A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of facilitating two days of product/release planning combined with user story gathering (although I like to call it user story “exploration” since that’s what it felt like.)
I wanted to start things off with a product visioning exercise/ice-breaker to get things going and to warm people up.
Although we gave people a couple of options for the product visioning activity, everyone ended up choosing the “Headline News” exercise, which I learned at Agile 2012 from Jimi Fosdick, Agile Rockstar.
(Note: Jimi does not call himself that, but he should. So there.)
The Headline News Exercise
In case you aren’t familiar with the “Headline News” exercise, here’s the gist of it:
- Have people self-organize into groups of 3 or 4 people. If people are reluctant to get this process started, encourage them to walk over to the complete other end of the room and find 2 or 3 other people to work with.
Get people out of their comfort zone!
- Give the groups about 10 minutes to work together on the following:
- Envision the project/product after it has succeeded and been released to the world
- Imagine your project/product has made the front page of the news/relevant industry publication
- What would the headline say? Include words/phrases that describe how your project/product has changed the marketplace/made a difference/is different than everyone else out there. Think especially about how your end-user is impacted by your project/product
- At the end of 10 minutes, (or when you sense/hear the activity level start to die down), ask each group in turn to select a representative to read out the headline and provide an explanation of why certain words/phrases were used.
(Note: You could also do a variation of this exercise where people create a short script for a feature story for the evening news. At the end of the exercise, you have them read their script aloud.)
Within minutes of getting this exercise started, the room went from a group of 30+ people who weren’t sure exactly what they were there for, with a slightly glazed-over look in their eyes, to a buzzing beehive of activity and noise.
Music to my ears.
I literally had to stop myself from jumping into the middle of each of the groups and going “YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME! ISN’T THIS FUN?!”
The Headline News Exercise Bears Fruit
At the end of the Headline News exercise (which took only a few minutes), we had a basket filled with the following fruits, giving us a great head-start to the rest of our 2-day session:
1) Energized and engaged stakeholders
2) Key words and phrases that would help build the project’s success criteria
3) An objective description of the project/product’s end-goal and most important features
4) A subjective look at what would make the stakeholders/team feel proud of the end-product
5) A vision for how the project/product was supposed to impact the end-user
Once we had established the product/project vision, we started down the path of getting to know the end-user better. For what better way to start to write stories for the user than to get to know that user on a personal level?
But that’s a story for another time.
If you are in a position to help kick off a project or product planning session, give the Headline News exercise a try. Don’t underestimate the power of allowing people to collaborate on finding the language to express their collective vision.