laptop computer with a sticky note
Ryan Fullmer

Ryan Fullmer

Business Agility Strategist at

If it is not on a sticky note, did it really happen?

Collaborative Agile Meetings

Recently I was reminded how essential it is to effectively capture and manage the group memory from a collaborative meeting.  Group Memory is creating a visual representation of the collaboration (discussions, ideas, decisions, etc.) in real time.  Group Memory done well prevents confusion, builds understanding and creates a real sense of accomplishment and progress.

I facilitated two value stream workshops to design the organization’s Agile Release Trains and agile teams.  The first workshop was designed to identify and select a significant value stream and design the Agile Release Trains.  The second workshop was designed to validate the definition of the Agile Release Train and design out the Agile Teams.  Each workshop had about two dozen people with some overlap in attendees between the two workshops.

For each of the workshops, I had a facilitation strategy in place to keep the information visible, reviewing output incrementally throughout each day, and ensuring common understanding from each exercise.  I had a co-facilitator each day to help manage the collaboration across the groups.  There was one big risk in the plan, we needed to take the content and outcome from the first workshop and use it as inputs for the group in the second workshop.  More than ½ the participants in the second workshop would be new.

At the end of the first workshop, the group had generated some great content:

  • guiding principles for the release train
  • business capabilities
  • features
  • automation systems and processes
  • how might we questions
  • risks
  • two proposed release train models for the value stream

My first instinct was to get help capturing the information, creating documents for the next workshop.  It was a lot of information, and the thought of going over a bunch of documents at the next workshop, didn’t fill me with confidence.  Leaving all the information on sticky notes didn’t feel like a great strategy either, it wouldn’t be easy for the workgroup to digest the information and apply it to their group exercises.  I had an idea to create a physical, visual model pulling together all the ideas.  Only selected information was typed up, it was limited to those items that would best be included in a reference document.

This is the model that the co-facilitator and I created:

Model Blurred to Protect Content

Release Train Planning

Since we were designing Release Trains, we used blue painter’s tape to create the silhouette of the train and then organized sections for shared services, business capabilities, features, systems, roles, distribution channels, how might we questions and guiding principles.  In addition to the model, the scribes for the meeting created two reference documents; how might we questions and guiding principles since those would be harder to use directly from the visual model.  This represented all the information the group needed to complete their assignments in the next day’s workshop.  Al of this information was posted to a large foam core board (4 foot by 7 foot).

At the beginning of the second workshop, the participants used the Agile Release Train model to review the output from the first meeting.  Everyone gathered around the model as key people from the 1st day’s session walked through each section.  Everyone was engaged and collaborating which allowed us to start the team design workshop in short order.  The feedback from everyone was that the model clarified what was done by the first group.  Several people from the first workshop commented that there were key points that they realized they hadn’t fully understood earlier.

As the groups worked, the participants made changes to the model in real-time.  As teams were defined, people would add details to model.  When all the teams were defined, the information on the visual model was validated and I wrapped up the meeting with a confidence vote.  The group ended the day with the meeting objectives and 90 minutes to spare.  The leadership team used the completed model for a review and discussion with key Stakeholders.

Having the physical representation of the collaboration from both workshops created common understanding and buy-in from the participants.  Using the visual model to present the information in a compelling way allowed us to tell the story of what we developed during the 2 days.

Take Time to Plan

When you facilitate a meeting or workshop, take time to plan how you will capture conversations, background details, recommendations and decisions. Consider the following when you are planning your next meeting or workshop:

  • What does everyone need to know to get started? What is the best way to present this information to the group so there is common understanding?
    • Work with the people that have this knowledge before the meeting to come up with a plan for presenting the information. Use facilitation techniques to make the experience more interactive and less lecture.
    • If the information should be considered or referred in the meeting, create summary documents for reference and have enough copies available.
  • How will you collect the information the group generates in real-time?
    • Have 1 or 2 people fill the role of scribe to capture information along the way.
    • For group discussions, break-out exercises and other planned collaborations, prepare in advance to identify the questions you will ask and how the information should be captured. Take time to make sure people understand the instructions and what the expected deliverables look like.  Create examples of the deliverables and post them in the room.
    • If you are conducting a multi-day workshop, have open time in the schedule to document what has occurred up to that point and refine your facilitation strategy based on the results from the earlier sessions.
  • How will you “tell the story” of what was accomplished during the meeting?
    • Group the information to highlight themes and patterns
    • Take pictures of the deliverables and details the groups. Create a meeting summary document to highlight key decisions and outcomes and use the pictures you took to represent the details.
    • Create models of the information to provide context and understanding from the many ideas, details and decisions that were captured.
    • Schedule review sessions with key stakeholders immediately after key meetings and workshops to tell the story.

A good up-front strategy for group memory can make all the difference in how well the objectives are accomplished and how satisfied and confident the participants are with the outcomes.

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