A Journey Through CHIEF’s Agency-Wide Agile Immersion

What does the board game Clue have to do with agile? They’re all about questioning assumptions and reframing problems.  Read on to discover how a creative and experiential agile workshop led the CHIEF team to challenge the way we do things, and bring new possibilities to our work.

Our agile immersion journey began last year when the majority of our Project Management Team and several technical Managers from our Technology Team participated in intensive training sessions to attain ScrumMaster certification from the Scrum Alliance. Through the training, we learned about agile and scrum terminology, roles and processes. Coming out of the certification process, we knew we wanted to share what we had learned with others at our agency. Rather than providing formal trainings requiring team members to absorb and memorize a lot of new information (which we had to do), we wanted to create a shift in mindset where more agile ways of approaching tasks and challenges were illuminated organically.

We began by presenting about agile at a high level at one of our all-agency team lunches. This gave team members an overview of the basics of agile and scrum to kick things off. Next, several PMs presented a more detailed training at one of our CHIEF Academy sessions, which are informal brown bag trainings conducted by team members to provide others with insights into their areas of expertise. After laying the groundwork by familiarizing folks with general agile concepts through these presentations, we moved into the final leg of our agile immersion journey—hands-on workshops conducted by pairs of PMs and Technical Managers with every department here at CHIEF. This included not only our UX, Design, Strategy and Technology Teams, but also all of our Partners and Directors, our Proposals, IT and Accounting departments, and client side staff as well. While achieving this level of engagement throughout the agency required a significant amount of time and effort,  we believed everyone could benefit from adopting a new, agile perspective and rethinking their approach to problem-solving—regardless of their role or focus area.

During the agile immersion workshops, we challenged team members to rethink the way we approach not only our projects, but also every day tasks, in a more traditional waterfall approach. We incorporated two activities into the workshops to illustrate some of the key elements of agile—self-organization, team ownership, iteration, responding to change and getting to done as quickly as possible.

In the first activity, we asked groups to line up in order of how much they love the Washington Capitals (or how much they love La Croix, or how much they know about agile, etc.—we mixed up the specifics). After providing that one directive and looking to the teams to take things from there, responses from the groups varied widely. Some groups looked to the workshop facilitators to provide more direction in the activity, waiting for additional instructions to be provided and asking questions of the facilitators. Other groups embraced a more agile approach, determining amongst themselves which end of the line would be what measurement (e.g., the front of the line loves the Washington Capitals the most, the back loves them the least). They worked together as a group to share their feelings with each other and quickly decided where in the line each team member would fit.

Bet you’re still wondering where Clue fits in?

Well, in the second activity we set up the board game Clue and asked the groups to figure out who did it, where and how. No other instructions were provided. Similar to the lineup game, some groups had a harder time with the ambiguity and lack of direction than others. But even with the most hesitant groups, we could see how the information covered in the workshop and line up game had already started to change mindsets and encouraged team members to look for new ways to approach the activity differently—despite initial reactions. The least agile group again looked to the workshop facilitators to get things started—even waiting to open and unpack the game until they had asked for permission. The group read through the rules in the box and followed them, taking quite a bit of time and not figuring out who did it, where and how before time was up (essentially, a lot of work for an unfinished product). On the flip side, the most agile group quickly unpacked the board game contents together as a team. One team member grabbed an envelope and added in the who did it, where and how clue cards, reading them aloud as they went in. The game ended as soon as the puzzle was solved—usually within a matter of minutes.

After each activity, we asked the groups to chat about why they chose the approach they did, and what they could have done to be more quick and efficient. Teams brainstormed together and further evolved their agile mindsets by questioning what they could have done differently to come up with swifter and smarter solutions. These retrospectives gave everyone the opportunity to work on flipping their mental models by questioning the status quo—something we strive to do everyday here at CHIEF.

Because in order to provide transformative experiences to our clients, we are constantly pushing ourselves to embrace transformation as well. After all, you can’t give away what you don’t have. With the agile immersion workshop, we learned a lot by embracing transformation as individuals, teams and an agency—but it has also been a lot of fun.

Who would have thought agency trainings could be all about playing games together? Now that’s thinking outside of the box for you.

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