If you have ever participated in an presencial Lean Inception, you know that there are many challenges to overcome during the workshop days. Things are different when facilitating a remote workshop, but they have something in common: both present different challenges you have to overcome!
But calm down, you don’t have to be worried or discouraged! There are several reasons to perform a remote inception. Often, for example, this is the only way the entire team can participate in the conversation. Even if not physically, everyone’s participation in this initial stage of the work is extremely important.
So, in these cases, how to prepare for everything to flow in the best possible way? Below are some of the obstacles you may encounter as a facilitator of a Remote Lean Inception and also suggestions on how to solve these problems. It is important to remember that the “recipe” for the ideal inception will depend on each team, but you can adapt the ideas that will be presented below to your reality.
Remote brainstorming challenge
The first point is that brainstorming (an essencial part of any Lean Inception) are much richer when everyone is presential. When people are all physically in the same room, side conversations take place, and with that, more ideas emerge. When doing it remotely, the level of parallel conversation and, consequently, the brainstorming, reduces. Therefore, it is very important that the facilitator encourages the team to share all the ideas, even if it takes more time, and requires more time and preparation.
To achieve an effective remote brainstorming, the facilitator must program herself to combine facilitation techniques with the proper use of tools.
- Divide the group into breakout rooms (a feature of Videoconferencing tools such as Zoom) using the technique ‘You do it, I do it too, then we compare’,
- Return everyone to the same room in the Video Conferencing tool, do a ‘Tell & Cluster’;
- Conduct an ‘Fishbowl conversation’ for the final adjustments of the brainstorming result.
Improvising remotely is harder!
When you are the facilitator, you encounter one more barrier: the loss of improvisation after the beginning of an activity. To prepare for this, it is important to have clear rules on how each step will work and also a very precise time management of how much will be needed for each activity.
While face-to-face facilitation is more relaxed – the facilitator can feel the environment, manage the time, clarify potential doubts and instigate the team to reach the result – the instructions for remote activities need to be clearer.
The instructions must be clear and objective. For example: “the activity will work like this: I have used the breakout room feature to divide yourselves into three groups. Each group has its own area as shown in the Mural board. In 15 minutes everyone should return to the main room to share the results”. In person you can monitor whether or not the stipulated time was enough. You can walk between tables and improvise – give more time, reduce allotted time, share something with all groups at once.
In remote, as a facilitator, you lose the ability to walk between tables, to feel the energy of the group, to perceive reactions during the activity and to improvise. Time control and instructions should be more explicit, and clarifying. In remote, clarifications and interruptions during an activity hinder more than help.
Boost the energy level
Another very important aspect is about energizers and icebreaker activities. When people are working face-to-face, running one or two of these activities a day is enough. That’s because people interact with each other outside the inception room. Whether having coffee, lunch or leaving together, there is a social interaction that remote inception does not provide.
Interpersonal interaction beyond work makes a lot of difference because, by the second or third day, participants are usually comfortable with each other. So how to solve this remotely?
You should encourage more social interaction during workshop sessions. For example, if you have six hours of work a day, you’ll likely use at least one doing large breaks and activities for people to get to know each other. It may seem like a lot, but it’s time well spent. This improves the interaction between people, making them more effective.
The basis of Lean Inception’s success is the relationship between people.
Short and frequent breaks
You will also need to take more frequent breaks (examples: 5 minutes every half hour, or 10 minutes every hour). I suggest using the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes working and 5 minutes off.
In face-to-face inceptions, you stick post-its on the walls, you change groups, you are always moving. In the remote, you stay sit in a chair, looking at a screen. This is not healthy, especially in long workshops like inception. In addition to long break blocks – like lunch time break – take lots of short, frequent breaks: lots of pomodoros.
Prepare your toolbox
Choose in advance which tools you will use and don’t add tools “at random”, at the risk of them becoming generic.
Don’t do this: Since I have a hammer, I’m going to nail this screw.
You don’t have to use just one tool for everything, but each one you choose should have a different, well-defined purpose and function.
I tend to think of the following six categories for choosing remote tools:
- File sharing
- Real-time communication
- Asynchronous messaging
- Organization of tasks
- Visual collaboration
- Retrospectives and energizers
Here’s an example of the remote tools I used in a recent inception: Zoom for real-time communication, Mural for visual collaboration, FunRetrospectives for retrospectives and energizers, Google Drive for file sharing and Jira for task organization.
Always try to simplify the use of these tools. For example, if during inception the team generates a list of something important, you can use google sheet to quickly document and share it. Later, post-inception, you decide where to place it.
Clarify the agenda and activities in advance
Lean Inception already has a very specific agenda. Then share the Lean Inception agenda and activities with participants in advance.
Clarify any and all doubts before inception. Also, at the inception kick-off, give a succinct presentation of the inception goal and agenda. That way, the work will flow better during your remote inception.
Unforeseen things will happen
And last but not least, have a “what if” plan. “What if Zoom fails? What if the main stakeholder can’t connect? What if the facilitator is unable to be present for one day?”. Try to anticipate unforeseen events, seek solutions for them and present the “what-if” plan to the team at the beginning of the inception. Depending on the size and importance of the project, have tools “up your sleeve” that can replace the main one if necessary.
It may seem difficult to carry out a Remote Lean Inception, but it is totally possible and is just as important as a face-to-face one. Follow the tips in this post to prepare it the best way possible!
>> Learn more about Lean Inception Remote Training. Share your challenges, and check out tips from experienced facilitators.