymoron, I know). That way, they are less concerned about my disapproval and more open towards participating. Also, people in the age group of 18-24 tend to be quieter than older students, so its important that I don't intimidate them into thinking that they lack knowledge or prior preparation. Lastly, friends or people that are comfortable in each others company are more likely to participate freely than people who are apprehensive about each other.

Tips you can use

  • Use examples that your audience can relate to: People learn best when the new learning builds on what they already know. A graduate straight out of university is least likely to understand a complex consulting example. OTOH, an example out of personal relationships may resonate better. How can you tell stories or provide examples in class that others can relate to?
  • Be open to self-deprecating humour: In recent days, some of the feedback I've had from students indicates that they really appreciate my ability to laugh at myself. I find that it positions me as a fallible, vulnerable individual, without necessarily harming my credibility. In that, students don't necessarily think of me as Spock from Vulcan and they feel more open to connect with me as a person.
  • Connect outside the classroom: I feel very privileged to be part of an experience like ThoughtWorks University, where some of my students have turned out to be some of my closest friends. This has made my life as a trainer so much easier because I haven't had the challenge of trying to build rapport in class. In most cases I've been facilitating a session full of my friends. I think as trainers we also need to ensure that students get to connect with each other as well. This makes a whole world of difference and students tend to feel much more comfortable in each others company.

5 - Be different, create a shared experience

People are more likely to contribute to something they already own. How much of your training session do your participants own? How much of your session is about things that you say vs things that your group discovers? What tools are you using to create a shared experience? Also, how are your sessions different from other run of the mill sessions that people have attended in the past? Are you creating a sense of anticipation for your sessions? Are students pulling each experience rather than you pushing them out.

Tips you can use

  • Call on students, but randomly:I've used this rarely in my ThoughtWorks University career, but I remember this to be a very effective tool from my previous jobs. I've used index cards (with one name written on each) and dice rolls to pick who continues a particular discussion. In fact you can adapt dice rolls to large groups as well, by dividing the group into small teams and then using the first dice roll to select the team that answers and the second dice roll to select who in the team answers the question. Index cards create a lot of anticipation amongst students as well since that way and as I used to shuffle the cards before eventually pulling one from the deck I could usually see the anticipation building!
  • Ask, don't tell: Build on your students' prior knowledge to drive your session (using a pre-course questionnaire often helps you to find out these details). As I mentioned earlier, facilitate Socratic discussion to build learning in the classroom. Respond respectfully to students’ contributions—Use wrong answers as teaching moments. Get others involved in understanding misconceptions and errors. Let the classroom be a safe place where you encourage honest attempts to participate

I guess I'm one of those people that places a lot of responsibility on facilitators when it comes to generating participation. I know some of what I've said on this post could generate controversy. That said, I strongly believe that before we question the lack of participation from students we should ask ourselves we're creating the right atmosphere for participation. These are little things that we can do, and over time these do add up. Please comment freely to let me know your thoughts about the topic. If you found this post interesting, you may enjoy some of my other posts.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Four things Star Trek can teach us about Simulation Design

I'm a big Star Trek fan and the last movie just rocked back childhood memories of idolising James T Kirk. Thinking of Captain Kirk reminded me of his famous line, "I'm a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread!". Its so cool because it has great parallels with the learning industry which is going in directions we never imagined a few years back. With the growing maturity of Web 2.0 platforms, virtual worlds such as Second Life and Qwaq Forums, rapid elearning through suites like Articulate and the Adobe elearning suite and a new brigade of training professionals with a facilitative mindset, the education industry is going where no one imagined it would have gone! In that, some of Captain Kirk's brave world-play from Star Trek seems to have come true for our cult at least!

The new Star Trek brings back mention of the legendary simulation - Kobayashi Maru. For the uninitiated, Kobayashi Maru is an exercise designed to test the character of cadets in the command track at Starfleet Academy. The fleet receives a distress call from the civilian vessel Kobayashi Maru. The disabled ship is trapped in a neutral zone, entering which would be in violation of a peace treaty with Star Trek's villains - the Klingons. The decision for the crew -- do they engage the Klingons and rescue the ship? Or do they abandon the ship, thereby preventing war but leaving the passengers to die?

Thinking about this test gives me four ideas about making training simulations effective. I'm still forming these ideas, but the more I think about them, the more I'm convinced. I'm bound to get some criticism for this -- but that's fine. Here are my ideas to add to my previous post of how real a training simulation should be.

Consider an Unwinnable Situation

The least you can do is NOT make the simulation easy. I say this because a simulation is a compressed view of real life. Its easy to navigate through the Happy Path, but what you'd like people to learn through the simulation, is how to navigate the Sad Path. In real life however, challenges don't always come thick and fast. So if you were to simulate a pace similar to real life, by the time a challenge comes by the simulation's over! Make situations unrealistically difficult - introduce difficult time constraints, difficult clients, difficult challenges. The idea is that if people get through the tough simulation happily, they'll be happy to see the easy pace of reality. Most importantly however the ability to fail fast and to learn from mistakes is invaluable to the learning process. Kobayashi Maru is unwinnable, but the failure teaches cadets the most important lessons of their courses.

Try to mimic real life scenarios

One of the things that frustrates me is learning professionals equating learning games with simulations. A simulation is a controlled imitation of real life, whereas a learning game helps students gain knowledge through play. They are similar in intent, but different in purpose, design and execution. The key with simulations is to ensure that it reflects situations similar to real life. Think of real projects, real transactions, real day-in-life scenarios, real conversations, real debates - the possibilities can be endless. Kobayashi Maru imitates situations that the cadets could face in real life; in that it prepares cadets for real life.

Try "Head Fake" Learning

I've mentioned earlier that making mistakes and failing fast is invaluable to the learning process. Randy Pausch in his inimitable style once said, "Experience is what you get, when you don't get what you wanted." Failing gives you the opportunity to learn better how you can succeed. Dr Pausch also spoke about the beauty of head fake learning. He gives the example of football - kids take to football because they enjoy it and the objective seems to be to score the maximum number of goals possible. Football (or any sport for that matter) teaches players things like, "Teamwork, Sportsmanship, Perseverance...etc." That's the head fake. The lessons kids learn out of playing a sport carry on with them when their playing days are over. Kobayashi Maru seems to be about rescuing a distressed ship, but the simulation is really about learning to face insurmountable odds. Its a test of character.

Leave room for Original Thinking

Yeah, yeah I talked about unwinnable scenarios, but intelligence counts for something too! If your simulation can uncover a superstar or a brilliant original thinker - then you're perhaps generating far more value for your company/ clients than you can ever imagine. Is there a hidden way to beat the simulation? A way that a really intelligent individual can pass the simulation with flying colours? A non-intuitive right choice maybe? James T Kirk and his nephew Peter Kirk were able to beat Kobayashi Maru by using "original thinking" and the academy recognized them for it. Its not surprising how the legend of Captain Kirk was born.

Training simulations offer your students a unique opportunity to practice reality in safety. There are perhaps dozens of other considerations in making these activities enriching for your learners. Star Trek just reminded me of a few of them. I'm sure you have many more such tips in mind -- please feel free to comment on the blog to share these ideas with me. Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I'm Elearning Learning Featured!

eLearning Learning

The last week or so has been really exciting for my humble blog. To start with, Sathish Narayanan listed me as Blogger of the Week on eLearning Planet. That was pretty cool. To add to that Tony Karrer one of the leading learning technologists of this world featured my blog on elearning Learning--a community collecting and organizing the best information on the web about eLearning. I find it really cool to be featured alongside some of the best learning minds in the industry and I must say its an honour! Thanks Tony.

A little bit about me. I'm Sumeet Moghe, I like to call myself a Learning Generalist, given my passion for all the diverse skills related to helping people learn. I am Director of Workplace Learning at ThoughtWorks, a global IT service with a small mission - to revolutionize the IT industry; and a great purpose -- to be a home for the best knowledge workers. Given how much I tend to generalize, I tend to write on a variety of topics related to learning in general. For those new to this blog, here are some of the topics that I've blogged about in the recent past. As you can see, I do tend to be all over the place -- so forgive me if I don't always blog about your favorite topics.

Facilitation and Work

The "What" and "If" of Feedback
New Retrospective Activity - "Eye on the future"
The Marketeer in Arabia
Retrospectives - Deciding Action Items
Retrospective Smells - When Action Items dont get acted on
Retrospectives: When safety is regularly high
Using a Learning Matrix
Retrospectives are not the only place for continuous improvement
My "Ten"ets of Leadership

Training

Language Patterns for Trainers and Public Speakers
What trainers can learn from the art of Public Performance
Tips to lead Socratic Discussion
Why your Training team needs Versatilists
From "Training Specialist" to "Learning Generalist"
Aiding Student Recall through Interim Reviews
Getting feedback from your learners
Using Mindmaps in classrooms
Using Videos in Training
Entertainment in Training
Simple graphics for classroom use
Teacher Training - my beliefs
Using Visual Aids in Training - Flipcharts vs Powerpoint
Training and Patience
The Five Recall Factors

Agility in Elearning

Using the Dreyfus Model to engage people in your Online Learning program
The Agile Elearning Design Manual - Why Synchronous Learning makes so much sense today
The Agile Elearning Design Manual - The role of Social Media
The Agile Elearning Design Manual - Of Project Spaces & Project Managers
The Agile Elearning Design Manual - Itererations Huh?
The Agile Elearning Design Manual - Think Small (Iterations, Action Maps, Storyboards, and Mini-Modules)
The Agile Elearning Design Manual - Agile Re-explained
The Agile Elearning Design Manual: Problems with existing approaches

Presentation Skills

Using Images effectively in your presentations
Microsoft Illustration Styles for a Consistent look and feel in your document/ presentation
Using Whitespace and avoiding Logo-fication
A tale of two presentations
To slide or not to slide
Ridding the world of bullet points

Tools

Ways to bring videos into your elearning mix
Screencasting - A simple way to create bite-sized learning
Easy ways to create your elearning templates
Experiences with Elearning on the Mac
Using your presentation tool to generate Flash movies
Unleash the Graphics from your Presentations
Creating Presentation and E-learning characters with Poser
Articulate - A quick, lean, rapid elearning content creator

Instructional Design

Ways to Effectively Leverage your SME when developing e-learning
Instructional Designers need more tools than just writing
Why "Rapid" is a word your clients will like.
Rapid Instructional Design with Powerpoint
How many objectives can a training session cover?
How real is a training simulation?
While I mostly freewheel, I'd be happy to share specific experiences if there's an interest. So if there's something particular you'd like me to write about, please let me know. If I feel I can do justice to the topic, I'm happy to give it a go!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Instructional Designers need more skills than just writing!

Today is Teacher's Day -- as a coach, trainer and learning professional I feel really proud every day this year. This is a career I'm deeply passionate about and each time I think of it, I strongly feel that I wouldn't have traded this for anything else! In the recent past, Patricia Carlin has taken charge of ThoughtWorks Bangalore and her evangelist leadership where she's actually spending time training consultants, strongly reinforces my belief in the mantra of Leaders as Teachers. More on that later!

Today's post however is about one of my pet-peeves. Very recently Rupa Rajagopalan wrote about how instructional design is a profession very similar to technical writing. While my thoughts resonate with a lot of what Rupa usually writes, I strongly believe that Instructional Design is less of a writing job and more of a consulting job. I've written earlier about how Instructional Designers need to leverage SME's better and the more I think about iterative design and development, writing increasingly becomes a secondary skill for Instructional Designers. The ability to think through a learning problem, understanding learning styles, people patterns, (NLP anchoring) and the overall ability to consult and problem solve is so much bigger for me than the transaction of writing. As a matter of fact, I expect every professional in a learning organization to have plain english writing skills.

So, my expectation from an Instructional Designer is very different from the standard "should be able to write a script/ design document"! I love Garrey Reynolds' recent post about the 10 tips to think like a designer. Here are some of the skills and knowledge I expect Instructional Designers to be able to display.

Consulting Skills

At ThoughtWorks we believe that everyone's a consultant, regardless of the role they play. We're a technology firm, but there's no reason why internal training organizations or learning and development firms should not think this way. In his book Flawless Consulting, Peter Block defines a consultant this way: "A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group, or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs." As designers we can only make clients use our expertise, but we have no direct power to make changes. Yet as learning professionals, we're constantly changing things - the way people learn, the way SME's think, implementing new programs and what have you. Much of what separates a successful consultant from an unsuccessful one is their ability to work with customers and to help them improve themselves and their organizations. Some of the most important consulting skills in my opinions are:
  • Relationship Building: - Dale Carnegie's How to win friends and influence People can be a starting point to build this skill.
  • Problem solving & Decision making: - the Problem Solving 101 by Ken Watanabe is a great book to start off on this skill.
  • Presentations: - The Mckinsey Mind calls presentation skills the killer skill. I tend to agree. One of my favorite books in this area is Garrey Reynolds' Presentation Zen named after his blog with the same name.
  • Influencing: Linda Rising has written a great book on Influencing Patterns. Its called Fearless Change - I strongly recommend it for all Instructional Designers. Kerry Patterson's Influencer is a great book too.
  • Negotiation: A skill often confused with Influencing, I look at Negotiation being transactional as against Influencing which happens over a period of time and is a more strategic skill. Getting to Yes and Beyond Reason are great books to learn more about this skill.

Teaching Skills

Being a passionate facilitator, I know how much the experience has helped me in becoming a confident designer. An effective designer needs to practice all four of the traditional learning skills:
  • coaching;
  • facilitating;
  • training;
  • presenting.
As an instructional designer your biggest strength is knowing how people learn. If you've spent all your career just talking to your computer, you perhaps need to go out there and teach in a traditional environment to understand various mindsets and various learning styles. Also, if you've focussed all your career just building training for one medium, you tend to get stuck in a box - I tend to see elearning designers wanting to do everything within elearning. Its important to remember that there's still a place in this world for coaching, mentoring and people contact and there are still many situations that necessitate human contact. Its an important skill to be able to find the right learning experience for the given learning problem and teaching has helped me think through these solutions with great ease!

Analysis Skills

I'm not a big fan of traditional training analysis of "Death by Matrices" infamy. I prefer analysis techniques that are visual, tactile and involving. To that end I prefer that Instructional Designers use Back of the Napkin techniques to understand performance problems. I prefer that they use Action Mapping instead of writing out learning objectives. I strongly recommend that Instructional designers communicate instead of writing scripts. Most importantly I prefer that just like when building user-centric software, designers build learner centric elearning by using wireframes. In the recent past I've become a devotee of tools like Balsamiq Mockups, which help you create wireframes very quickly which you can collaboratively build with your customers/ SMEs. See below for a worked out example:
The Mockup
The Final Screen

Learning Skills

This is where I tend to lump every other skill that people say ID's should have. So knowledge of tools, understanding of evolving theories, neuro linguistic programming, domain knowledge and what have you, fit here. When you put smart people together, great things happen. I expect a smart consultant with great consulting skills to be able to pick up these skills with ease. Just like they say in sport - "Form is temporary, class is permanent.", I say "Tools are temporary, intelligence is permanent".

I belive that an ideal instructional designer is easily one of the most skilled professionals in the learning world. For years we've undermined this career by setting the bar really low. As we start to explore various modes of learning, I believe instructional designers will lead us in the road to learning innovation. While my post may generate controversy in certain sections, I hope that I can create the realisation of how important this profession is and that we can start growing these skills above all else in our ID teams.
Did you like my post this week? Please comment freely to let me know what you think. I love instructional design and you may want to take a look at some of my other posts on the subject here.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Retrospectives are not the only place for continuous improvement


Pete - Don't Whinge
Originally uploaded by Jason Nathan
Retrospectives are a tool for "Continuous Improvement" and on effective teams they tend to be an event to look back at a period of time and determine what they can do to improve, to celebrate successes and to discover open issues. Retrospectives can lose their effectiveness however, if they become the only place for these discussions. In such situations, retrospectives become a whinge session!

If you are waiting for a retrospective to make your point, then there's got to be something wrong. Teams need to create sufficient opportunities to highlight issues, discuss them and resolve them.

Opportunities for Continuous Improvement

As a leader/ coach/ facilitator, its important to think about various forums in which teams can highlight and resolve problems at run time. Here are a few tools that I am quite fond of:
  • Standups: Standup meetings are a great tool to not just convey status, but also to create placeholders to discuss issues. For example, when someone convey's status, its a great practice to call out your blockers and seek out help if you need it.
  • Huddles: Remember the great Indian huddle? It almost became fashionable for Indian companies to get people to stand in a circle and thrash out an issue. I feel its a great way for a few people to get involved in solving a problem.
  • Learning Wall: This is based on Esther Derby's Learning Matrix and I find it a great tool to highlight issues on a continuous basis. It can be a set of flipcharts in your team room, where people can continuously highlight what they like, they don't like, ideas for improvement and appreciations. Its best to have a ritual time and day to discuss the team's Learning Wall and to fix emergent issues

Problem Solving Workshops

One of the things we often tend to do in our team, is to just get a few people in a room, to solve specific problems. In my current team this tends to be as simple as booking some time with people, getting into a room and having a nice, passionate chat. I do understand that some teams will need a little more structure for these meetings. Here are a few tools I find useful for such meetings.

The Talking Wall

In true ThoughtWorks “stickies” style, this is the ideal, safe, time-saving method for brainstorming, problem solving and leading discussions. This is quite similar to a brainstorm, except the brainstorm is silent. The group writes their thoughts on stickies - one thought per post-it. I like this because:
  • It allows everyone to participate - even the really shy people.
  • Encourages creative thinking , since no one has an opportunity to criticize ideas when people are brainstorming.
  • It gives an overview/ big visible reference to everyone, so its easy to piggy back on others' ideas.
  • It facilitates immediate clustering and categorizing, so you can easily notice the patterns in how people are thinking through the problem

What-if?

What if is an exercise you can run with your team to imagine how things could be, if some constraints didn't really exist. I like playing What-if in two different ways.
Greenfield
What would we do if your group had no history, rules, regulations, culture or climate? If none of these things existed because you were just starting up, then how would you approach the problem?
I like using this when we feel hampered by culture, policies, habits or other restrictions. It just helps people rock back to a different situation, so that we can discover the real bottlenecks in the system.
Role Model
The way I play Role Model, is by asking people to think of how someone they admire would solve the problem. I ask them to write their suggestions on stickies and put them up on the board. We then look through all the ideas, discuss the really crazy ones and find themes to resolve our issues.

MoSCow

Its one thing to come up with action items and another thing to prioritize them. In decision making, sometimes a group becomes obsessed with democracy, allowing each suggestion to have equal weight and air time. This means that we create camels when we set out to invent a horse!

To prioritize our actions, I place three index cards on the table and label them "Must Have", "Should Have", "Could Have" (MoSCow), and sort all actions under each of these headings. Once we have priorities for all our actions, we know in which order we want to execute them.

Time Beam

I like to use Time Beam as a follow up to MoSCow. Once you have prioritized actions, you need to know when you'll do them and in what order. I draw a diagonal line from the top right of a whiteboard (representing our target completion date) to the bottom left (todayʼs date). I then ask the team to lay out actions on this time-beam to represent a chronology of events. If possible, we put dates along each action and voila! We have a plan to work against!

So if you notice, there are various mechanisms you can establish in your team as a facilitator, to ensure that retrospectives aren't the only place where people solve problems. The mark of a successful team is the ability to have continuing dialogue. The mark of a successful facilitator/ coach is to to ensure that this dialogue actually happens. I hope this post gives you a few ideas on how you can help your team "continuously improve" outside of retrospectives as well!
What did you think about this post? I'm very passionate about supporting high performing teams and I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this topic. Please feel free to comment liberally on this post as well!
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