Thought experiments and Agile training

While sitting in my hotel room pondering all things Agile, I have settled on a new theory.

I have formed the opinion that some training should be nothing more than questions and discussion among students and a facilitator.

This seemed to work well in the TV series Kung Fu and in a documentary I saw the other night (the documentary mentioned that Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle in). 

So we can safely assume it works well for individuals and probably for small groups.  But what about facilitating larger groups? 

According to Agile theory and a book called Wisdom of the Crowd, having more people with diverse backgrounds should provide more fertile ideas and learning than  having an expert sharing his or her knowledge with the group.  It should also be better than just having a small group chatting and challenging ideas (ie using the Socratic method).

But another show on the history channel showed some angry mobs running around burning things, and my experience is that it is harder to facilitate large mobs than small groups of students. 

So there is a level of risk involved in having a large group launch into discussions and questions without guidance.

Unfortunately, as I sit here flicking through the TV channels the hotel has provided me with, I am unable to find a documentary that can help me with a well researched approach to facilitating large mobs.  So formal research and ongoing investigation seem unable to assist me in solving this problem.

Instead,  I have turned to the Einstein approach of thought experiments.

What if we ran a workshop like this?

  1. Get two facilitators so we can call it “pair facilitation” and therefore know we are being very Agile.
  2. Divide the day into 5- 6 learning iterations plus a couple of special ones. 
  3. The “pair facilitators” run the day except for some topics where the group may pick someone else to lead the discussion.

Rather than make this an even longer article, I will add add the instructions for each iteration as comments.  But the short version is

  • Initiate and speculate iteration to plan and prioritise the day
  • 4-6 explore and build iterations to teach/learn/discuss
  • A closing iteration to turn the lights out

Now I just need a mob to try this on so we can either prove it was a dumb idea or hone it into a cool workshop.


About James King

I coach organisations in how to better make use of the untapped talent they have in their people and to explore new ways of understanding and solving new and old problems I live in Sydney with my wife and daughter and have no real hobbies beyond the usual boring ones of reading, writing and watching tv.
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4 Responses to Thought experiments and Agile training

  1. jamesking42 says:

    The first special iteration is the initiation or speculation one.
    • Explain to the group what the day will entail, as far as you can predict it at this stage
    • Gather the students together and brainstorm ideas for the day. (You will need between 1 and 20 people willing to participate and a whiteboard and some sticky notes).
    • Group the topics into 5-6 themes and allocate these to the learning iterations on your whiteboard.
    • Split the group into 6 teams (12 if you have enough students) and allocate one theme to each group.
    • Run a speed dating session where the groups explain their topic to each other group and ask that group what they would like to learn or contribute to the theme.
    • Have the groups create a bunch of story cards to capture each idea in one line and add these to the themes on your story wall.
    • Do a quick retrospective and then launch into the learning iterations.

  2. jamesking42 says:

    Learning iterations
    • Appoint a facilitator and an iteration manager.
    • The iteration manager takes the list of ideas (stories) for the iteration
    • The iteration manager takes a quick vote from the group to allocate priorities and estimates to the stories using MOSCOW and then a vote as to how many minutes (max 45) to allocate to the stories.
    • New stories can be added or taken from the from the parking lot, or stories can be dropped
    • The facilitator launches onto the first story and wings his or her way through as many stories as the group get through
    • The iteration manager keeps an eye on the time and attempts to keep the facilitator and group focussed on some kind of agenda
    • Once time runs out, any remaining stories either go into the parking lot or the next iteration (at the expense of something else)
    • If students did not get to have their say and think an error has occurred they can add defects to the parking lot
    • The iteration manager does a quick iteration and then hands over for the next iteration.

  3. jamesking42 says:

    Lunch iteration
    • This iteration involves eating and chatting as the group sees fit

  4. jamesking42 says:

    Closing iteration
    • At the end of the day the group choose an iteration manager for the final iteration
    • The iteration manager runs a quick retrospective and then asks the group if they would like to cover next steps, cover some remaining stories or wander off for beverages
    • Remaining stories in the parking lot can be moved to the next training day or discarded
    • The group then act on the collective decision they have made

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