Note to self: Don’t buy post-its that need thumbtacks to stick to the wall.
Here’s how it went.
For me, one of the most impactful topics of 2019 in tech had nothing to do with AI, Machine Learning, AR/VR, or IOT. It was something that really should have been obvious to everyone that manages a team.
Run less meetings. Run more workshops.
The effectiveness of using exercises and interactive activities in your meetings to increase participation & avoid open discussion has been covered extensively by a number of firms and agencies, and doesn’t need to be discussed further. What needs to be discussed is implementation — how do you combine exercises and practices from proven workshops in unique ways to come to the right conclusions with your team?
This can be a daunting task, until you realize that there is no magic formula and that it doesn’t take a wizard to transform your team into creative problem-solvers. Just some sticky notes and timer.
These wizards wouldn’t know how to create the perfect workshop, either.
I recently launched an MVP and wanted to leverage user testing to prioritize tasks and create action items for the team moving forward. Instead of doing the user tests and writing the tickets all by myself myself, I decided to try something new — using a workshop to fill the backlog.
Step 1: Note & Vote
When trying to get ideas from your team, avoid brainstorming as much as possible. This is only successful at getting the loudest member of the team, the one with the most ideas, or the one with the most authority, to voice their opinion. Instead, have each team member write their thoughts privately so they are not influenced by other participants. Then, have everyone reveal their stickies all at once.
In this instance, I used the race-car motif to organize the tickets into features that are driving engagement and those that are holding users back from using the product to its fullest.
Our team is remote so I used Metro Retro for the session.
Step 2: Sort & Discuss
Now that we had a list of issues, we could start grouping together similar problems. After grouping like cards together, we gave each group a title. For example, since users were having issues with navigation, we made a group called ‘navigation issues’. Like I said, doesn’t take a wizard.
These stickies will be the basis for your user stories, tasks, and epics moving forward. When discussing these items, treat them as such. If there is a group of small, related tasks, create a user story about it. If there is an issue that would take significant effort to solve, treat it as an epic and come up with some user stories that solve it.
After this is done, you should have a bunch of stories, some tasks, and maybe some epics. Carry the stories into the next round, and leave everything else behind.
Step 3: Prioritize
Take the stories one by one and put them on an impact / effort chart. This will take some discussion, since the PM will likely have a better understanding of the impact and the engineers will have more insight into the effort required to complete each story.
Focus on items with low effort & high impact
Step 4: Actionize
Now you have a list of stories ready to fill your to-do list, organized by priority. More importantly, however, you also have a team that understands not only the origin of their tasks, but how to best approach and collaborate on each issue.
I ended the workshop here but, depending on how your team works, you can follow this up by creating individual tasks for each user story.
Learnings & Takeaways
For me, this workshop didn’t go as well as I had planned. There were some technical challenges, organizational issues, and key people missing in the meeting.
As is the case with most new things, though, starting was the most important part, and this exercise, however imperfect, went a long way in unifying the team and helping us come to a shared understanding of priority.
If you made it this far and decide to try this workshop with your team, please let me know how it went!