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Organisation Agility

#SGSIN Open Space Sharing – PO & Scrum Master, Grow Your Own

In the recent scrum gathering 2017 in Singapore was a day of open space. Open space was initially created and practiced by Harrison Own who also wrote a book called Open Space Technology, that was initially in his paper on organisation transformation. In the scrum gathering, Dan Mezick facilitated the open space. Dan wrote a book called Open Space Agility that focuses on using open space format for the adoption of agile.

The power of open spaces in an organisation is in its self-organisation format. It directs people to voice up and voice out towards a common theme or compelling problem they are trying to solve.

In a conference like scrum gathering, I have often found the intent diluted in practical use but heightened with cross pollination of ideas. Before I share the topic I attempted at the conference, let me briefly explain this. In a conference on agile with people from various stages of the adoption and interests, it is very difficult to have a compelling topic that is focused enough and specific enough in context for depth of discussion. At the same time, with the variety of background of participants, it becomes a unique market space where ideas can be shared as a form of sampling. Instead of the depth of ideation outcomes from an open space in an organisation, it becomes a breadth of possibilities everyone can take back to explore further.

With that, I attempt to explain how my session morphed into something I had not expected nor intended.

In my previous article on scrum gathering after thoughts, I mentioned that I had an idea to talk about product owner and scrum master with my friend and fellow agile coach in Japan on a bus. (I encourage bus rides, it creates incredible conversations like the kind we have in cars.) The compelling problem has been this:

With every agile adoption, the consistent talent issue is the need for new skills and competences to operate in the new ways of working. The most marked initial challenge are roles of product owner and scrum master. They didn’t exist in the company before agile adoption, there aren’t that many in the market place. So what can organisations do? And how can they scale when the recruitment of these roles are not at pace with the transformation?

I had used a few methods to help organisations where I coached to tackle the problem. Using my past HR and talent management background, I had always approached this topic with “grow your own” over hiring.  And I wanted to find out what other people had done, gather new ideas. That was the intent of sharing the topic.

At the gathering, 2 things happened. I presented my topic and someone else wanted to present a similar topic so we combined our sessions. During the session, my co-chair wanted feedback on a training program that he is promoting to the market. Alarm bells went off in my mind as I hadn’t planned on being part of a sales pitch. (By the way, open space market place shouldn’t be a sales opportunity.) So very awkwardly, I tried to check the audience temperature and needs. And we asked the audience if they wanted to continue with feedback on the training programme or play a simple game I use to uncover the competences of PO/SM.

And very lucky for me, my co-presented stepped back from his topic and recommended mine.

So here’s the thing, I had not intended to have a session on the techniques I used but I was happy to share. And more importantly, it was by a sheer coincident and divine intervention that I brought my competency cards to the conference. I grabbed it from my desk in the morning while walking out, thinking, I’ll use it to show an example of what I did as part of the sharing / conversations. I almost walked out of the door without and something made me run back to my desk to grab it. That was what happened. I think I just winged an openspace session with no prep at all. For better or worse, I think the people at the session didn’t realise it.

Alright, here’s the real deal. In the rest of the this article, I’ll explain in better coherence what I shared at open space.

The workshop topic / technique: Co-creation of competences for PO/SM

The purpose: To co-create competences of product owners and scrum masters and a peer mentoring program to help them develop their skills. To create a strong chapter and/or guild of each role for continuous learning and scale.

Participants: Product owners, scrum masters, with team, leaders (optional) See variation below.

The materials: Any existing competency program used in the organisation. (I used Gallup’s strength finder strengths in the session).

Variation to the workshop: It can be for any role. The important thing is for people actually performing the role and/or working with the role to participate. This can be agile teams, leaders or HR. Although I tend to think HR is the consumer of the outcome not the contributor.

Example: Product Owners Competency Workshop

Set up: In a very simple version of this, only POs are participants of the workshop. A set of competences are used and there is no level to the competences, just the name and description. Each competence is written on a card. I used Clifton’s strength finder that has 34 strengths, hence 34 cards. (You can buy the book and take an assessment to find your strengths).

Round 1 – Individual Assessment

Participants are handed a set of cards each. They have to select the top 5 strengths they consider to be essential for a product owner.

Round 2 – Consensus workshop

All participants take the 5 strengths they had individually selected and pick them out from a new deck that will their common deck. Each different strength is represented by 1 card only no matter how many people picked them. You will end up with the minimum of 5 (if miraculously everyone pick the same one) or 34 (if everyone picked a different one and all the strengths are selected).

To gather consensus, you can use wall planning technique or MoSCoW method. The idea is to get to a final 5.

Note 1: For wall planning, you line the cards in order of importance starting with 1 and then add the next one left or right to the first card and so on. To the left is most important, to the left least important. The left most 5 is selected.

Note 2: For MoSCoW, the must have pile should only have 5.

Note 3: You may ask, why 5, not 6 or 4 or 7. You can have more or less but too little and the role is too singular in strength, too broad and no one can embody them. To do 5 well is usually the tipping point.

Round 3 – Self Assessment with Peer calibration (we didn’t do this at the open space but I talked about it)

Each participant has a flip chart paper on the wall and they draw a radar chart frame with the scale 0 – 5. On each of the lines, they should write the 5 strengths they had selected in round 2. For each of the strength, they should score themselves on a scale of 0-5 on their effectiveness in displaying and/or exercising the strength. 0 is not at all and 5 is highly effective.

After they had scored themselves, they form groups of 3 to discuss their scoring and explain their idea of the scale. Eg, what does a scale of 3 means for that strength.

Repeat this for several rounds, each time swopping members to have better calibration of their scale.

After a few rounds, they can rescore themselves.

Note 1: Self assessment should be an honest assessment of their own strengths and effectiveness. Hence, the workshop space should be a safe space where their managers are not present and these are not being used for KPI and promotion purposes. The intent at the beginning of the workshop has to be clear.

Note 2: Depending on the maturity of the group, the set of competences and self scoring can be skewed but usually, they can recalibrate through the conversations. The importance is to have the conversations and have as many rounds as possible for discussions on their scoring and scale.

Round 4 – Peer Mentoring

To close off, participants will find peer mentors and mentor their peers for each of the strength. They will indicate the person they are mentoring (where they score high) and the person they will be mentored by (where they score low).

Typically, participants can end up mentoring multiple people in 1 or 2 strengths where they are better at. Each participant should have at least 1 mentor for each strength they want to improve on.

Note 1: Participants may often choose their “friends” or people they are familiar with as mentor or mentee. I often encourage seeking people they had not worked with or in their social circle.

Note 2: Mentoring events should be specific and regular. So I encourage agreement up front on the cadence (when and how often) and how they will have the session. (where and what goals).

Closing Note

This exercise is best conducted every 3 – 6 months in the beginning of the agile journey and 6-12 months along a more mature agility path. This way, the competences created are just in time and relevant to the context and their abilities. With maturity, the competences or strengths selected will often change and the scoring will be more calibrated.

The facilitator should be someone outside of the team(s) and is not performing the role.

Use of Outcome

There are various ways the outcome of each workshop can be used. The most immediate outcome is for the group to have common understanding of the strengths required for the job and have a peer support system to help them grow.

The outcome can also be shared to identify potential people who can perform the role along with an understanding of the responsibilities of the role. (For this, it’s best left to another conversation and post.)


About Jas Chong

Organisation change and transformation.


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