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Exploring remote Open Space technique as a tool for PMs in the virtual space

Katalin Juhasz photo

Written by Katalin Juhász

On 28th May the members of the Switzerland chapter gathered for an exciting experiment, aiming to try out Open Space Technology in a virtual setup. 41 curious chapter members have come together to explore how the method can help to engage participants in a discussion around “Project management in a remote environment”. The event had been created by a team of volunteers taking care of the preparations from the design of the session, through the application management and the facilitator roles.

 As part of the introduction an animation video helped to give a quick overview about the method itself, positioning Open Space Technology as an agile facilitation methodology which helps to take down walls for participants with diverse backgrounds to engage them in open discussions. (More about the method here)

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According to Matteo Mazzeri, an advocate of the method, the real value of the technique lies in its ability to connect and engage participants in conversations according to their strongest interest. The most important enabler of such discussions is a safe environment, where participants feel encouraged to share their authentic self.

During the session, the precise implementation of the agenda and a clear guidance regarding the collaboration tools turned out to be a very powerful foundation, which helped to minimize the discomfort in the lack of physical proximity and to orchestrate the break out and the plenary sessions smoothly.

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Two virtual collaboration tools have been used during the session:

  • Google Meets served as the primary communication platform with one virtual plenary room and 3 breakout rooms. The separate room links enabled participants to leave and reconnect discussions reinforcing the ’voting with feet’ rule.
  • Slido served as a facilitation platform to conclude on the three topics of the breakout rooms (participants could list their suggestions and vote on the most inspiring topics)

As several topic suggestions listed on Slido were overlapping, some consolidation was required by the facilitator. Finally, the following three topics were selected:

  1. Maintaining engagement in a remote work environment
  2. Remote project management opportunities in the post COVID-19 era
  3. Stakeholder engagement in remote home-based working environment

 The participants joined the breakout rooms rather evenly, the group size was fluctuating between 10 – 16 people during the discussions. After a few minutes dedicated to a short introduction shedding light on the diverse background of participants, engaging discussions emerged, which resulted in valuable conclusions.

In the first breakout room the focus of the conversation was the leadership challenge of keeping employees engaged and enabled in a remote work setup. The participants agreed that a different leadership style is required in the virtual space, corresponding with the identified needs of the employees. Shorter, but more frequent video meetings, small talk at the beginning can help to reduce the discomfort of the remote setup. It is equally important that the leaders do not only talk, but listen as well, even if keeping silent might be frightening for some. Being flexible and available to the team is a precious asset too, just like open and transparent communication. On a general note, a crisis can be an opportunity for leaders to deliver on their leadership capabilities and open a window for precious change opportunities.

In the second room remote project management possibilities in the post COVID-19 era were explored. The participants have concluded that although the crisis might bring business benefits and opportunities for innovation, in some cases face to face connection is indispensable.

The third discussion was focusing on ways to engage stakeholders in a remote setup. The importance of overcoming communication barriers to understand stakeholder expectations was concluded to be essential. Soft skills, like empathy and availability play a fundamental role in remote collaboration. Having small talk at the beginning of the meeting can help to strengthen social bonds and create a pleasant environment. Besides the challenges it is fair to acknowledge that remote setup can deliver some benefits as well. According to the participants, we tend to appreciate the time with others in the virtual space much more due to the extra efforts it takes to maintain connection. Another advantage can be the fact that it is easier to connect remotely: making a short call instead of long emails can be faster. The importance of body language enabling meta-communication has been highlighted in this group as well, so using video definitely has an added value. After the small group discussions, all of us gathered in the virtual plenary ‘main’ room to share the essence of the discussions.

As we considered the event as an experiment to explore how the method can be utilized within the PM domain, we could celebrate two important achievements: we found evidence that remote Open Space Technology can be a useful PM tool and we gained some learnings as well.

Starting with the positive findings, as Ka Yi Hui, one of the organizers phrased it, ’it is possible to transform a normally in-person event into a virtual event. […] the participants engaged during the brainstorming and discussion, just like they would have met in-person.’

Participant feedbacks are mirroring the high energy level of the discussions:

"It was the first time this kind of event for me and I am glad to be able to take part. Despite the virtual approach it was valuable experience and was great to discuss and learn from others. Thank you!"

 

"It was a great example of a community which is learning new ways of working while sharing their current feelings and building up new experiences"

 

"I enjoyed the team spirit we had in such a short period of time! It was great and it was because the participants and definitely the facilitator! Great job PMI Switzerland team!"

 

"I appreciated very much the opportunity from the PMI Switzerland chapter to get hands on experience of how remote open space works. It was very inspiring, and surely I will be able to use it in my PM practice."

 

"I am grately surprised by the efficiency of the tool the quality of the discussions and the outcomes"

Many of the participants shared the view that despite the complexity of the event (’especially from the technical side, participants were asked to open new tabs (i.e. voting, event site), to join breakout rooms, exit main room, re-join main room’), the discussions had a smooth flow. Having a clear agenda, well prepared facilitators and clear guidance on the virtual collaboration tools definitely contributed to the success.

‘This is one of the few online formats that actually helps build new network relations’ says Patryk Nosalik, whose idea it was to hold the Open Space, and the event’s Project Manager, (interestingly also his first volunteer experience for PMI). Furthermore he shared that ‘such positive feedback from participants is because they are active in the format – in uncertain times just another webinar doesn’t give you the feeling you’re being heard’.

We have gained a couple of learnings as well: ‘We have seen that the technical part is a bit more complex and needs a lot more guidance for the participants and the speaker’ – according to Philippe Soupart , VP Operations of the PMI Switzerland Chapter.

Besides the clear guidance, it is essential to dedicate sufficient time for introduction in the small groups and additional visualization boards can help to display shared ideas, making it easier for participants to join another small group discussion. 

Based on the participants feedback Open Space technique seems to be an enriching tool in the PM toolkit, primarily for brainstorming of ideas, doing retrospectives or any other instances where breaking down of barriers are desired to harness the collective intelligence of the participants. The organizers are going to further build on the learnings of the event, driven by their belief that the method can help to engage the PM community in fruitful discussions, so hopefully a wider audience will also have the chance to have a first hand experience.

Newsletter editorial July 2020

Adi Muslic 100x100

Author: Adi Muslic, PMP

 

"Due to the current pandemic situation, I want to take this as an opportunity and introduce “Online Events” for our community. However, to make this possible I need your help!"

This sentence comes from the message Stefan Vesenmeier, VP Events, published in the newsletter on 27th March. A group of volunteers had its first meeting on 1st April. In three months, the Online Events team delivered 5 events that were open to members and non-members. What made it even more exciting, was the fact that we had participants from other countries. The events were organized on different platforms, which sometimes resulted in technical difficulties though experimenting was necessary to help in selecting the right platform. All online events were recorded and can be viewed on-demand on PMI Switzerland's YouTube channel.

Without and doubts, this initiative was a great success, and will certainly change the way events will be organized in the future. It will probably require some changes in the organization as there are now new roles to be covered. I am looking forward to hearing how this experience will reshape PMI events in Switzerland going forward.

Wish you a warm, sunny, and safe summer.

Adi

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miguel hurtadogallego
 
Miguel Hurtado CAPM
Sunil Prasahara quoted: “Let me be very clear, whilst racism and bigotry can indeed raise its ugly head anywhere, the world over-such hate will have not place in PMI. Period.” 
PMI is our house, a house where everybody is welcomed. No matter your religion, your political ideas or your skin color. 
Let’s work all together for a better world. For a future where everybody is feeling part of it.
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
 

Members update July 2020 Newsletter

23 new members joined our Chapter, bringing the active membership to 1649 as at the end of May.


A warm welcome to all !

Congratulations also to the members who obtained certifications in May: 5 PMP, 2 PMI-ACP

The following members provided information about themselves: David Michael Collins, Philip David Elford, Tommaso Campanella, Dr. Johanny Pestalozzi
 
David Michael Collins  article   
Philip David Elford article   
Tommaso Campanella article   
Dr. Johanny Pestalozzi article

Article on Achieving Discipline in Agile

 

Geetanjali Bhat

 AuthorGeetanjali Bhat PMP

“Achieving Discipline in Agile” An Evening with Agile. Being an Agile Practitioner and scrum master, I was very keen to learn more on this current ongoing topic. In the past, I have attended many of the Agile events and conferences in many places. But Today was something different. PMI launched their first online event. During this time when the world is working towards staying indoors and be safe, it is such a great way to keep ourselves occupied and engaged through online events. There are constant New Learnings in Project Management. Considering the situation going on in the world currently, what better way is there, then being able to continue learning!

Many organizations have started to implement Agile Practices. Organizations today require constantly new methods and practices in Agile to suit their needs. I am sure we all know and have heard of the regular Agile ways of working and its methods. Latest discussion in Agile going on all over the Agile World of how we can Achieve Discipline on Agile. We’ve got a great opportunity to listen and gain information from experienced speakers Simon Wieczorek who is a Senior Manager in PwC Germany and David Nagy Assistant Manager in PwC Switzerland, who presented a very insightful session about this topic.

It was interesting to hear from them about how to achieve discipline in an Agile environment by adjusting government risks and control. How can we achieve Agile Discipline and what would be the obstacles and success factors?

One of the biggest risks is governance risk and control. Hence the question arises how do I achieve Discipline in Agile without comprising its benefits.

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How can we bridge the gap in transformation that appear in the transformation journey of Agile? This poses a huge risk to the organizations.

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David explains that Agile is not just about certification and a one day training of Agile. We can do 4 years of studies in Universities and gather a lot of experience in a traditional environment and now it requires a new mindset to work in an Agile way. It’s definitely more than 1 day training.

Most importantly, we should be able to interpret the Agile principles.

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Addressing Risk in our environment requires us to reconsider control functions and risk management principles which impacts the three lines of defence. (LOD). In an Agile organization, the application of the three lines of defence (3LOD) requires adjustment to enable autonomy and alignment.

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Reading through the lines of the famous quote by  Peter Drucker who was one of the most widely known and influential thinkers on management,  “What we need is an entrepreneurial society in which innovation and entrepreneurship are normal, steady and continuous” , Responsibility for Risk management in an Agile set is shifting more towards business. Due to the shift of responsibilities, it requires a fundamental reworking of the governance model design principles to enable an Agile environment.  

Revised design principles for governance need to be implemented on:

  • Shared responsibility for risk and controls
  • Clear direction setting on risk and controls
  • Full transparency on risk and controls.

What would be the first steps to achieve goal in Agile Discipline?

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Listeners were able to connect well through an   Agile Quality Assurance Example

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Today as an Agile practitioner or Agile Project Manager, we need to ask ourselves a few questions. If for any of the below mentioned questions is a “No”, we must reflect our Agile working ways and plan to implement Discipline in Agile.

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Summary:

 In implementing Discipline in Agile we can achieve success only when we have understood and cleared the obstacles. Obstacles can be following:

  • Transformation gaps are not recognized.
  • Risk still sits on the top of the organization rather than integrated into the companies
  • Traditional governance structures are not adapted to Agile Structures
  • There is little understanding relating to the purpose of expectations.
  • Lack of leadership support and participation in applying an Agile mindset.

 But all of the above obstacles can be cleared and worked towards the success factors of Discipline in Agile through the following “

  • Identify and be aware of your transformation gap
  • Integration of risk and compliance into the control functions
  • Adjust your governance framework
  • Active change management and upskilling of colleagues
  • Leadership support.

Conclusion:

As a listener and also being in Agile for a few years, I believe it was definitely a very constructive and insightful evening for me, though I was locked at home!

Take Away from this session:

“If you do not prove you’re in control, the legislator will push for old(manual) techniques of demonstrating you are in con