Category Archives: Lego Serious Play (LSP)

Play4Agile 2013 Unconference

I was at Play4Agile the unconference for games and playing to help teams better perform again this year. This is full of about 80 agile coaches and others interested in using games to learn. I shared a room with @sven_kr, which was nice as I’d not seen him since last year. It was also good fun meeting up with @eegrove and @gwww plus @kurt_haeusler in Frankfurt the night before, and hanging out with @eegrove again on the way home. Lots of time to talk and discuss ideas.

As with last year, I took home a lot of ideas, and had a good time with friends old and new, as we took over the sprawling seminar centre where the event is held in the hills some 30 minutes south of Frankfurt. I should also point out that ‘games’ are not video games, but rather card and dice games, paper and scissors games, and of course games using Lego.

The pre-conference session was a mini-jam run by @adamstjohn and @markusedgar where participants developed ideas to make the conference more interesting for those who couldn’t make it, and also ways for those who didn’t go to one session able to better understand what happened in other sessions. This resulted in a number of brilliant ideas such as the tumbler blog of photos with the #p4a13 hashtag, the ‘speed dating/meeting’ sessions at lunch and dinner (sit at appointed table and ask prepared questions from the deck on the table as a way to meet new people), the podcasts, the puzzle boards for putting ‘thank you’ notes, and comments about the conference that were scattered around. This mini-jam session was a great introduction for me of the Global Service Jam the following weekend, which Markus and Adam organise, and as a host for the Aberdeen one, was very useful to see how they work their jams. Helping to make the opening credits video for their event was also fun, as was the birthday party and midnight feast for @julezwitschert.

There were lots of sessions that were very useful for me. ‘Useful’ insofar as I learn something I can take back to the classroom. In no particular order the ones that stuck with me were a session by @ralfhh re-introduced me to the Kanban Pizza Game, which I hadn’t played since Agile Lean Europe 2011 in Berlin when he was prototyping the game. Now that I’ve played it and worked through a ‘what happens next’ session on the game to see where it can go next, I’ve seen how it will balance the beer game played at the start of a course. The students had asked if they could play the beer game again, but I think the Kanban Pizza game might work better for them to see another way of managing a system.

A session by @sven_kr and @cuxdu on Lean Startup using Lego was brilliant in exemplifying what can be done with a bit of Lego and idea formation. This will be useful in the future.

A session by @cuxdu on creative problem solving, reminded me of a process that I’d forgotten about, which this time pointed out to me that I can bring more games into the classroom if I change the location of my class now that I know how many attend. There is still the four weeks after the Easter break where I can try out different games if we have tables instead of a lecture theatre.

A session by @olaflewitz and @zucherart on real options was great to remind me that this needs to be discussed more in classes, as plans change, and we have different choices at different junctures, until we commit to one specific action, and until then everything is ‘an option’.

A session by @IlIlIIlIlIlIlII where we played a lean workflow game developed by @vanschoo went well and is another one I’d like to bring into class too as it too shows how you need to change the system to improve results, and this means reflecting on what the system is currently.

The Lego StrategicPlay retrospective session by @p_roessler was a useful reminder of how these sessions are run by others, and to see what variations work, and what can be done to keep the session short, and how varied they can be with just a fiddle pack to use for Lego bricks.

The session by @jacquiello on minimalist games using what’s in your pockets was wonderful in reminding us that it’s not always about the equipment of the game, but what the players bring with them in attitude and openmindedness. This too could be an interesting game to try with students to see what happens with simple rules.

I didn’t get to the ‘5 minute games’ session, but was inspired by it to think of ways to use simple, ‘no equipment needed’ type of games in my lectures and found some to work with amongst the game books I have. I thought they went well, and the students liked them too I found out later, and understood the points the game made in the class.

Play in the classroom is good and should be in all classes if possible. Play can illustrate a point more effectively than a lecture on its own as students experience the issue themselves, and through their emotional involvement, plus physical activity during the play make a better bond with the concept too. All of this is to the good.

At this conference learning is happening all of the time and games are played ad-hoc in the bar until the small hours of the day, and even over meals too. The games in the bar were for fun (werewolf, flux, and fiasco), while other games were prototyped some more. Lots of talking and catching up with friends also happened, and it wasn’t just the young folks who staying in the bar all night either. For some of us, little sleep is a fine price to pay for talking with friends discussing ideas, and sharing stories and learning all of the time.

The beauty of Play4Agile is that it provides a wonderful space for the participants where they feel safe, and well looked after so that we can try new things and know that if we fail, it’s ok. It’s a ‘learning opportunity’ as was often said during the weekend. The organisers provided space ‘for the magic’ as shown in this drawing by @p_roessler in his session on gamifying.

where the magic happens

where the magic happens

One of the most memorable and fun sessions that came out of the Friday pre-conference session from @teamfuture17 and ??? was the ‘blindfolded snowball fight‘ at Sunday lunchtime. This was fun to think about and to play. A good way to change pace for the weekend and take a break.

Yes, this is possibly the one conference I look forward to the most each year, and it is a lot of fun, but it is also the one I think I learn the most at. Maybe it’s because it’s full of wonderful people, who are great fun to be with, but also it’s because you never know what will happen, and what you’ll learn. It’s also over all too soon usually, and you then realise that you didn’t speak to this person, and that person, which you meant to do too. Bother. I guess that’s what Skype and Twitter is for and I’ll need to catch up with those people that way.

Last year, P4A for me was more about ‘what being agile’ means, and ‘what possibilities’ are there for each of us. This year my take away message seems to be, to remember what you’ve done before as a few sessions reminded me of what I had forgotten, while the other message was about ‘what can be done now, with what you have to hand’. I look forward to next year already. In the meantime, watch the blindfolded snowball fight we had.

The Development Process for Group Work

Discussions with a good friend this last week made me realise that I’d never put my thoughts down on how students should be building their applications before. Thanks friend, your prodding is greatly appreciated. Sure, I’d been thinking about it and determined what was needed from the software development process, but since moving more into the service design and design thinking camp, I’d not coalesced these ideas together. As always with these things, this is just a snapshot of where my thoughts are now. As I get a better understanding of this all myself, I’m sure my ideas will change. In any case, it is useful to document the starting point.

I’ll roll this idea out with the MSc students on group projects over the coming summer and then iterate it for other group work next academic year. These students have already done some of these things in isolation as part of other exercises, but other parts will be new to them. Where possible, I’ll pull in materials from elsewhere and use things they can run on their own. However, some parts will need to be facilited by myself or other suitable staff members. These group projects are always done with an external client across a variety of domains.

The process starts at the top and goes around clockwise with the red labels of ‘discover, define, develop and deliver’. This follows the British Design Council ‘double diamond‘ where discover and develop are divergent phases, and define and deliver are conceived as convegent ones. Putting this into a wheel is based on a DNA Wheel diagram from Sarah Drummond in her Embedding Design presentation.

The process also overlaps with the creative problem solving (CPS) stages used by Basadur, and thus also suggest phases and activities for each of the stages. While that breaks everything into eight phases of the circle, we can see them mapping onto these same four phases without too much trouble.

The orange labels suggest activities for each of the phases. I assume that each group will use all of these in the phase in co-creative work with the client. After fact finding and understanding the issues involved with the client, then they will brainstorm and ideate possible solutions. One or two of these will be rapidly prototyped according to whichever will provide the ‘biggest bang for the buck’, or some other logic about a return on the time/effort invested. The best of these ideas will be carried forward into the next phase where a more detailed prototype will be developed and refined based on user feedback. Accepted and validated ideas from the prototype will be moved into the deployed version that is released.

The blue labels suggest specific activities that will implement the orange activities. You can assume many more of these, and these are here only as typical versions of the activities I expect to use with the students. During the discovery phase this will include empathy maps and personas based on interviews. CPS can be used inbetween the discover nd define phase, while StrategicPlay sessions using Lego Serious Play can be used in the define phase. Needless to say many of the ideas in GameStorming could also be used here too.

The green labels are ways to help learn the blue labelled activities. They are there to provide another aspect of the process.

I see the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) from Deming, and the Build, Measure, Learn from the Lean Startup cycles sitting between teh ‘define’ and ‘develop’ cycles as ideas flow back and forth between them. Successful, ‘validated’ ideas move onwards to the ‘deliver’ phase.

The next step for me is to flesh this out some more with specific activities for the students in each phase along with more detailed notes and references for them. I’ll put in more references here too, for the rest of you too. In the meantime, please leave any comments about this you may have.

StrategicPlay® Facilitation Training in Lego Serious Play

As some of you know I’m into the whole Lego for teaching thing and have used it for a few years in some games with students, and that you can find some of the bricks in my office. Some of you may have also noticed that since last September my laptop has a ‘Play Changes! StrategicPlay’ logo wtih Lego minifigs looking over the edge of a wall. (Ok, a plate if you know your colloquial German expressions, if you must).

Anyways, I just finished my StrategicPlay® facilitation training in the process and it was the best training session I’ve ever had. It was awesome. Yes, really. Now that I’m at the Play4Agile conference (twitter stream of #p4a12 hashtag), it seems the right time to write this up before I’m back at work.

If you need to help your clients discover their strategic change options in business, or how different changes in their business environment might impact their business, then StrategicPlay® (website) Lego Serious Play (LSP) facilitation training is what you too should have. This will help you more than you think as described in the StrategicPlay® prezi presentation and the case studies on the Canadian site. You can also find LSP case studies on the Australian MCI site who collaborates with the other two sites.

Lego Serious Play is not what kids use

Yes, you’re probably thinking Lego, kids toys and what’s that going to do for my business clients? I can’t go to them and suggest this sort of thing as they’ll laugh me out of the office. However, this is different, as I’ve mentioned before in an earlier post on LSP.

As noted in the earlier article, I’ve been reading up on this subject for a while and thanks to chats with Katrin Elster at StrategicPlay® (Twitter) , I had some understanding of the process and its benefits. After getting some Starter Kits thanks to a grant, in late January I ran a session with students and their group project clients, which went well and I discovered this really worked well as a group kick off for projects. The team members all had a common understanding of the ideas and goals of the project. Real cool! It also helped bring the teams together.

Three Days in Hamburg at StrategicPlay®

Come February I ended up in Hamburg at the StategicPlayground in the StrategicPlay® (Facebook) headquarters with my five fellow classmates and wow! We learned a lot in our three days.

I learned that brain work, which is what we’re doing from 9-6 each day with an hour for lunch, is hungry work. This is made easier by the great food of endless coffees, juices, fruit and cakes, provided by the staff and the fabulous lunches in a nearby restaurant. There are also celebratory drinks in the evening when you discuss how the day went and what issues might still need clarifying.

I learned that I could trust the process of using the Lego models built by workshop participants to illustrate metaphors. This is how Katrin teaches the facilitation training: you run through the process three times; once each day. The first and second days you are the participant, while on the third day you and your classmates each take a section of the process and Katrin is a participant too. The workshop sessions are balanced by theory sessions in another room, which on the third day is also where you have the debrief sessions of the workshop stages you ran with your team members.

I learned that what I thought I knew was the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that I had to learn and that reading and running a few sessions is not the same as the full facilitation training. They are so much different, and I suspect it would’ve taken me years to learn on my own the lessons I gathered during three days in Hamburg. The third day is what makes the difference. After two days you may know all that you need to know to run a session on your own, but the ‘graduation’ session you run with your team members and the accompanying debrief show you what you need to know and put all of pieces together for a real day-long workshop. Yes, it will still take me a while to sort out the first one I do, but now I know what’s involved and what questions to clarify with a client before I do it in order to make it run to its maximum potential. Sure I’ll be nervous, but I’ll also know that as I did it once with friends, that this time on my own it’ll be ok. I’ve already made the beginner mistakes in a safe environment so I’ll be fine when it counts.

I learned that the StrategicPlay® Lego Serious Play process is everything I thought it would be and more. It builds upon the process discussed in the LSP open source document. This document only scratches the surface though, and you learn more with Katrin at StrategicPlay® about how to develop this tool of creative problem solving.

In the coming months and years I know that this new part of my toolkit will help develop my career and change my teaching forever. I’m not the same person who waked through the door in Hamburg on Monday. I’m better prepared for challenges ahead thanks to Katrin and the new friends I made at StrategicPlay®. Yes, it was hard work, but it was great fun too. We had lot of that: plus laughter too.

What others say about StrategicPlay®

But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can see what others say too:

Michael Sahota videos on StrategicPlay – he was trained through the Canada office

Michael’s description of the StrategicPlay® training process

Olaf Lewitz did his StrategicPlay® training with Katrin too and wrote about that training. He also wrote another piece on her awesome facilitation skills too.

Thorsten Kalnin did his StrategicPlay® training with Katrin too and wrote about his introduction to the StrategicPlay® process as a means to envision the Play4Agile conference, how he became a trainer and what the session was like for him too. He also wrote how he co-facilitated the strategy session that launched the Agile Lean Europe network.

Pete Roessler did his StrategicPlay® training with Katrin too and wrote about how easy it is to use Lego Serious Play for solving complex problems.

Thinking about Lego Serious Play and Simplex

For the last year or so I’ve been looking on and off at Lego Serious Play (LSP). I’ve been thinking about two aspects of LSP. First, I’ve been wondering how I could bring it into my university classroom with students. Second, I think it could be a useful addition to the range of skills available to the student driven software development I help organise with non-departmental clients. LSP could help form connections between different parts of the university, as well as the wider community of Aberdeen and the surrounding area. Combined with the Simplex problem solving approach, this could be a powerful combination to help us help others, and help form part of the learning processes used in the department.

I’d read about how StrategicPlay (DE) and StrategicPlay (CA) had been using this combination and was thinking it would work well as an extra layer of learning to bring to the classroom. Lectures just aren’t enough really, and these ‘thinking with hands’ aspects all seemed worth the time and effort to better understand. Also, what’s not to like about Lego? Discussions with Katrin Elster and Jens Hoffmann at StrategicPlay in Hamburg, about Simplex and LSP helped greatly in sorting out my ideas too. Thanks to both of you.

LSP with the students has several appeals as a concept. It provides a voice for all students, as it’s inclusive and all contribute to the group story. LSP also moves away from the two-dimensional aspects traditionally associated with computing departments, and should make the students think more about the ideas, before leaping into action with their laptops. The longer thinking time, and in particular ‘thinking with their hands’, as someone said, should provide more reflective solutions.

A key issue, however, is that as I currently understand LSP, it assumes longer sessions, which don’t lend themselves to our timetable issues. Therefore, it will be a matter of either, finding concepts within the LSP application toolbox that can be adapted to the timeframes available, or developing new ones to suit my needs.

LSP with non-departmental groups has  number of potential aspects. We could promote it as a means for idea generation, envisioning and strategizing. As I become more involved in cross-polinating events such as hackdays, and <whatever>Camps, which bring people from different disciplines together it could be a useful way to facilitate the eliciting of ideas for the participants.

What’s it good for?

For example, instead of using paper and pen to describe possible ideas I can see using LSP-like aspects to develop prototypes for applications to bring out metaphores of features. As they would be in the round, we’d also be able to see the relationships between the ideas, and be able to find gaps in the possible application. Thinking with our hands would also open more creative apsects in the participants too.

Smaller exercises, only 20-30 minutes long, should also be useful for illustrating simple concepts in the classroom instead of trying to cover them in lectures alone. We leave too much to lectures, and this could be a way to use more powerful teaching techniques.

Where’s the track record for LSP?

That’s just it. This is not new, and the more I dig around the more I find things happening in isolated pockets, both in the commercial world, as well as some parts of several universities too (Huddersfield, Liverpool John Moore’s. Several papers on the background and science of LSP are available by LSP (open source), Rasmussen, Hylton and Statler. These all point to sound reasons of why the process works from the psychological pespective. Work on neuroscience also supports the process, and how it draws on the right-side creative aspects of people, can be found in Hunt, and the work of Rock. The combination of these different reasons about ‘why’ it works, supports the case studies that are also available from the different practitioners, who are working with firms large and small.

So what next?

The next step is to read more and try more small examples with LSP and Simplex as time permits in the current work schedule. The next big step would be to work on these approaches for use with students and non-departmental clients for group projects in the new year.