Teilnehmerbericht: Yet Another Brick in the Wall – Creating Serious Product Visions

with LEGO® Serious Play®

von Sven Scheuring, Product Owner bei einem Automobilkonzern, Teilnehmer der LEGO Serious Play Online Ausbildung im Mai 2020

Hinweis: Das ist ein Teilnehmerbericht, der von Sven zunächst auf LinkedIn erschienen ist. Hier ist der Nachdruck mit freundlicher Genehmigung. Text und Bilder ©Sven Scheuring. Hier geht es zum Originalartikel: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/yet-another-brick-wall-creating-serious-product-sven-scheuring/ „I work in the field of Big Data Analytics & AI where technology helps us „crack some of the toughest nuts“ for the business to make smarter and faster decisions in the age of Digitalization. True timeless challenges in large enterprises, however, are oftentimes rather of organizational nature, for instance:

How do you bring people together to form high performing, purpose-driven product teams

that will go the extra mile to deliver outstanding results?

While some might argue this question could also be regarded as an HR challenge, I firmly believe it is a question of leadership style.

The Challenge

Our team can be regarded as a round table of service respectively product owners who are responsible for a collection of Digital services that enable business departments to implement Big Data Analytics & AI use cases on shared technology and community platforms. Our challenge had been bugging the team for months and was about to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and frustration: The team was looking for a uniting product vision, one that would offer both purpose and identity in our daily work. The actual issue has two sides to it: Finding a common denominator for a product vision and the all-time classic: Team building. In our team, the second aspect was already present: There already was a great team spirit, but the service owners were unable to see synergies or commonalities between their single offerings: „What are you doing again? Ah…“ We call this phenomenon „living inside silos“. But how to replace those silos with yet another team respectively product structure?

The Method

I have always been a friend of innovative, unorthodox methodologies to address gridlocked challenges – and while you might consider LEGO® Serious Play® (in the remainder of the article abbreviated by LSP) to be one of those „hypes“, the core methodology is older than you think. Initially developed in 1996 and officially „released“ in 2010, the current version of LSP has been around as a tried and tested technique for the better part of a decade. It can be utilized for goal setting, team building, vision, value, behavior, management and strategy workshops among other purposes yet to be discovered. It has been applied in organizations and companies like NASA, MIT, Havard, Microsoft, Google, Toyota and Daimler.

So what is it about? Bringing out your inner child while playing with Legos as adults? Well, no. I would describe LSP as:

„A creative method to reflect about, discuss and ultimately solve complex, multi-layered problems in a collaborative fashion using Lego models.“

For the engineers among you, Sean Blair (CEO of SeriousWork, a company specializing in the LSP method) puts it like this:

„It is a 3D print of your thoughts.“

In simpler terms, LSP can also be regarded as a very expressive language. You learn to better communicate and express yourself – which is key in a company world where (mis-)communication can be seen as the root of almost all evil in the organization – my humble opinion. ???? Where classic workshops with whiteboard and walls covered in two-dimensional post-its end, LSP takes over. Every idea expressed as a three-dimensional Lego model becomes tangible and can be experienced with several senses: looking at the model, feeling its structure while building it and ultimately listening to its story.

While related to similar creative problem solving techniques like Design Thinking, LSP is not all about creating something new – as it is rather about bringing to light what has already been inside people’s minds. Employed in a setting of participatory leadership (all team members are equal and have equal rights to input, setting a direction together than being told a direction), LSP also helps to bring out the best in people (rather than only their inner child ????) giving everyone in the team a serious voice.

The Journey

Before we dive into the method itself, I’d like to share my journey with you: So, how did I end up playing with Legos (for the second time in my life)? I encountered my first LSP contact, Anna Donato, at a famous startup networking event in Munich (one of the keynote speakers being some former US president with the catchphrase „Yes, we can!“ ????). Anna invited me to one of her beginner workshop courses – October last year (2019) where I took my first steps as a participant. I was highly intrigued by the potential of the method after a few minutes of seeing it in action.

Soon afterwards, I got curious about how to organize LSP workshops on my own and how to coach people to use the method. I was all set and determined to become an LSP „Facilitator“. Then CoVid-19 happened. But the resilient LSP community would not be stopped by a pandemic. So, some innovative members, „Digital pioneers“ you might call them, came up with a setup to actually do LSP online. Both bricks and participants are still real – the only difference is that you meet online, in front of a webcam. While you can imagine it is easy to build some smaller, individual models and share them on camera – building a shared model is an entirely different level of complexity. How do you synchronize everyone? How do you get the logistics right? Impossible? Well, I met someone who argued that it is not: Jens Dröge from SeriousWork.

While there are currently several brilliant LSP facilitation organizations and „academies“ on the LSP market (also with a lot of literature), SeriousWork offered an online facilitator course as one of the (if not the) first. With their credible experience in the real world (numerous international customers) and having released two books about the topic, I decided to get my training there. I was instructed by both Jens and Sean Blair who shared their insights on the method and what makes the difference between an average and a great LSP workshop.

Having completed my online facilitator training, I was finally given a new „hammer“. Stupid thing about new hammers: Everything looks like a nail to you a few days after. So, I was test-driving the method and my skills with some fellow members from the EBBC orga team (who had similar challenges as my team at work). The feedback was more than encouraging. Now, I felt all set to bring this to the team at the company.

The Setup

So, how does it work? I want to give you a brief overview without giving away too many details of the „secret sauce“ – as one of the most intriguing aspects about LSP is that, similar to the Agile Scrum framework, LSP is…

„…easy to learn, difficult to master“

The method comes with a set of „ground rules“ and assumptions, commonly also referred to as LSP „etiquette“, in my own words:

  1. Everyone builds, everyone shares.
  2. The builder and only the builder defines the meaning of his/her model and its respective parts – no one else does.
  3. There is no judgement, no contest, no right or wrong.
  4. Questions refer to the model, not the builder as a person.

There are different types of models – individual ones and shared ones (officially, there are actually three complexity build levels defined). The actual process is split into four iterative phases:

In order to familiarize all workshop participants with the method, you start the session with a series of introductory exercises also referred to as „Skills Build“, then you dive into the actual model building.

Now, what do you need for an online workshop? There are several aspects to it:

  1. Logistics: Everyone will receive a small Lego package (called „Window Exploration Kit“) with the exact same bricks, classic distribution done by your local post office.
  2. Software: You need a video conferencing solution (MS Teams in our case) and a collaboration solution (Mural in our case).
  3. Studio: You need a TV-studio-like setup with good lightning and a dedicated webcam to show the shared model which will be built in „the studio“.

The shared online model building then is an elaborate process, however, it works surprisingly well – which was also confirmed by all participants. ????

The Results

While for obvious reasons I cannot share the actual results of the team challenge here, I want to leave you with some of the key takeaways and lessons learned from the session:

  1. You really need to invest in your coaching and facilitation skills. As always in life: Ask the right questions. Do this in order to guide the team in the process of finding a common vision. You also might want to alter your strategy as the discussion can get the team stuck in „philosophical“ or „group therapy“ mode. As my trainers repeatedly told me: Practice is king!
  2. Also focus on and define a clear workshop goal – despite spending a lot of time on ours, we had to learn the hard way that we had better even spent more time on it. Make it absolutely clear and unambiguous.
  3. Stick to your plan/playbook – but also (some of my trainers might disagree a bit here) adapt and give the participants space if great ideas emerge. Always focus on creating value, uncovering the ideas stuck in the heads of your team.
  4. I can again confirm: LSP really made people come out of their comfort zone and sparked creativity in team members I have never observed before. No „pen and paper“ workshop had been able to do that.
  5. Two more details: The session had to be split into three different parts of 2-3 hours each, I recommend having an entire day reserved for it – and also: A good studio setup really is key for building a shared model (equipment, webcam, lightning).

LSP has truly become „another brick“ or shall I rather say gem in my „wall“ of workshop methodologies and frameworks. Did I spark your interest in the topic? Feel free to drop me a PM and let me know your thoughts – as a certified facilitator I can also support you set up an LSP online workshop. And please use the comment section below for sharing your experiences with the method or similar techniques.

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Die Ausbildung von SERIOUSWORK ist die einzige, die Dich sofort in den Fahrersitz erhebt. Jede Übung, die wir als Trainer vormachen, machst Du unter Anleitung nach. Du lernst von der direkten Übung, dem Feedback und der Interaktion. Am Ende der beiden Tage wirst Du Deinen ersten Workshop moderiert haben!

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