SIMPLe aims to collect different perspectives from a large amount of people in order to gain insights and structure your transformation. The above image seems rather complicated than simple, but if you consider that you are building a complete map for the state of your agile transformation of your company then it is relatively simple representation.
It can be used at the beginning of an agile transformation to structure activities or as a retrospective to reflect and focus again. We suggest to use it as a retrospective and for orientation every 2-3 weeks.
Who should read this
Of course everybody can read the following, but the content is intended for experienced consultants and coaches that understand system thinking, agile principles and have moderated large groups before. Since the application of SIMPLe includes several people from different areas of an organisation, the following assumes also sensibility and experience in dealing with the “human factor”. For example the ability to identify and deal with (hidden) conflicts.
A SIMPLe Workshop
The best format to use the SIMPLe aspects to gain insights and define actions is a co-located workshop. This can be also be performed remotely/online as it will be described below. A remote setup has advantages since it makes technically easier to draw relationship between issues on “the board” and easier to moderate large groups with one single large board. Usually there are secondary goals for these workshops such as teams that work on exercising open communication, respecting others opinions and generally create a safe environment. In those cases a co-located setup is strongly recommended.
SIMPLe workshop in a nutshell
The goal of a SIMPLe workshop is to iteratively create alignment about a systemic view of an agile transformation and the priorities. This is achieved by
- collecting different opinions, strengths, weaknesses, problems from a large amount of participants
- and then merging them into one single story about the transformation.
- As a final step the group decides to focus on only one small resolution that will contribute in bringing the organisation closer to business agility and commits to finish this in 2-3weeks.
The workshop is repeated after every iteration by
- reviewing results and performance
- updating the data and insights of the last workshop by the new insight learn throughout the iteration.
- In this way the organisation can decide about the next activity.
- A SIMPLE workshop visualises the journey of the transformation and creates alignment over systemic problems.
- Through the small focused steps, the organisation gets into an execution and learning mode and can celebrate successes. Since learning is happening faster and different perspectives are taken into consideration, It increases the probability of success of an agile transformation and reduces financial risk.
- The organisation decides about the top priority. Unecessary activities (to a given point of time) are filtered out.
- Focus contributes on finishing things and increases motivation and commitment to the change.
- The organisation learns how to take over change on their own and integrate continuous improvement in daily business.
- As a matter of fact the transformation becomes a continuous improvement process which evolves naturally.
Preparation of the workshop
During the first phase of the workshop information will be collected from 4 different aspects
We will look at issues affecting:
- delivery and adaptation speed
- structural and organizational issues
- agile leadership
You need :
- More than 20 participants that represent several aspects of the organisation. You need diversity in order to increase the probability of identifying the right action.
- Lots of space if you co-locate. Technically it is easier on a virtual whiteboard, but discussions are much insightful when people co-locate in front of a large board.
- Break out room(s) for eventual group discussions.
- A technique to connect related (not similar) issues on the board. I use some thin cord, scissors to cut it to the right size and stick it between two issues. Virtually this can be done by simply drawing lines and connecting issues.
Recommendation: You should be experienced in moderating large groups, but this workshop can be also performed with a smaller amount of people. It is though questionable if the sense-making will be able to provide enough different views in order to identify robust patterns.
STEP 0: Set the context and explain SIMPLe
Duration: 15 Minutes
Explain the goals and the motivation behind the different aspects. The rest is done by learning by doing.
STEP 1a: Collect data
Duration: 30 Minutes
Brainstorming: Ask the participants to collect what they see currently as the biggest problems or challenges that they face by reflecting on all SIMPLe aspects. Every participant has to place 4 issues, one for each perspective. If there is difficulty to place a card in a specific perspective this could be an indication of missing complete understanding of a situation or the identification of a blind spot.
The cards placed on the board document the different perspectives of the participants. They can be placed on the board and can be of different type which allows several degrees of freedom for the group and the facilitator to adapt. The different types of cards (actions, risks etc.) can be successively placed on the board as the sense-making continues. The participants come up with different ideas and you need to facilitate not to deep dive into details already at the beginning.
- You can reflect about problems, but also about past actions, their impact and improvement potential.
- Participants can be asked to think about weaknesses and strengths of the organisation.
- A lot of participants tend to think about the future in solutions and actions . There should be allowed to freely add their suggestions on the board and the connection to the problem they are trying to solve will happen naturally in the next step.
Critical: Based on the group you are facilitating you should validate (ideally upfront) if there is psychological safety and trust among the participants. It is difficult to speak openly about problems and risks if there is no trust. In this case I recommend to build up trust by trying to talk about achievements and strengths first and plan more time as you will be moving to improvements, root causes, things that need to be fixed. I would even recommend splitting the workshop in two parts in order to have time to establish basic trust and openness among the participants.
You can ran this part several times depending on the data that you want to collect and situation the organisation needs to deep dive.
Some example steps
- Collect for example issues that are counter productive to speed, collaboration and do not allow people to take ownership and place them (on a sticky note) in the perspective where it could belong. Ask your self which structures are blocking or need to change. You can use some of the questions proposed in the SIMPLE Aspects. A technical problem for example that affects speed (on the long run) goes directly into this area. Since this is a sense-making model that it is used there is no right or wrong and this is not a mapping. It just expresses the perception and understanding of the participants. We are interested in revealing the different views of the people and their opinion in order to learn. For example one can place a problem that people do bring up risks and act proactively in the leadership aspect and somebody else in the collaboration aspect.
- Every participant has to place 4 issues, one for each perspective. If there is difficulty to place a card in a specific perspective this could be an indication of missing complete understanding of a situation or the identification of a blind spot.
- Next ask the participants to place card for the current strengths of the organisation (what is done extremely well) on the board and one activity or event that made the strength stronger. One strength per participant and one cause (2 cards)
- The amount of cards depends of course on the amount of people. If the amount of people is very large (e.g. 40 and more) you can control the amount of results by using a format such as 1-2-4-all.
- If there are empty “SIMPLe” perspectives (that contain no or very few issues in comparison to the rest) try to animate the participants to think. This might be a blind spot of the organisation. The latest after step 3 (see below Step 3: Generate insights) all perspectives should have some entries.
STEP 1b: Inspire and generate more insights
Duration: 20 Minutes
Discuss the topics and identify more issues. Try to “make-sense” why a specific issue is located in a certain area/perspective. Group issues & update the board.
Ask Questions – Facilitate an open dialogue. Group the issues and validate these groups if they make sense for the majority of the participants. Since the group will be large split in groups but always come together to share insights and update the board together.
STEP 1c: Making sense of the Mess
Duration: 30+ Minutes
This step is important to introduce the participants into system thinking/modeling and root cause analysis intuitively. There could be lot of confusion at this stage and make sure you give the group time to learn and learn from the others. if the group is large you may need a moderator if you do this for the first time.
Variation: You may also reduce the size of the group at this stage down to 10-20 people to facilitate one discussion. Nevertheless this depends on the goals that you are following with this workshop and the maturity of the group.
Ask the participants (or groups) to identify connections between different issues (or groups of issues). Possible introduction: “I can imagine that some issues affect others”. Maybe some problems affect our strengths. Maybe there is some causal chain and some root cause. Let us find these dependencies.”
Ask questions such as:
- Which issues (or groups) do you believe that are related or lead to each other (within or between perspectives)?
- Can you please connect them in your mind?
- Are there any longer causal chains (more than 2 or 3 connected issues?).
- is there a new root cause that you will like to include in your board.
- Is there a chain of issues (pattern) that is counter productive to any strength?
I will not explain moderation details here, but please make sure that the participants or group are able to work on their own. After the patterns have beed identified encourage the dialogue to identify more insight and update the board.
- We do not need a consolidated view yet. That means that the result of each group should be presented at one common space. Let the people learn from the insights of the others. Use for example the 1-2-4-all format if you have a large amount of people.
- Ask 4-5 participants (or groups) to present their results. Time-box this and do not ask every group if you have more than 5 groups. Ask at the end if there is group that has a significant different insight to share.
STEP 2a: Identify emerging patterns
Duration: 45 Minutes
Based on the observations and interpretations of the situation from the last step ask the participants (or groups) to write a short 1-page story to explain a pattern (a set of connected issues).
- Split the participants into groups. You want to have about 2-3 stories maximum. If you have more than 3 groups use crowd sourcing and voting to identify the top 3-5.
- The story should describe 1 pattern. Ideally one with more than 3 connected issues in different perspectives on the board. Maybe there is a cycle. Describe it.
- Avoid patterns consisting only of one issue or consist out of 2-3 connected issues. (An issue without any connections).
- The participants should avoid describing long solutions. Mainly they should focus on their perception/interpretation of the situation. 3/5ths of the story should describe the causality/problem.
- 1/5 of the story may describe the goal. In other words answer the question: “If we solve the problem how will the new world will look like?”
- The story should contain some proposals for resolution of the issue, but they should not cover more than 1/5 of the total story.
- Give the story a title
- Present the results
Visualise them on the board
- Visualise the top 3 patterns on the board, by connecting the issues, adding additional elements.
STEP 2b: Choose a simple pattern (Optional)
Choose a second pattern that you think is important.
- The second pattern should be one which is not linked at all, it is considered important and is apparently easy to solve.
STEP 3: Propose small measurable experiments
After the patterns has been ranked the participants or the group works on identifying small steps that can be applied the next 2-3 weeks that will contribute to destabilise a negative pattern (break the connections) of the pattern and lead to some measurable result.
- The participants (groups) work independently and present their results.
- A simple voting can decide for the next step.
An action plan is created in order to run the experiment in the next iteration (2-3 weeks).
After this initial collection of the different perspectives the results can be iteratively updated and the next step can be defined.
Please note that the above is a very simplified version of the format. If you want to know more contact Ioannis Strikos