vrijdag 9 maart 2012

Open space meeting technique

Yesterday evening I visited a nice meeting of nl-scrum. I had no scrum experience, though I do have a long standing interest in "light weight methods". The topic was user involvement. User involvement in scrum is organized through the presence of a Product Owner, who withing scrum has his / her own set of challenges. It was nice to hear some Product Owners speak about their experiences.

Contrary to most meetings, presentations were just a minor part of the evening. The main part of the evening was devoted to "Open space". A nice concept, which I really like. Te concept has been used for meetings with 5-2100 people. It seems the history of Open Space Technology is detailed in the Introduction to "Open Space Technology: A User's Guide", by Harrison Owen.

There is a wall where anyone can post a topic. This is sometimes called the "bulletin board". The "open space" is sometimes called the "marketplace", and has several places (for example labeled A, B, C and D).

Topics can be noted on the bulletin board using whiteboard markers, post-its or any other convenient way. Example:
Product feature: colourSales channel fbPatents: now or later?Legal harassment risk: look alike
No menpower for designproduct feature: keyboardwow factor?org barriers
The topic initiator, also called a facilitator, is supposed to move to his corner of the open space. Anyone else chooses the topic he is most interested in.

Rules are: The first rule, Whoever comes is the right people, simply makes sure that everybody is welcome in any discussion. Nobody should be locked out of a discussion.
The second rule, Whenever it starts is the right time, acknowledges that you can not force a discussion to start. Discussions start only when people care about something.
The third rule, Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened, is meant to have people concentrate on the AREs, not on the SHOULDS, COULDS or whatever.
The fourth rule, Wherever it happens is the right place, reminds us that it is not important where a discussion takes place. If it happens to be at the coffeemachine, fine. This rule is not mentioned by everybody.
The fifth rule, When it's over, it's over acknowledges that discussions are over when a consensus has been reached. It has no use to draw out a lengthy discussion for the sake of discussion. Discussions can not be planned, some will take more than one round. They can be re-planned on the bulletin board again for a new round.

Law of two feet:
- if you neither learn nor contribute from a discussion, move on.
The law of two feet makes sure that people feel free to move around. Find another breakout session, another discussion, make sure you use your time useful.

The discussions/breakout sessions are alternated with round ups, where all participants are standing or sitting, preferably in a circle, and topic initiators present the result of a discussion.

The literature mention two types of people:
Bumblebees fly from conversation to conversation, picking up ideas from one and insert them in others. Butterflies fly from discussion to discussion and pick up ideas for later exchange.
Except these 2 roles there are those of facilitator and participant.

The Open Space Meeting technology has been used in open source, engineering, legal, and many other environments. They make sure there is cross pollination between different discussion groups.

In the links below there are people who say that you can use the technique only or best when:
- conflict is present,
- things are complex,
- there is huge diversity of players
- the answer was needed yesterday
I'm not sure all of these conditions are needed. Yesterday there were no pressing problems, just a bunch of 20-30 interested people. No conflicts, hour we were a very diversified group.

"The 2 days of Open Space that followed were a success, a miracle in the words of the CEO and he added that 3 years ago they received a thick report from ___ (a famous international strategic company meeting in Israel) that cost $1.5 milion, and they could implement a little. Now we produced something much better in the cost of 1 page of their report, and it seems that we can implement it all." – Avner Haramati

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