Agile transformation with Lego Serious Play

Agile transformation with Lego Serious Play

Recently, I attended a training with the goal of equipping business consultants with agile tools. The 2-day-training went from stakeholder mapping with Lego Series Play over Design Thinking to Scrum and how building a prototype with less than 1.000$. One week before I had a kick-off workshop for a consultancy engagement where we were trying to understand the stakeholder landscape and their relation. If I had this training prior to this kick-off workshop, I would have had a better picture of the customer’s current situation. That’s why I am suggesting to think out of the box when preparing workshops and this is where Lego comes into play. Yes, start playing Lego with executives for the sake of better outcomes. I explain you why, but let’s start with a basic workshop setup first.

Setting the workshop scene

Do you know those kind of workshops where one person presents in front of 10 people and everyone is staring into their laptops? Even if you print DIN A0 panels to foster collaboration, people are only engaged if you tell them what to write on their sticky notes?
This should have an end. I will explain how you can do this in a very easy and practical way.

Move away every table, laptop and other things that are not needed specifically for the workshop. If people in the room don’t know each other, start a flip chart piece of paper on which everyone writes down who they are (role), what they have (experience and skills) and what problems they can bring on the table (problems might be related to their customers, internal things, basically anything that could potentially be solved with people in the room). Next, pin those papers to the wall side by side. By physically moving in front of the wall, everyone should study what the others have in terms of skills and problems. Foster them to start a conversation where they might relate to each other.

Why and how playing Lego?

There are simple reasons for Lego: it helps visualizing problems, relationships between entities and having a real result as well as documentation of what was accomplished during a workshop. Lego is just a tool to visualize it. Furthermore, it basically deletes roles and positions of power within the audience, because they have to work together as a team without any hierarchies. And this really fosters an agile mindset.

To convey the aspiration of what you are trying to achieve with a workshop, it makes sense to have some introduction round to Lego. Divide the participants into small groups (4 to 5 people) and let them sit together on a table full of Lego. Start with easy tasks such as: “Build something that would describe your ideal job. How would that look like?” It is important that for each iteration everyone needs to follow the PDCA cycle: Plan, Do (build), check (present to the group) and adjust. Give them 2 minutes of time to build something and then give the participants the opportunity to share their result in front of the group.

You can increase the complexity after each iteration by giving more difficult tasks like “build the company you work for”. For these kinds of tasks, let each group build one construct together so that they have to communicate. Then add to the result all dependencies such as customers, partners, suppliers, etc. Do iterations like “what if an external impact would hit the organization such as the invention of a new technology? How would it change the business model or the organization?” The goal is to adjust the construct they build.

The most revealing part to me was when we had to visualize the dependencies of all stakeholders related to the main construct. Suddenly, a big picture is built and you start to understand how organizations work. What if you expand the complexity and ask the participants to build something that was not tangible before: Imagine your goal is to transform a team or an entire department to work in an agile way? Simply build the department with Lego and visualize the stakeholder dependencies with more Lego. It’s extremely beneficial for the whole audience to grasp complex dependencies by knowledge work visible.

Design Thinking and Playing Lego

I heard a lot about Design Thinking in the past at university, at work, dozens of webinars have been held and basically it was very theoretical. But actually, the whole Design Thinking process can easily be visualized by playing Lego. To do so, you need problems, real problems.

So in a similar workshop setup, give people 5 minutes of time to write down problems they currently face. Divide them into groups, each consisting of 2 people, where they present the problem shortly to each other. Now it is about empathy:

(1) Interview the other person and ask every question you can think of without solving their problem, since it is about understanding it really in depth. Two to three iterations of problem analyzing should help you yo understand the real issue and its root causes.

(2) Then, everyone takes time on its own to find possible solutions to the problem of his or her interview partner. People are not solving their own problems, but the problems of the other person that they interview to have a new perspective and by this a new way of solving the issue.

(3) In the next step, present your possible solutions to your partner and note down his or her reactions, concerns, questions, etc. The solution which encounters the most positive resonance needs refinement.

(4) Lastly, in 10 minutes build a solution prototype for the other persons’ problem with all you can find: paper, cut out pictures in magazines, Lego, pens, etc. It is again about visualizing what a possible prototype, solving his or her issue, could look like.

As an important remark: I always thought that this can only be done for real products, where a problem fits a solution and later on the market needs. However, especially in the area of knowledge workers, you can build prototypes as well: Let it be the first draft of an agile organization, a business process, an idea on how to monetize commute times or a strategy blueprint. Bring it down to something you can see, feel and get in touch with in some way.

What’s the agile part in it?

Agile is not about project methodology or some kind of tool that is easy to use. It is about collaboration, culture, customer value and increased time to market. The above described workshop principles are exactly that. With this setup you increase workshop participation, team collaboration, outcome (not output!) oriented thinking and eliminate hierarchies for a whole day (with a lot fun by playing Lego together).

Putting it in a DevOps context: By strategically selecting the workshop participants, development and operations may work together for the first time in your company (in a secure environment without pressure, expectations or fear of doing failures).

Lego can be a perfect way of starting an agile transformation in a small environment with first small quick wins. With such workshops you teach the main stakeholders the principles and the future work environment in an abstract manner. These stakeholders may already have some first initiatives and ideas in mind that they want to apply in their organization. Let them express their ideas by building first prototypes.

The makers of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) actually suggest starting an agile transformation by educating people on agile principles and frameworks. Influencing a company culture is probably the toughest part, but it is a good starting point having change agents equipped as leaders for a change.

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