Category Archives: Lego Serious Play (LSP)

Running the Silence Experiment using Lego

Taking part in the Silence Experiment at Agile 2017 made me more determined than before that running this type of session with students would be a good idea. Being offered the chance to start teaching our Human Computer Interaction course at the University of Aberdeen created an opportunity for me to ‘run the experiment’ and see what happens.

Thanks to all of you who’ve taken part in my running of this experiment.

Setting up the session took a bit of thought. While I couldn’t use same prothetic hand kits used by Sal Freudenberg in her versions of the experiment, which I covered previously, I could use the Lego Serious Play starter kits that I already have as an LSP facilitator. This meant the work would not be as meaningful, but given the audience, would probably work just as well. I used LSP Starter Kits and assumed teams of three or four students per team. I also wanted to have a slide deck to guide participants, along with a workbook that offered many of the same instructions so that they could work at their team pace too. Lastly, signs where prepared for the doors so that people would know what to expect as they entered the room.

The basic setup and assumptions

This was for the first practical session of the class and ran in the first week and set the tone for what follows in the classroom. Given this was a new practical session I had to run each of the three sessions on offer as I thought it would be too much to be dropped in someone’s lap if they’d not experienced this before, let alone facilitated many workshops.


My goal was to put all participants on equal footing and experience something different. They should all experience ‘a level playing field’ and feel their ideas are being considered too.

To that end I had them build two different models. The first is a straight forward one with eight steps, which they could follow. The second and subsequent model had general instructions, which they could interpret variously according to their design preferences. More about this later. I wanted them to empathise with others for that hour of silence.

What happened in the sessions

Given this was done during a regular teaching term. I had to clear students out of the room each session, and then set it all up with the help of my demonstrator. This took us about fifteen minutes to do as we set out Lego kits plus instruction booklets that I’d printed from the slide deck, along with a pack of sticky notes and pens at each table. We also had to move tables around so that students could sit around a table instead of in a row as these were computing labs. This was not ideal, but worked well enough for our purposes.

Before they entered the room I would tell them that silence reigned once they entered the room and that they should enter and put their coats and bags down and find a space at a table. They should also form teams of three where possible and await further instructions in silence.
After all was settled and we’d rearranged students into trios instead of pairs, I gave a brief intro to the session, and then we started the building. During this time my demonstrator and I would wander and remind them to write down their thoughts as they worked through the experiment, show them the colour version of instructions in the Lego kit, and keep them on the right page for the more challenging instructions.

I noticed that some students ‘cheated’ with notes written to team members as ‘instructions’ and ‘questions’. (In the photo above, the stack on the left contains instructions, while the one on the right contains reflective comments.) While we tried to stop this and suggested at the start that they will get more out of the experiment if they didn’t do this, it happened nonetheless. I also noticed a lot of ‘oops, sorry’ and shrugging of shoulders during the sessions as students delved deeper into the experience. Some students also quickly colour coded and sorted the pieces to make finding pieces easier, while in one session all teams bare one, kept the Lego bricks in the bags and only took out the pieces they needed. That was a very quiet session.

At the end of about 45 minutes they were done with their final thoughts, and we moved onto the discussion as a group.

The discussion

I worked through a number of the same questions that the Inclusive Collaboration crew also used with their sessions, and then added a few of my own:

  • What did they feel they needed to say, but in the end didn’t need to?
  • What surprised them?
  • What did they wish they could’ve still said?
  • How was this different?
  • What should they remember to use when applying this to the rest of the term?
  • Why did I have you do this exercise?

The first ones ended up being similar to what experienced in Agile 2018, and read about in various blog posts, after a bit of teasing out of the concepts and ideas with them. They thanked their team mates for a good time, and apologised for their mistakes. They also realised that much of what we say is ‘filler’ and the need disappears after a bit of time. The surprises for them were the speed with which they worked and collaborated in silence.


There was also a discussion each session about whether they would’ve worked faster if they were able to talk. We always concluded that they probably wouldn’t because they would ‘talk, talk’, and not ‘act act’ and thus take longer. They realised that by acting and building something to show their team members to let them see what they were thinking avoided many misunderstandings, which would normally arise during talking.

A key part of the way I run this is to let participants ‘follow instructions’ in the first part, and then make them collaborate on design in silence in the longer second part. The second part is when the team need to decide how to collaborate to design items, and where the ‘act act’ seems to win as first one person tries out something and others join in to design the item, and to then experiment with the design. This was emergent design at its best.

Running this as Play4Agile 2018

I also ran this session at #p4a18 where we had only one team of three plus two who came and then left again. This was an unconference with many other sessions on the go, and on the first day. It was useful.

This session added a new twist: how do you bring a new person into a silent group? How does that person indicate their intention to help, or guide the team? Both ‘newcomers’ did this differently, and in the debrief we discussed how this was perceived by the ‘fixed’ team. Beyond that similar discussions also arose. One of the participants had also been at the Agile2018 session mentioned above, and was able to offer insights into the comparison of these two. For that person the ‘meaningful work’ of building the hand was paramount and added gravitas to the work. Using Lego Serious Play kits will never come to that level. However, it does offer more experimentation with the design issues participants face, while also making the session more easy for others to follow too.

Follow up

The materials to run this session yourself can be pulled down from these links:

The silence_experiment_room_signs signs also help guide expectations.

Slides to show on screens during the session and to guide discussion. Silence_Experiment slides Handouts for table groups (slides 4-9) You may want to print the ones with Lego pieces in colour for piece identification if you don’t have the Starter Kit instruction booklets.

If you do use run this yourself, then please let me know how it goes. It’d be interesting to compare notes.

Games 4 Learning


I delivered a workshop on ‘Games 4 Learning‘ at the UK Horizons STEM conference in June 2017. This went well, and much talking and actions ensued from the participants about how they might use games in their teaching. At the end a question of resources came up, and I realised that I didn’t have a list of them on a slide. This short post replaces the ‘missing slide’.

The games mentioned in the session were:

Lego Serious Play (See other blog posts on this)
Happy Salmon
Kanban Pizza Game
Various Lego Scrum Simulation games
Scrum Card Game
Penny Game (dice variation)
Lean Workflow Design Game
Marshmallow Challenge
Ball Point Game
Ninja Bear Granny (rock paper scissors) with team/group variations
Investigative Rehearsal (role play), and Theatre of Oppressed/Forum Theatre

TastyCupCakes is a wonderful site to find games for a variety of purposes, although many are aimed at software development.

The Encyclopaedia of Improv Games offers a useful list of games used in improv training. These can be simple and easy to use and adapt to your needs.

The Thing Group offer many types of games for training. I know some people use these, but I haven’t had an opportunity to explore them more fully. I put it here as an option.

For each of these look at what might work, and think of how you might introduce them in your sessions. If in doubt, talk about it with a colleague, or try it and explain that it’s ‘an experiment’ and you’d like some feedback.

Do feel free to get in touch and let me know how you get on with these.

Play4Agile 2016 – one big family

All in the family

Play4Agile (p4a) 2016 is over for another year. As always it’s part reunion with dear friends, and part excitement at meeting new people at this ‘unconference’, where you learn to expect to be surprised by what you find happening. I mentioned this as part of my brief lightning talk on the Thursday evening. This is one big safe space, where you can explore ideas in sessions knowing that you will get support from those around you. It is so safe that, as mentioned on twitter, a transgender person came out to everyone there. That was a nice moment.

The ‘family’ aspect was reinforced in two ways this year. First, we had the village that is the p4a community looking after Myrta, who was a regular attendee to many sessions as both of her parents are also part of the community. It wasn’t unusual to see Myrta playing with and being looked after by others with her parents in different sessions. This is now the third year where this ‘community childcare’ is happening at p4a and it seems to work perfectly well. At some point I’m sure that we’ll possibly have bigger kids in attendance too. It possibly hasn’t happened as we are limited by space at the event so we can only have around 80 attendees, so they might need to sleep on the floor or in a camp bed.

The other ‘family’ aspect which I realised later was the wonderful way that sessions turned into ‘family’ portraits thanks to the lovely graphical recording work done by Kata and Marti from Remarker, who work the paper together like pair programmers with Kata doing the illustrations and Marti doing the words. One will start something and the other will follow on as needed to fill the large sheet so that anyone coming along later will know the title of the session and see the key takeaways. Having this pair at p4a meant we had a wall of history growing before our eyes. This was a great addition to the event this year and I look forward to seeing them at events in the future. Kata and Marti were told to feel free to choose the sessions they record, and to join any session they wanted to attend too. This is why you’d see them everywhere during the weekend. They are also now ‘family’ as we’ve asked, and they agreed to come join us again next year. As Kata told me, this was the best conference she’d ever been to as they were told to look after themselves and maintain a sustainable pace over their time with us. As a result she was able to take advantage of the location’s facilities and unwind after a long day recording our activities.graphic recording of lightning talks

The ‘family’ aspect was also shown in the relationship between the hotel staff and the p4a participants. We were told that staff avoid going on holiday over our weekend. The staff want to work our weekend. We talk to staff, and they learn our names extremely fast. They even know to pre-order some soft drinks for our members as part of the event. It’s also not unusual now to see staff and guests hugging each other good bye. It’s an amazing event.

The ‘family’ aspect of the event with people feeling safe encourages the learning that we each do there as we’re relaxed and feel that we can move from our comfort zone to our ‘adventure zone’ and learn new skills while also sharing ideas for discussion. I should also point out that the sharing ideas goes on all day and night. Friday and Saturday might go from an 07:00 walk or jog with someone in the woods through to 08:00 for breakfast followed by the open space starting at 09:00 and sessions running until 13:00 for lunch and afternoon sessions then running from 14:30 to 17:30 with an ‘evening news’ at 18:00 followed by dinner and then evening events of games, power point karaoke and talking with friends from 20:00 until 03:30-04:30. You could in other words find yourself with little sleep.

Games for learning

I find p4a so useful as it inspires me with games to use in the classroom and stories to use when talking to students. This year there were several highlights playing games in the bar in the evening. For example, we were talking about ‘real options’ and Olaf mentioned that he uses the game of Fluxx to show the difference between ‘options and commitments’. The rules constantly change so you can’t plan, and have to keep your options open until you find a successful way to commit to something in the game. Adding this game to the classroom will be a good way to bring home the issue of ‘options’ and systems.

Similarly, during a Werewolf session we learned that decisions happen much faster when opinions are reduced in ‘no talking’ rounds. This ‘silent’game round went much faster, than in the rounds where the villagers can talk and argue their opinions.

While playing Escape in the evening we also found a lot about communication being shared (or not) by players, and about the emotional state of players too, as shown in the graphic recoding of the session by Kata and Marti. Thanks to them we realised things, which our observers of the game had said. This was a very nice extra to find them working into the evening sessions and not stopping after dinner.Adventure Zone

Learning with StrategicPlay

The best sessions for me this year were the ones run by Katrin. This started with the pre-conference Agile Game Slam where everyone worked through a number of known games for different scenarios, and then created ideas for other games in the same scenarios, some of which ended up being worked on over the weekend too. This was a good example of Katrin using her CoCreACT process, and as always it’s good to see someone, who loves what she does, facilitate events as she offers so much during the process.

I was also able to see her and Jens guiding the Flowa team through this later too in a slightly different application of the CoCreACT process. Flowa were wanting help to determine where they should go, and Katrin, Jens and I helped them with this. This was a good extra to show how you can always be surprised by the unexpected at p4a. We followed this up with another session using Lego Serious Play process to develop models in relation to various challenge statements about the firm’s vision and ideal customers, which was good to see.

Lastly, I helped Jan run a short ‘taster’ session on Lego Serious Play under Katrin’s guidance, which was fun. Jan, found it a bit more nervous doing this under Katrin’s kind gaze, and people repeatedly told Jan that they liked the session, which was good for her confidence. All of us, who trained with StrategicPlay in being Lego Serious Play facilitators under Katrin have gone through this, so now Jan too has taken this rite of passage.

Rory’s sessions

Although Rory wasn’t here, he was here in spirit with his Story Cubes and in the Extroidinaire design studio, which were both here this weekend. We all received a ‘mixin’ pack of three Story Cube dice as part of the p4a gamafication kit this year, which was a great surprise. Jordann and Alex also ran a useful session on how you can use Story Cubes with agile teams that produced a good number of ideas that I can use, and Katrin and Jens introduced us all to the Extroidinaires as a design thinking approach, which anyone can follow to learn the approach. This will be useful for classes in the future.

The other sessions

I also went to Bettina’s NVC game session, which was the ongoing story of a game she started working on last year at p4a15. I wanted to see if I could glean any ideas for my own conversation based game. Whereas she starts from Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication approach, I start from Crucial Conversations, so while there is some overlap, and her approach is more heavy-weight than what I intend, it did offer me a few ideas for perhaps using ‘scenario’ or ‘concept’ cards so that players get more of the background. However, this might slow the game down and not be so useful for beginners, which is my intended audience.

Tim offered his Scrum Card Game twice it was so popular, and I made it to the second session. I’m always looking for new ways to introduce the ‘feeling’ of a scrum sprint to students and I hoped this might be ‘the one’ to use as it would take away the ‘oh Lego’ feel, which happens when building objects with Lego. I wasn’t disappointed, and hope to see this up on TastyCupCakes soon.

Juhu and I joined together for a session to discuss how to deal with conflict. He had specific issues to cover, and I wanted some feedback on my card game. This worked well for him and folks concluded that you need to develop a sense for issues both at a personal level so that you are aware of your own feelings when things aren’t going right and that you might be building up to explode at someone, while also developing a wider sense of how the team is doing in the sense of ‘danger spots’ in a minefield. Although my idea didn’t get much discussion, that was ok as people wanted to discuss the larger issue of conflict and I found some useful ideas there, which I can carry forward for the next iteration of my game idea.

The last session I went to was Ari-Pekka’s ‘Culture Coding’ session, which I’ve already written about.

I liked co-facilitating the ‘retro-festival’ with Jordan. We tried a new ‘speed’ retrospective with six stalls for people to work their way through in five minute sessions at each stall. As this was with five teams we were able to give ‘stall holders’ a short break as people moved around the stalls. There were stalls for ‘Story Cube stories of feedback’, ‘A sailboat of driving forces and hinderances’, ‘a wishing box of dreams for p4a’, and a ‘back to the future of what was great about p4a17’, along with a ‘weather chart’ of the overall process that goes into a gathering: registration, pre-event info, the marketplace, open space and other things. The format was fun and seemed to work well with some fun comments back from people about our different format.

Wrapping Up

p4a is still the best conference that I attend. I ALWAYS find useful ideas that work their way into my teaching and facilitation practice. It provides good space to try ideas and receive useful feedback from other practitioners, who face these problems and issues on a more regular basis than I do in my classroom. This is the place where I can validate my book learning through conversations and facilitation practice so that it becomes valid praxis for me to use everyday. This is me doing my professional development. This is what I do for ‘work’, although admittedly at p4a it doesn’t feel like work. Not even with when you’ve only had three or four hours of sleep.

CoCreACT! Facilitator Training in Hamburg

Since leaving Hamburg the last time in 2012 after my StrategicPlay training as a Lego Serious Play facilitator I have been meeting Katrin Elster each year at Play4Agile and always been impressed by her sessions, and the ideas we’ve talked about at meals and in the bar. For a while she’s talked about a ‘new’ training workshop, and I’ve always asked ‘when?’. Finally… finally, this year she agreed to set a date for me and a colleague, who I brought with to #p4a15 to come to this new ‘CoCreACT’ training workshop. Woohoo! This was exciting stuff. Katrin was going to be leading a small group of trainees through their paces in learning how to best facilitate creative problem solving sessions.

The programme for the three days didn’t say much, and if you didn’t know Katrin, you might think ‘meh, I know this stuff’. There’s expected topics on creative problem solving, and even the four d’s of design: discover, design, develop and deploy along with the double-diamond. You can find all of this in books, and probably on YouTube too, if that works better for you. You’d be wrong thinking that was all there was to one of Katrin’s training workshops.

As with my StrategicPlay training with Katrin I had read any and everything I could find about the process, and I had run a few LSP sessions too. Similarly, I’ve been using various creative problem solving approaches, organising and facilitating co-design sessions and Global Service Jam events alongside running sessions with students. All of this was familiar territory. I’d done my homework and the extra credit stuff on Simplex creative problem solving process too.

Despite this, I was willing to put my money down for training. I also and had faith that my colleague would be satisfied with the training too. She’d only met Katrin at #p4a15 and had participated in a few LSP sessions that I’d run. My faith in signing up for this workshop was based on this: I came away from the LSP training going WOW! She had put all of the bits I knew into perspective, and added more on top of this. Katrin is a master trainer, and knows how to make a training session feel like you’re effortlessly learning while working.

I trusted that this new ‘CoCreACT’ training would be of the same standard: that at the end of each day my head would hurt from all the new things I’d learned I’d done. I knew I’d be using a ‘learning by doing approach’ in a small, safe environment where I’d be challenged in a fun, supporting manner. Yes, I’d have to work, but I’d also have fun while working. I wasn’t disappointed.

CoCreACT day threeThe first day you learn the process and apply it to a problem of your own. You also explore your own preferences for how to solve problems so that you’re aware of blindspots you may have in the process, and thus don’t overlook them. the second day you work as a team on a few problems and see how this all works in a larger group. The last day participants are leading sections of the process. So you go from walking through the materials to running with them
by the end of your three days.

All of this training is done in a highly tactile, collaborative and supportive environment, which aids the learning process. There are worksheets to write on, Lego bricks scattered around for you to finger with while you’re listening; but you’re never sitting for too long in any case as you work through energisers and brainstorm ideas writing on hundreds of Post It notes while on your feet. Then there is all of the wonderful food and drink, cake and endless coffee or tea too. All of this combines to make for a stimulating learning experience where you comfortably grow into the role you wanted for yourself by the end of the workshop. You came to gain more facilitation experience, and that is what you’re practicing by the end.

During the training you’ve made more friends with your fellow participants too. There were six of us in this workshop. All but one had previously done the StrategicPlay LSP training with Katrin. My colleague, hadn’t done this. It didn’t slow her down or hinder her and she grew in confidence with the training too. By the end we six had spent days together and
shared many a coffee, croissants, lunch and drinks, and blended into a nice team. This is the same thing that happened the LSP training too. There, as here, I knew some participants, but we all got on well together and were friends by the end. The mix of the food, drink and the training plus Katrin’s coordination and training magic make it all happen.

So, go take part in Katrin’s CoCreACT training workshops. You will learn lots, even if you think you might know some of the materials. By attending you’ll gain the insights of someone who has worked out a process that blends many of the ideas and steps together into a well-structured whole so that you too can use this process later as second nature, and always wonder why you didn’t notice these little things that help make it all come together so much
easier and better than before.

And my colleague, was she happy with the time and money spent on this training? Did she still trust my judgement on these things? Prior to coming to Hamburg, at the end of Play4Agile she
said we must go to Play4Agile North America as that would be useful and help her development as a facilitator. Now she says that can wait. She wants to return to Hamburg for three days of StrategicPlay Lego Serious Play facilitation training. As I thought, she did enjoy the training and found it useful for her work.

Update: I’ve now used CoCreAct for an event and was very happy with the result.

Play4Agile 2015

In February I returned to Play4Agile 2015 in Germany. As always this was an excellent event where I could gain new ideas, discuss old ones and try out some new ideas of my own too. It was also special this time as I took someone with from Aberdeen. This made attendance different in a good way.

On Thursday before p4a15 started I attended a workshop with Deb Preuss on open space technology with several others. This was useful and helped me clarify how I’d been using this in the past and what I could do to provide a better experience for others when I’m facilitating events in the future.

The pre-conference Friday afternoon workshop on Improv this year was good fun as well as a useful experience to see how I can bring more improv to some of my classes as a way for people to warm up and move towards body storming aspects when developing and prototyping ideas. There were many demos during the session of the power of ‘yes, and..’ plus also how to better ‘accept your partner’s offer’ and what happens when you don’t follow these rules.

Play4agile_15 organising teamSaturday saw the usual excitement of the start with people lining up to offer a good variety of sessions. With the help of others I was able to have a session run on ‘Theatre of the Oppressed‘, which I missed last year, and wanted to better understand so that I might be able to use it too someday. We picked a scenario from someone and then worked through the possibilities to understand the options, which might’ve been available. Sarah, who led the improv session on Friday, also ran a session about improv techniques, which was very good too and built nicely on what she’d done on the Friday. There was also a good session on using the game Escape: the Curse of the Temple to highlight and help to analyse team interaction, and what happens when it falls apart.

Sunday saw me run a trial version of my crucial conversations game. This went ok, but was not as good as I hoped. Instead, I got lots of useful feedback about improvements, plus an important validation that the general idea was good and was worth pursuing further. As always, this is why we go to p4a; we can try ideas with a useful, supportive crowd of people. Afterwards I went to Ellen’s growth mindset game session based on Carol Dweck’s work, where she and Jens were exploring whether you could develop a game to help people understand the notion of growth mindsets. The conclusion was that this might be hard to achieve. Later, Ellen also ran a useful session on how to use Rory’s Storycubes for retrospectives.

I’m sure that I’ve forgotten some sessions and know I also had many conversations over meals with people – almost always sitting with different people each time – and late into the night at the bar with more people too. Because everyone is in the one location for everything you can always find people to chat to about work and ideas, or play a game with while chatting. This is ever so helpful. Lastly, of course, there were the sessions of werewolf, which are always fun and enlightening 🙂

As noted above, I had a colleague from the university with me. This meant I was looking after someone to make sure they knew what might be expected in this wonderful community and to point out people they shoud meet. This was good. The best part was seeing this person grow over our time there. By the end of p4a15 the person was more confident, open, and aware of what was still to be learned about the agile community. Plus, they had an even bigger thirst and understanding of the power that play brings to learning. I must try to bring more people to this in the future.

HEA STEM Workshop on Developing Student-Run Software Houses

In March 2014 I ran a workshop on developing student-run software houses for the HEA at London Metropolitan University in London. The day was broken into two halves with the morning devoted to short case studies with plenty of time for questions, and an afternoon of hands-on workshop starting with Strategic Play session using Lego Serious Play to let people think about their own situation followed by a wider focused World Cafe style approach to our main questions. This worked well for our twenty-five or so participants.

The seven short case studies meant we had at least one look at each of the four ‘live client interaction models’ I’ve identified at different universities. The ones in bold presented for us.

  • Model one focuses on the degree with a core live client module for all students (Durham, Lancaster, Sheffield Hallam and Aston)
  • Model two starts small when someone offers services to community supplied by students across discipline or university (Aberdeen, Greenwich, Worcester, Plymouth and Chester)
  • Model three is an umbrella where a commercial and entrepreneurial unit organises activities (Edge Hill, Hull, and Napier)
  • Model four is a commercial unit where a manager liaises with live clients and organises students as staff, or as freelance developers (London Met, Southampton Solent, Kent and Sheffield)

The afternoon sessions started with the warm up using StrategicPlay approaches using Lego Serious Play with each participant reflecting on their own situation by building models to share with others at their table reflecting these questions:

  • what is your biggest challenge to the next step of starting, or developing further, a student-run software house
  • add how will you have overcome this challenge in the next six months?

StrategicPlay session
The goal was to have people reflect on their situation and take in what they’d learned from the morning case studies and general discussion over lunch. The next step was to widen out the discussion using a World Cafe approach that addressed these four questions:

  • What might the ‘next level’ look like at your institutions?
  • What don’t you know that you wished you did know?
  • What is holding you back?
  • Where do we want to go?

We gathered the results on sticky notes on flip charts which have now been collated here.

What might the next level look like for our institution?

Sticky notes say:next level at your institution
HR/finance/IT/legal departments informed and engaged
IP and contracts
IT support?!
senior management support
investent in future
long-term planning, sustainability
visibility internally and externally
Plan B
more staff involved
greater engagement of staff
incentives for staff to engage
train students to do some work for staff autonomy

enhance first year lead in
opportunities to engage at every level capture results
opportunities both inside and outside curriculum
separate or linked?
graduate/industry mentors
external clients
curriculum keeping pace with industry
guessing the next gen.
maintenance/support ‘surviving the summer’
working around inertia

How might we achieve this?

how might we achieve thisSticky notes say:
motivate by linking to drivers – employability, income, student satisfaction
reward staff appropriately
enthusiastic staff members setup team – perhaps as their own loss of time initially
less talk, more action
academics working in collaboration with software specialists
find large org’s in local area that would support idea and business costs
get external partners
focus on lean and agile – reduces risk
specialised contracts
research orientated software solutions
make initiatives self-financing
institutional mandate to support this including legal, finance, etc
departments recognise value of this and willingly invest money
skip the university – set it up externally!
seek approval/support from relevant departments. exchange knowledge with similar schemes
students develop own ideas initially!

What’s holding us back?

what's holding us back?Sticky notes say:
support from university service teams, e.g finance, legal, etc
buy-in by key people
lack of sustained support from senior decision makers
sustainable future and proof planning
visibility for the university’s programmes
increased pressure on staff time. Limited staff resources
incentive misalignment (workload reluctance)
the contractual process ->timeliness
space: labs, group working areas
IT services
structure for this new initiative
industrial involvement (of the right type!)
assessment strategy
good infrastructure needed
(small?) numbers (of students), lack of vitality, feedback (about how we are doing), atmosphere
quality assurance
managing TA support
can we deliver what client’s want? within budget, timeline, etc?
module descriptor and latency issues
getting the right type of students and staff on board
varying skill base of students
how to get the first project out?
visibility for students (student motivation)
management: unreasonable expectations and promises

What don’t we know that we wish we knew?

What don't we know that we wish we knew?Sticky notes say:
how to engage less-able students safely in outreach-like activity
how do we group students?
engaging with mid-range students
is here an unaddressed market for ‘safe’ student activity? (i.e. not addressed by existing business)
how to identify bad projects (and clients)
how to identify good projects
how to combine live projects with rigorous assessment efficiently
use cv* to filter the type of students and not necessary be a cv
students do not get paid in many successful cases
how much trouble will I get into if i short-circuit university procedures?
things that active software developers know
future skills to demand
what barriers to entry prevent students joining software development teams
better lead and networking
costing and planning
a fair commercial contracts that is business, not ‘academic’
when IP is given away. Should source code be accessible by client, or just the final product?

Where do we wish to go?

where do we want to go?Sticky notes say:
Happy students (NSS)
flexible and adaptable students
develop confidence in students by giving them positive opportunities
generating good quality professional [students?]
generating successful students
good score DCHE (festinate of leavers in higher education)
enable students to develop skills that industry want
maintain links with former students
catching the next wave (wearables)
happy, satisfied customers
maintain connections with industry (be in their little black book)
will develop good reputation with industry
a successful cooperation with industry
assist local companies
able to adapt quickly to changes (in IT industry, HE, accreditation, etc)
grow talent pool in the UK
cross department links
ease of implementation of programmes
ease of assessment
have fun
efficient resourcing
showcase research
generate income
improve overall reputation
feedback in connection with modules and programmes
manage numbers realistically
depends upon obstacles in your way?

Pulling some of the thoughts together across these boards we see recurring themes:

  • Support from higher levels of the university, and coordination with other important departments like finance, legal and human resources as well as IT. In order to make this work smoothly each of these aspects needs to be addressed.
  • Support and recognition for the time and effort in managing these projects with students, and possibly some sort of incentive beyond this to encourage more staff to participate in these programmes too.
  • The difficulty in finding good students to participate, and levelling up those who are willing but lacking some skills to work on these types of projects.

So there is still more work to be done here, but we’ve made a start. There is also intention from the workshop participants to move ahead with this work. To start with the JISC mail list STUDENT-LIVE-CLIENT-WORK has now been created for those interested in talking about this more and keeping in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lego Serious Play: the literature

There are a number of books and online resources available explaining the background, and philosophy of Lego Serious Play. These break down into a few categories: the history, the theory and the manuals. I’ve not found any manuals, however, which explain everything. This means that in order to move beyond the basic approaches outlined in the open source guide, it is necessary to be trained in LSP facilitation by one of the master trainers.

The background and science of LSP are available in a few online papers (open source), RasmussenHylton and Statler. These all point to sound reasons of why the process works from the psychological perspective and offer some basic case studies about why LSP works the way it does.

More in depth background to the processes and theory behind the approach can be found in these books:

Brown, Stuart. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul J P Tarcher/Penguin Putnam, 2009.
Gauntlett, David. Creative Explorations: New Approaches to Identity and Audiences Routledge, 2007.
Pinault, Lewis. The Play Zone: 6 Principle for Unleashing the Hidden Value of Your Company Haroer Business, 2004.
Rock, David. Your Brain at Work Collins Business, 2009.
Roos, Johan. Thinking from Within: A Hands-on Strategy Practice Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Roos and Rasmussen were some of the original people involved in setting up the LSP process, while Gauntlett helped draft the open source document for LSP. Rasmussen’s piece provides the context of LSP and a brief background to the theory. Pinault’s book discusses Roos and gives different perspectives on an LSP session with a UK retailer throughout the book.

Roos’s book explains the history of how the idea developed and has been tried with various approaches. However, don’t expect photos and discussion of the LSP process. Lego bricks are only mentioned once or twice in passing. Gauntlett’s book provides the theoretical background to the LSP approach. Together both Roos and Gauntlett explain clearly why this all works as nicely as it does.

Rock and Brown both provide useful theory about why play is important and how our brains work. Rock also explains the SCARF model, which is important in the StragegicPlay approach to using LSP. The ‘SCARF’ model addresses: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. The participants should understand their status in the game with the rules providing certainty of outcome. In addition, the players should have autonomy within the game scenario, and there should be relatedness between the players so that they are seen as friendly players, while the rules also provide a fair game to all participants.

Lego Serious Play session

Together all of these books provide an understanding of why the LSP process works, and some indication of how you can build a session around a topic. However, there is more to it all, which you need to gain from LSP facilitation training. This means going to one of master trainers approved by the Lego Foundation, which oversees the LSP materials. I was trained by  Katrin Elster at StrategicPlay (DE) in Hamburg and have since then also been in workshops with Jacquie Lloyd who runs StrategicPlay (CA). I can unreservedly recommend either of these trainers. Together they have a wealth of experience using these approaches many times a month over many years and will happily share the stories and experience during the training session. Go play, and learn with the best. 

Similar posts that may be of interest:

Thinking about Lego Serious Play and Simplex

StrategicPlay® Facilitation Training in Lego Serious Play

Play4Agile 2014

Another year and another wonderful Play4Agile conference has happened. For me this was again an improvement on the last year. This is as much to do with the learning I’ve gone through since last year as it is about the mix of people, who were there. I just finished submitting my assignments for ILM Coaching Level 3 certificate so better understood what was happening in some situations, which had previously been invisible to me. I also had been trying more games than in the past with students and other groups too. This all helps to set the scene and prepare the stage. This was apt as this year I spoke up more in the open space than I have in the past knowing that the more you put into these events, then the more you receive. I was also happy to do this knowing that I was with my tribe, who’d be kind and helpful if I had a ‘learning opportunity’ through a minor failure.

I arrived at Rueckersbach on the Wednesday in order to take part in the Temenos workshop that had been organised by OlafChristine and Michael  Temenos helps participants focus on issues blocking them, and was something I wanted to learning more about as part of my coaching education as it involves learning by drawing along with story telling, which are always powerful learning tools. A huge thanks to them for running this and opening up many ideas to me and the other participants. This was a nice deep dive of issues with people I trust and was a good warm up for Play4Agile.

On the Friday I participated in the pre-conference gamefication session organised by Katrin  Pete and Thorsten  My team came up with a mobile app to make house cleaning more fun so that you could spend more time at the weekend doing fun things with the people you care about instead of doing the chores. This set up a number of people with good ideas of how to develop games the rest of the weekend. In the evening Alan had us body storming some boats and other mad shapes as a group before we did the general announcements and run down for the weekend.


On Saturday I went to the ‘hosting cards’ session with Michael and Olaf to explore how to make ‘hosting or facilitation’ better. Afterwards was the StragtegicPlay with Lego Serious Play ‘time capsule’ session run by Katrin, Melanie  Peter and Sabine, where I had a realisation that I need to plan a bit more to make our proposed summer holiday work smoothly in the long-term as it will be a bit different from the usual holiday. You can see me building the final model at the end of this time lapse video. The implications about this holiday hadn’t sunk in yet, but the space to play with the hands using Lego helped this realisation. Afterwards the IM Project with Anne wasgood at showing more ideas that can be explored with Improv. This was a variation of the pattern game  where the circle has the claps going round turn into whatever people’s imaginations develops was great fun, and then another variation passing the juggling balls across the circle while ‘daily work’ went around to left and right while the ‘fragile’ jar was also tossed back and forth across the circle. This was a good way to learn about handoffs and communication. Ellen‘s ‘Positive No’ session was fun and provided another stand up before the crowd moment to illustrate the idea of how the participants could learn to nicely say ’no’.Christine, who knows a lot more of these games than I, helped me run a session on playing Improv games to see what could be useful for us to use in our own sessions. Big thanks to her helping. This gave us some good results as seen here: one two. I also found a useful improv encyclopedia of games. In the evening after dinner I was playing  Hanabi a Japanese game about cooperation, which Michael had brought along. This was an interesting game, which I’ll have to consider getting too.

Sunday saw me gong to the Agile mindset games with Konstantin where I finally played both the Penny Game (and heard how it goes better with dice) as well as Henrik Kniberg’s Name Game and heard of other games to illustrate the ideas. This was followed by the Markus‘s collaborative storytelling session where the idea is that the group pick one story from the members to tell and to then draw upon with special focus to develop general points for all where we heard Mikko tell us the story of Stattys which was real interesting and had lessons for us all. I replayed the Katrin’s  SP_LSP time capsule session where I again was able to think somemore about an idea that had been proposed by a friend the previous day.


time capsule

After lunch I went to the product owner game being run by Astrid  Sandra  Joost and Lilian and helped them launch their idea. I then ran a session on playing with different canvases (Business Model CanvasLean CanvasHappy Startup Canvas and Product Canvas  with Mikko so that we could see if it might be possible to develop a game or something. With the help of  Mel, Michael and Mikko, it looks like we did come up with something that I’ll write up later. Lastly, I went to the character building improv style run by Anne along with Katrin, Mikko and Alex where we learned a fastpersona generation technique that was great fun. I’ll have to try it at the Aberdeen GSJ in a few weeks time. During the ‘evening news’ our characters got a quick reprise to the amusement of the other folks. Then Marc and I volunteered to facilitate the open space on Monday. This meant we ended up prepping much longer than I ever thought I’d be in order to get our ideas for the session sorted out as well as getting the chairs and everything else just right. We were wonderfully assisted by Thorsten, who had been spending a lot more time than people realise behind the scenes getting these things ready. Later it was a few rounds of Werewolf with others to unwind before bed.

Monday I facilitated the open space with Marc, which went real well and we only missed one minor thing. After an intro we had competing teams of ‘choirs’ which was fun before the open space started. I told the group about why I was there to try something new knowing that if we messed it, then that was human and ok. I had survived two rounds of being a stand up comic in November 2012 and May 2013 (link will be added) , so this would be easy by comparison. I needed to just sit and catch up on emails so skipped first session and then went the ‘creative suitcase’ session run by Katrin, which showed me some useful ideas to be more creative. Imissed the end as Marc and I needed to prep the closing of the open space where we went over what happened in each session. Then it was over and we got a standing ovation from the crowd, as did each pair who did this, I must say. Still, it felt wonderful to be in the centre of that warmth coming from everyone. Thanks to all of you, and remember: if I can do it, then so can you.

Running the open space with someone was part of my personal growth track this year where I tried new things amongst friends. Others were going to sessions on ‘business model you’, or ‘finding your superhero’. But that wasn’t what I needed this year. I needed the experience of trying new things.

Sessions are only part of the value of this conference. There are also the conversations over meals with an ever changing cast of people as you re-connect with people from last year and meet new friends of friends you recognise from Twitter and Facebook. Here you discuss their current challenges and share your own. This is a chance to compare notes and glean new approaches you can try back home.

Conversations over games in the bar and other rooms are also equally valuable. Sure you maybe playing Werewolf and trying to stay alive as a villager, seer or witch, but you’re also chatting and laughing with each other and see each other’s game facilitation styles. Or you’re playing Hanabi and thinking of how you could use this game to show cooperation needs and the value of choices and information sharing as everyone loses or wins the game.

Roll on #p4a15 🙂

My Play4Agile Story

People attending this years’  Play4Agile 2014 were asked to blog their answer to these simple questions:

  • Who or what brought you to Play4Agile in the first place?

I saw Olaf post a tweet about the first one in 2011 and started following Katrin then too, but couldn’t make it. I was able to meet both of them at ALE2011 along with lots of other amazing people who inspired me very much, and life’s never been the same since.  I have them to thank for opening my eyes to the many possibilities which I hadn’t seen before.

  • What kept you from coming back/ what keeps you coming back?

I keep coming back because of the fun and the learning with these wonderful people in such a playful environment. And it’s good fun as there’s always something that I take home and use whether it be an idea, or games to use, or a better understanding of coaching and facilitation. I wrote about p4a2013 already.

  • How did Play4Agile make a difference in your life, your work and/or your community?

The takeaways of bringing in fun and games into the workplace and my teaching. This has helped make work more fun and keeps bringing new challenges because I’ve learned to keep moving out of my comfort zone as that’s where the magic is according to Pete’s drawing from last year.

Where the magic happens

  • Did you change jobs because of your experiences at Play4Agile or took a sabbatical?

I didn’t need to change my job to make the new direction, as there is enough freedom to change how I do the job. I can modify how I do the job and bring games into the classroom.

  • How might you bring the unconference forward?

The key factor of p4a is the people who attend and the conviviality of the secluded event. We could provide more interaction before and after the event. For example, in the way that this blog post and twitter events build up the excitement before we attend is good. We could also use something to continue afterwards by using on the last day and setting a date in August when we read them so we don’t forget the fun and ‘learning opportunities’ we had.

  • What would be your wish for the next 5 years of Play4Agile?

May it continue to be just as fun and exciting as it has in the past and continue to be as relevant to my life as it has been.

I’m looking forward to this year’s event when I can see everyone again and have more fun learning with friends.