My first session of the SharePoint Fest Chicago was Visual Tools and Innovation Games presented by Ruven Gotz and Michelle Caldwell. While I felt a bit alone based on my skillset, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am fairly certain I was the lone consultant in the session and 100% certain I was the only developer in the session, but ultimately that was my expectation going in and one of the main reasons I chose it. After all, that is the point of attending conferences isn’t it? Expanding my horizons…
Requirements gathering can be a very tedious process and as a consultant it’s one that I go through on a fairly regular basis with a variety of clients. We have been using tools like Balsamic Mocks for Wire Framing User Interfaces for some time now, and have gotten some very positive results, so I was intrigued by the idea of using visualization for other areas of requirements gathering as well. We covered some of the common innovation games such as Cover Story, Analyze with a Speed Boat (or anything that moves forward) and Card Sorting (yes, I am linking to Wikipedia).
I found the Cover Story game to be the most intriguing as it breaks from the rigor of the traditional initial analysis meeting and seemingly forces everyone in attendance to be engaged with an equal level of input. Having linked to the overview in the above paragraph, I will not go into much detail on the exercise itself, but it’s definitely something that I can see using in the future.
The other big takeaway for me from this session was the idea of Mind Mapping. I was familiar with this concept and have even used it to some extent when dealing with Taxonomy in regards to SharePoint, but I have always used PowerPoint and Visio to build out the maps. During the session, the presenters used MindManager to demonstrate how to do taxonomy, site navigation, prioritization and scoping. Basically anything with relational information can be “Mind Mapped” and the tool that they were using made it incredibly easy to do on the fly. I have already downloaded one of the Mind Mapping products they recommend called XMind and have already started playing with it.
All of these things are great and anything that can help improve productivity is a big win, but the presenters did make a point to emphasize the fact that, in some organizations, this type of requirements gathering strategy may not fly (or at least not initially).
They gave a breakdown of 4 things that need to be done to make the innovation games work:
1. Lead with confidence, not arrogance
2. Listen (don’t solve the problem…listen to the problem)
3. Use humor (When appropriate)
4. Be brutally honest
I believe that those things need to be done in all meetings, but it is never a bad thing to be reminded of them from time to time. We should always be striving to improve our ability to conduct productive meetings, whether it be breaking the routine or sticking with the traditional meeting structure.