Exercises for understanding Agile

21 Feb, 2011
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I regularly run workshops to highlight certain aspects of an agile way of working and to help participants achieve a deeper understanding of these topics. I would like to share two of best received workshop sessions with you so that you can run them too. Today I’m describing the “Think Left” workshop.
During the “Think Left” workshop participants will work with the four values of the Agile Manifesto to gain a deeper understanding. In small groups each of the values will be worked on in a peer brainstorming fashion to better understand each of them. As a result of the workshop participants will realize that acting more on the left side or more on the right side of the Agile Manifesto is a choice.

  • Outcome : understanding of the 4 values and of the fact that acting on the left side or on the right side of the Agile Manifesto is a choice.
  • Duration – 1,5 hour
  • Max people – 20 ( per trainer)
  • Material : Flipchart, markers, post-it notes,
  • Setting : Participants sit in groups of 4 persons at tables. Every table has 1 flipchart paper
  • Global idea : Answering/discussing 7 questions will lead to understand the balance-idea of the Manifesto.
  • Workshop : The workshop consists of 7 questions that need to be answered by groups of 4 people.

Question 1. The Agile Manifesto: “Please write down the Agile Manifesto on the flip paper lying on your table.”

  • Practical : 5 minutes of writing and searching
  • As a trainer … Explain that the Agile Manifesto is like a balance for internal values. It’s used to weigh any decision. You can either take your decision on the left side or on the right side of the values. Explain to the teams that Agile is a Mindset, not a methodology.

Question 2. Agile experience: “Choose a real life example for each item of the manifesto ( 8 examples in total). The left one must be something you really believe it is a good way of doing it, something where you act really agile”

  • Practical : 5 minutes of writing and discussing per table, then bring it to the group with questions like ‘Was this hard ? Who has a very nice example he/she want to share?
  • As a trainer … finding examples turns out to be hard to do. Keep track of your time so you can help where needed. At the end of this round only the left side examples will be used, so make sure every table has at least 4 left side examples. ( Individuals & Interaction, Working Software, Customer Collaboration and Respond to change).
    Probably the teams come up with examples on the left side which are “GOOD” things and the ones at the right side which are “BAD” (failure in some kind of way). As a trainer you can point out that this should not always be the case. One can think of a situation on the right which feels like a good choice (at least at this stage of the session J)

Question 3. Shift: “Let each Team pick one of the values that will be their subject for the rest of the excercise. The other values are put aside.”

  • Please look at your examples and like the things on the left side 🙂 Now throw away your right side examples and put the left side examples on the right side.
  • As a trainer : Explain that the rest of the exercise will lead to finding more Agile ways to do the same thing. Make explicit that it doesn’t feel natural to see those good Agile things as examples of the right side… that it feels impossible to do things even more agile.
  • Feedback : Every Team tells the other Teams which value they’ve chosen and what examples they have on their table.

Question 4. The Goal: “For your chosen example, What is the benefit of doing this like this ?”

  • As a trainer… Make visible what the goal of every table is. This will help later in picking a more Agile variant
  • Feedback : After a few minutes every table tells the other tables what their goal is.

Question 5. The Alternatives: “5 alternative ways to achieve the same Goal in a different way.”

  • As a trainier … Help people to think out of the box. I’ve seen in the workshops I’ve done that finding the fifth alternative is difficult, and often, once found, this is the best alternative.
  • Feedback : Again, share your findings with the other groups.

Question 6. The new way: “Which one of these 6 ways to achieve your goal feels the most Agile ? Tell the other groups as well.”

  • As a trainer … help them remind their Goal.
  • Feedback : Tell the other tables what alternative you’ve chosen and why.

Question 7. Implementation: “What would be the first step towards using this new alternative in your organization?”

  • As a trainer … help them find steps and help defining a path towards a working alternative scenario
  • Feedback … Tell groups what step could be taken.

8. Roundup

  • Thanks for the session. Think left and enjoy being Agile.

There is a nice story about a team workshop based on this ideas posted in an earlier blogpost by Jarl Meijer.


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