Stop planning your meetings: The Agile Open Space

Forget Agendas

I developed the Agile Open Space as a design for workshops and meetings that have not been planned upfront. Maybe you didn’t have time to think of an agenda, maybe you didn’t know what to put on the agenda. Or maybe your team has a history of packing too many topics in a day of ‘workshoping’ and you never get around completing all the topics…so why bother with planning the workshop upfront anyhow?

The Agile Open Space combines the philosophies of the SCRUM, and the Open Space frameworks.

Here’s how it works:

Things to do upfront

First, inform your meeting or workshop participants that there will be no fixed agenda. Instead, they should think of topics they would like to discuss. You might want to inform them a little upfront to give them time to think of the topics they would like to discuss. Invite them to prepare something if they feel like it. Yet, also make the point that you will only decide, as a group, during the workshop which topics will be worked on and discussed. So it might well be that a certain topics does not get covered this time.

Second, think about how many sprints you will do during your workshop. I made good experiences with sprints of 90 minutes. So a full day of workshop will get you 4 sprints. If you want to have more time for networking, or ‘unstructured’ working time, plan only for 3.

At the workshop

Start

Remind people of the Agile Open Space working format. You’ll work in 3–4 sprints. There is no fixed agenda. You will decide on topics for each sprint from sprint to sprint. Resist the temptation to plan all the sprints for the day (that would be a pure Open Space)!

Build the backlog

  • At the start of the meeting create the topic backlog. Give participants 5–10 minutes time to think about the topics they would like to discuss during the meeting or workshop. A topic could be something they want to present, discuss, have a decision on, simply want to share, or maybe have somebody else share, i.e., “I’d like to have an update from Jim about his project” or “Marc, I heard you developed a cool new methodology to run workshops, I’d like you to tell us about it”.
  • Have them put each topic on a seperate sticky note.
  • Label an agree on a wall or whiteboard “Backlog”.
  • Have participants present their topics, ask them give a word or two of explanations if it’s not clear. It might also be worth asking about the objective of the topic: is if simply to inform others, discuss, develop something, make a decision, …
  • Once all topics are on the wall, cluster the same or similar topics together. If needed, think of a header or name for a particular cluster.

Plan the sprint — Sprint Planning I: WHAT

That is, pick the topics for the sprint. Have the team decide on which topic they would like to cover during the first sprint. If you have a larger number of participants, it might also let people work in sub-groups on topics.

Execute the sprint

Each sprint involves three steps (times apply to a 90 minutes sprint)

  1. Sprint planning II: HOW — Give participants 15 minutes to get organized. Have them decide on how they would like to run their sprint. Let them plan the next 60 minutes. This might look something like: Jim to give us a status update (15 minutes), Q&A (15 minutes), discussion on open topics (15 minutes), decision on next steps (15 minutes).
  2. Do the actual sprint: Have the participants or sub-groups execute their actual sprint.
  3. Sprint retrospective: If you did work on multiple topics, give teams the opportunity to share the results of their sprint with the other colleagues in a plenary. If you worked together on one topic, do a plus/delta on how the sprint worked: what went well, what could have been better, how satisfied are we with the results / output achieved, how happy are we with the process?

Plan and execute the next sprint

Once the first sprint is concluded move the completed topics to a “done” area on your wall or whiteboard, and have a short break before moving to planning and executing the next sprint as described above.

A couple of hints

  • As a facilitator your act as the “sprint master”, that is you help the team to pick topics and above all, stick to time. Don’t be shy to remind them of time, e.g., “5 minutes left for planning”, etc, you facilitate throughout the day
  • This is so important, I have to repeat it: Resist the urge to plan the content/topics for all the sprints for the day upfront (that would be a pure open space).
  • The format works better if your participants have experience with agile/scrum and are well versed in participating or designing, and running workshops.
  • People need to be comfortable talking about a topic without a lot of preparation. Or you can tell them upfront about The Agile Open Space, ask them to think about topics, and bring any materials they think will be needed.

Call to Action


Thanks to the colleagues at Doujak, who were open and brave enough to let me try out the first Agile Open Spaces on them.


Dr. Marc Sniukas

Dr. Marc Sniukas

Marc has built and delivered corporate strategy, innovation, and transformation programs around the globe. Co-author, The Art of Opportunity, he is a member of the global Educator Network of Duke Corporate Education.


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