PRINCE2 Agile 2016
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26.4 Agile concepts and techniques

26.4.1 Workshops

In agile terms a workshop is generally regarded as an activity where several people come together in order to achieve an objective by harnessing the interactions and creativity of the participants. Typically, a workshop would last from 2 or 3 hours to a whole day, but the principles behind the technique can be applied to any timescale (e.g. running a 15-minute retrospective).

The ideal way to run a workshop is by using a neutral facilitator who has no stake in the outcome. Without a facilitator the group will need to police itself, which will be difficult because participants will be concentrating on creating the content to achieve the objective of the workshop.

Image 26.1 Agile makes extensive use of workshops

Image 26.1 Agile makes extensive use of workshops

26.4.1.1 The basics

In simple terms the thinking behind the workshop technique is that it is better to consolidate the understanding of many people by listening to them at the same time, as opposed to consolidating this understanding having listened to them separately. In a workshop, different viewpoints (and their explanations) can be seen immediately by everyone involved; however, the interaction needs to be managed to ensure that everyone can contribute fairly.

Preparation is essential for a successful workshop, and this can take as long as the workshop itself. Typical steps would include:

  • Workshop objective Why is the workshop taking place? What is it looking to achieve?
  • Attendees Who should attend to ensure that the workshop objective is met?
  • Agenda What steps should take place during the workshop and in what order?
  • Logistics Are areas such as venue, room layout, refreshments and equipment covered?
  • Pre-reading What do the participants need to know in advance to enable a workshop to run as smoothly as possible?

An experienced facilitator would be familiar with these steps, and this is another reason why it is preferable to use a facilitator who can work with the person authorizing the workshop (known as the workshop owner), to structure the workshop in the most appropriate way.

When creating an agenda for a workshop a variety of tools and techniques are available that can be used to address certain problems and situations. Again, an experienced facilitator would be conversant with many of these (see Table 26.1).

26.4.1.2 Example workshop technique 1: group work

At some points during a workshop it may be a good idea to break the whole group into smaller sub-groups. This can enable more areas to be covered and perhaps allow for quieter members of the group to contribute more freely.

26.4.1.3 Example workshop technique 2: sticky notes

The use of sticky notes provides many advantages such as: they make people concise, they are somewhat anonymous, they help the group create output quickly, they are movable and they are visual.

SWOT analysis Focuses on the four areas of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for a given situation.

Impact/effort grids

A two-by-two (four box) grid that allows items to be positioned against two criteria on the x and y axes (e.g. cost versus effort, impact versus probability).

Rich pictures

Using visualization to convey messages (often feelings) in a form that can use metaphors and humour.

Prioritization with dots

The use of sticky dots or marker pen dots to quickly vote on a set of options.

Gap analysis

A three-step technique used to describe how something (e.g. an organization or a project) can get from one state or situation to another. The first step is to describe where it is now. Step two describes where it needs to be, and step three describes what actions need to happen in order to get from the ‘now’ state to the ‘to be’ state.

Brainstorming

A way of generating ideas, which normally involves sticky notes so that all ideas are initially produced without being affected by other people. Ideas are then discussed, perhaps grouped and then developed further.

Visioning

Creating shared goals or objectives, often using visualization. Defining the overall ‘why?’

The five whys (repeatedly asking ‘why?’)

A questioning technique to get to the root of a problem or request.

Dr Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

A technique to help people think in six different ways:

  • The White Hat calls for information known or needed.
  • The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism.
  • The Black Hat is judgement – the devil’s advocate or why something may not work.
  • The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition.
  • The Green Hat focuses on creativity.
  • The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process.

Table 26.1 Possible workshop techniques

26.4.1.4 Further information

Workshops can be used whenever needed and at any point in a project. They are often used during the early stages but it would be a mistake to limit their use to just this area. The reason for this is that the technique can be very helpful in several situations such as:

  • planning and estimating
  • reviewing
  • problem-solving
  • requirements-gathering
  • project kick-offs
  • carrying out a stakeholder analysis
  • identifying and analysing risk.

Tools and techniques, and how they are used, play a significant part in workshops but perhaps the most important area to get right is the group dynamics. Strong personalities and conflicting views need to be managed, and this is where a neutral facilitator is perhaps most valuable.

A simple intervention by a facilitator when one person talks over another can give a clear signal to the group that everyone’s views will be heard.

26.4.1.5 Hints that may prove useful

Groups can use workshops without a facilitator, but this would normally require the group to have established and agreed its own working norms. This often takes time to establish and typically exists in teams that have been together for a significant period of time.

A workshop is quite a significant event that takes a lot of time and resources to set up and run. Therefore, it is always advisable to question whether a workshop is really necessary or if there could be another way of achieving the objective (e.g. a small meeting).

With some workshops it is a good idea to create something collectively as a group (e.g. a plan); whereas at other times it is better for specific individuals to create something and then have it reviewed as a group (e.g. a business case).

26.4.1.6 Run workshops well

Workshops are a very powerful tool. When run correctly they can create high-quality outputs in short spaces of time through motivated individuals collaborating and communicating effectively. This in turn creates clarity, consensus and ownership.

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