I first got introduced to using hexagonal cards for facilitation at AgileOpen. I thought they were pretty neat, and I acquired two packs of them for use at the Valtech Days. Here are some notes on how to use them.
Mostly, I’ve been following what had been demonstrated by Jan Lelie at a session about facilitation at AgileOpen. In this post, I’ll take the example of a session on Recruiting a good Agile profile (French) that we had at Valtech Days.
First, figure out what most participants want from the session. For this, simply ask each participant, one by one, what they want to learn. List the topics on a paper board / easel pad.
Add a number to each topic. Distribute a small sticker to each participant. (I used arrow-shaped post-it notes; Jan simply used small circles. The point is that they must be small.) Ask each one to write the topic number they want most on the sticker. Once done, ask them to put their sticker on the board, next to the topic. The idea of getting them to write the number first is that they cannot be influenced by what other people choose.
You should end up with one or two main subjects. Select the most popular one. In order to get commitment from everyone in the room, I used the “Fist of Five” technique (http://www.freechild.org/Firestarter/Fist2Five.htm) that I learned from Jean Tabaka.
Once the actual topic/question has been chosen (in our case “Definition of an Agile profile”), try to express it as a question (“What makes an Agile profile?”), and write it down on a white hexagonal card. Pin / stick the card to the wall (make sure it’s a big wall with plenty of space) — the hexagonal cards do not exist in repositionable form yet.
Distribute a few green hexagonal cards to each participant, say 6. Some persons will use less than 6, some will use more. At Valtech Days, I ran out quickly of green cards, so I had to distribute yellow and blue ones. Make sure you have plenty of them!
Ask the participants to provide answers to the question, one item per card. Important: make sure that they all hold the cards in the same way as the one with the question, either with an angle on the top, or with an edge on the top.
Once that’s done, ask each of them to come to the wall in turn, and stick the cards next to the central question. Make sure you have blue tack for this (patafix in France). Note that many will be duplicates; I consider this to be ok. Participants will ask where exactly the cards must be put, but at this point, there is no rule. (personal note: at AgileOpen, my notes mention that the cards should be shuffled and distributed randomly to the participants; I cannot remember exactly why we did this)
Once all the cards have been put on the wall, ask participants to stand up and re-arrange the cards around the central question how they see fit. Normally, they will group cards with a common theme. One thing to avoid is to have gaps between groups of cards and the central question; they should connect to it. You want cards arranged around the central question, because that ensures that there are no more than 6 main groups; this process forces the participants to synthesize their thoughts into 6 groups maximum.
Having all the participants standing up is usually the point where the most talking takes place. This is a good thing. From my notes at AgileOpen: “When people stand up, the process of conveying meaning is much faster, because of body language”.
Then, ask the participants to name the branches. From my notes at AgileOpen: “if it is taking time to name the branches, then maybe the problem is really complex, or the participants do not acknowledge it”. We didn’t reach that point at Valtech Days.
Then, allocate 4 points to each participant (exactly: number of branches / 2, plus 1) and get them to vote for the branches they consider the most interesting.
Finally, break up into sub-groups for problem solving using your favorite technique.
- the technique is similar to Mind Maps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map) in many ways, but the big benefit is that it is easy to rearrange the cards.
- this technique does not scale very well. I think that with more than 12 participants, it gets messy (many cards on the wall) and takes too long.
- it actually take a rather long time, even with few people. Often, there is little time left for finding concrete actions.
- hexagonal cards are difficult to find. In France, I found some at http://www.neuland.fr/. Neuland, a German company, has branches in many countries.
- colors are important, though I haven’t experimented much. Here are their significance, from what I gathered at AgileOpen (the French site of Neuland has some advice, too). Human being are, of course, a mix of those colors.
- blue: rules, time
- yellow: creativity, mythical
- red: concrete actions
- green: social, feelings, what matters