I’ve found using a kanban a productive approach to structuring and running meetings, workshop and presentations. Many meetings or workshops are often run from a fixed schedule that isn’t easy to update or change and also isn’t visible to the participants. I wanted to find a better way of structuring the day which balanced some competing goals:
- Allow participants to take as much responsibility as they were comfortable with adding, removing or re-ordering the topics covered.
- Acknowledge that as a content expert on many of the topics it’s appropriate for me to offer suggestions about which topics are likely to be most relevant, and the order and approach to presenting them.
- Find an approach that addressed the previous two goals without spending longer than necessary talking about the process during the meeting.
The solution I came up with was to use a simple kanban system of post-it notes. UPDATE: I’ve blogged a few improvements on using a simple kanban to structure meetings
Here’s how it worked:
- At the start of the day I presented a list of topics/activities we could cover in a suggested order with suggested timings (e.g. 30 mins) in a “to do” column. At this stage there was an opportunity for the group to add or remove topics or re-arrange the order.
- I introduced a “doing” column with a (work in process – WIP) limit of one topic at a time. When we decided to start a new topic there would be a quick discussion about how long we wanted to spend on the topic, which we wrote on the post-it note.
- There was an exit criteria on the “doing” column, so that when we reached the time agreed we stopped and asked “is everyone happy to move on?” before it could move to “done”. This encouraged a focus on the coming to a close on topics before starting new topics (“stop starting, start finishing”)
- If anyone wanted to continue then they had the option of creating a new post-it note that could be added to the ‘”to do” column that could be chosen to continue.
- We then went to the “to do” column and checked if anyone wanted to add a new topic, re-arrange the list of topics and most importantly, decide which task to start next.
There were many benefits from using this approach:
- It allowed the participants to take as much of responsibility for what we talked about as they wanted and left open the possibility for them to take more responsibility at each “which topic next” decision point during the day.
- The list of ordered “to do” topics was visible throughout the day, so people could make more informed decisions about which topic to start next. Nearing the end of the day it helped the participants focus on spending their ‘time budget’ on topics they thought most valuable.
- The overhead of this approach was minimal.
- Discussing how long the group wanted to spend on a topic helped me gauge how valuable the topic was. In one situation participants asked for a 10 minute overview of a topic which really focussed how I presented it. We also adopted the practice of asking someone to say what was most important about the topic, or what the key outcome they wanted from a topic was as the topic started (similar to defining the success criteria on a software development task)
- It gave people an experience of working with kanban that increased their understanding of the approach.
- Whenever discussions went off-track we stopped and asked “do we need to add this as a new ‘to do’ topic?”
- Rather than having to structure the list of topics at the start of the day, when we have least information about what will be useful or interesting to the group, we were able to defer this decision by making lots of smaller “what’s the next most important task to begin?” decisions as we went.
I’ve used this technique several times in workshops and meetings and continue to find it helps increase the productivity of the meeting by ensuring the group are engaged in discussing exactly what they want to talk about for the time they want to talk about it. Have you used a similar approach? What’s your experience been?