Chris Davey and Kristina Radeva, AND Digital’s Agile Coaches, led a truly interactive session on Play Day at Bristol Technology Festival as they showed us how to assess our projects to determine whether they are really worth following through – it turns out that pre-mortems (e.g. trying to envision every eventuality before it happens) are the name of the game!

The first point they impressed upon us was that all projects should be cultivated in an atmosphere of psychological safety. There are no such things as bad ideas – every point and person is valid, in fact, diversity of thought is a strength. This is key to their main project testing ethos, namely FOOD for thought, i.e.

  1. Failure – gather a wide range of people from the entire organisation and have sessions with them to gain insight around why the project might fail.
  2. Organize – thoughts and ideas must be organised together and then plotted out to determine how likely each scenario is to happen, and if it did happen, how catastrophic it would be to the organisation.
  3. Opportunities – the group should come up with creative ways to mitigate the problem.
  4. Decisions – by the end of the session, concrete decisions should be reached so as not to get stuck in a cycle of analysis without ever moving forward.

And the Golden Rule: Tackle the monkey first!

Work out what is the most complex piece of the puzzle and cut it down into much smaller chunks so that each piece can be teased apart to prove why the project should exist.

Following the initial introduction to the concept, the whole room was organised into a number of different departments in a fictional business “Bristol Cake Company” which had been acquired by a multinational corporation for its innovative designs and flavours. There were plans to roll the business out to 51 new countries, yet at the same time keep the original brand, style and flavour profiles.

The teams were asked to mentally put themselves one year into the future and imagine that everything that could have gone wrong with endeavour did go wrong. Each team then used their departmental lens to understand what caused the failures. After the 5 minutes were up, the team would come together again to collate each idea into key themes, and then plot the top 5 key themes on a chart of Certainty vs Catastrophic.

I had heard of pre-mortems before, and I had used them in the past, however, this was so much more than a pre-mortem. By allowing each member of the team to write down their thoughts individually and then sharing them with the group, it meant that quieter members weren’t overshadowed by their louder counterparts. It also led to a great deal of collaboration; almost nobody else around the table knew each other, yet we were all able to pull together a great list of ideas.

This just goes to show that in the real world, you wouldn’t need departments to do this exercise in departmental silos, and, indeed, it might be better to mix up teams in order to get more innovation. It also highlights the power of a neutral agile facilitator to help plan organise and encourage equal voice and engagement from the group.

AND Digital’s Agile Coaches were warm and engaging, keeping everybody on-task, but still being open to questions and suggestions. If you get a chance to do an event with them in the future, I would thoroughly recommend it!

Victoria O'Brien

Partnerships Manager at techSPARK