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: Dies ist ein Teil­neh­mer­be­richt, der von Sven zunächst auf Lin­kedIn erschie­nen ist. Dies ist ein Nach­druck mit freund­li­cher Geneh­mi­gung. Text und Bil­der ©Sven Scheu­ring. Link des Ori­gi­nal­ar­ti­kels: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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”.
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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. 😊”

Sie wollen auch direkt nach der Ausbildung solche Ergebnisse bei Ihren Kunden abliefern?

Die Aus­bil­dung von SERIOUSWORK ist die ein­zi­ge, die Sie sofort in den Fah­rer­sitz erhebt. Jede Übung, die wir als Trai­ner vor­ma­chen, machen Sie unter Anlei­tung nach. Sie lern­den von der direk­ten Übung, dem Feed­back und der Inter­ak­ti­on. Am Ende der bei­den Tage wer­den Sie Ihren ers­ten Work­shop mode­riert haben — Fah­ren lernt man nicht auf dem Beifahersitz!

Ter­mi­ne und die Anmel­dung zur online-Aus­­­bil­­dung oder zur Prä­sen­z­aus­bil­dung fin­den Sie auf www.serious.global.

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