Wave 2

The Silence of Agile

Presenter Name(s): Steve Rogalsky

Duration (30, 60, 90): 60 or 90 Minutes

Audience Level: New/Novice, Experienced

Session Style (Presentation, Workshop, Interview, Panel, Game): Workshop

Description of Session:

We’ve all sat through painful requirements, planning, and brainstorming sessions that provide little useful output, are painfully long, and where the outcome was already decided by the loudest few before the meeting even started. Learn how silence can increase collaboration *and* help your agile project be more productive. Silent brainstorming allows everyone to have a voice – the loud people can’t dominate the conversation, the quiet people are provided with a way to contribute, and cognitive fixation is reduced. Surprisingly, silent techniques can also be a faster way to generate and decide on great ideas. We’ll discuss the science of brainstorming and then practice several silent brainstorming techniques in order to generate a user story map, do agile chartering, brainstorm a list of user stories, prioritize your user stories, and generate ideas for your retrospective.

Rough Agenda:

1. Practice: Create a user story map (10 min)

2. “Lecture”: The science of brainstorming & intro to Silent Brainstorming (10 min)

3. Practice & discussion: Generate user stories using 2-3 techniques (25 min)

4. Example: Agile chartering (10 min)

5. Practice & discussion: Sort the user stories + discussion (10 min)

6. Practice & discussion: Generating retrospective ideas (15 min)

7. Final discussion (10 min)

** Note: If 60 minutes is preferred, then I'll shorten the agenda as per the comments

Session Leader(s) Background:

Steve first started experimenting with agile and lean techniques as a child. He learned the importance of ‘test first’ and the folly of ‘test last’ after starting a snow ball fight with the older kids in the neighbourhood. While playing the popular lego game of ‘zoom your vehicle towards your brother’s vehicle and see which one breaks first’, he honed his simple design and iterative development skills.

Steve is a process hacker, accomplished agilist, and co-founder of the Winnipeg Agile User Group. Passionate about his family, working with people, solving problems, coaching, agile, lean, and continuous improvement. Blogs at http://winnipegagilist.blogspot.com

Session History:

Over the years I have participated in silent techniques delivered by Jeff Patton (user story mapping), Linda Rising (retrospectives), and Gerry Kirk (user stories). Each technique is slightly different, but since then I've applied them in other areas in order to 'test it out'. This session is the combination of those experiences and tests. I use the techniques often in my work and community involvement.

Questions Answered By This Session:

1. How to build common understanding quickly using simple, collaborative, and inclusive techniques.

2. How to build better collaboration and teamwork through silent brainstorming.

3. How to use silent brainstorming as a facilitation tool for better discussions, decisions, and communication.

4. How silent brainstorming can enable the participation of introverts and minimize the ‘domination’ of extroverts

6. Bonus Questions: How to use silent brainstorming to create user story maps, generate and prioritize user stories, perform agile chartering, and generate retrospective ideas.


Submitted by

Session Leader Name(s): Steve Rogalsky

Proposed Duration: between 60 and 90 minutes

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Stage: Accepted

Feedback Score

12 votes

Idea Details

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Similar Ideas [ 3 ]


  1. Status Changed from Active to Accepted
  2. The idea was posted


  1. Comment
    Carlton Nettleton
    ( Moderator )

    I give this session a 7 out of 10 (10 being perfect)

    I like that you are brining the concept of silence to the conference and how to engage the quiet people. I like that you feel confident to bring so many tools to share and will spend time discussing why silence is needed.

    What would make this perfect is if you could edit this to 60 minutes. I feel like you are trying to do too much - user story map, agile chartering, brainstorming, prioritizing & a retrospective - in the timeframe and the tools will only be touched upon. Also, giving you 90 minutes means that someone else does not get to speak.

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment
      steve ( Idea Submitter )

      Thanks Carlton - I'll give it some thought on how to shorten it. Can you tell me about the typical sfagile attendee wrt to their agile experience and knowledge? That would help.

    2. Comment
      Carlton Nettleton
      ( Moderator )

      I would guess that we are talking about 50% expereienced practitioners and 50% newbies. IMO, SFAgile is an "all stuff, no fluff" type of conference.

    3. Comment

      Carlton are you holding out on us, were you going to do something at this conference? Or are you in it for the un-presentation?

  2. Comment
    steve ( Idea Submitter )


    I believe I can shorten this to 60 minutes. I'll update the text later, but essentially it will be something like:

    1. Practice: Create a user story map (10 min)

    - reflect on the power of silent technique (it was fast, all major ideas were discovered, everyone was included)

    2. Lecture: About brainstorming - traditional vs. silent, review of the 'science', etc. 15 min)

    3. Practice: Generating user stories (2 methods) (20 min)

    - reflect again on inclusivity, speed, but now also on the ideas that were generated that were surprising and new.

    4. Review the pattern for silent brainstorming (5 min)

    5. If time, practice the silent brainstorming one more time as a retrospective for either the session or the conference (if early in the conference, we'll do it for the session...) (10 min)

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment
      Carlton Nettleton
      ( Moderator )

      Nice adjustments! Thank you for making some changes.

  3. Comment

    I'd really like to see this presentation. Maybe I'm biased from spending too much time in environments where people seem to believe if they aren't talking, they aren't in the game. There is a great potential for silent work in allowing all members of the team to get their ideas into the mix. I'd be really interested in learning about how to set up silent work effectively for distributed teams too.

  4. Comment
    ( Moderator )

    I like it. I worry it's too touchy-feely for, say, all of my teammates, but I think I'd learn something that I could use to help our own brainstorming and other meetings.

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment
      steve ( Idea Submitter )

      I agree Lisa - this does occur. One person on my last team humorously referred to it as the kum-ba-yah approach. Still, he came to the meetings and participated openly. After using it for a while, I'm satisfied that the benefits outweigh the touchy-feely side.

  5. Comment
    Ted M. Young

    There's been a lot of talk and research around how brainstorming doesn't work if there's not enough critiquing of suggestions. Do you incorporate this information?

    Comments on this comment

    1. Comment
      steve ( Idea Submitter )

      Thanks Ted. I've done some research on that too. This technique incorporates both silence (to prevent 'cognitive fixation', to allow for the quiet to contribute, etc) as well as discussion (to vet ideas, generate new ones, etc). From my reading, both are important, but the silence should come first. One of the articles I read on this is here: http://www.businessinsider.com/brainstorming-team-building-effectiveness-2012-1

      Also, there is some discussion about whether critique or discussion is better for promoting / evaluating ideas. I'll try to cover the latest ideas in that regard.

      Finally, just an add-on note: I just finished the book "Switch" by the Heath brothers. They quoted a study that said when we brainstorm on our own we believe we've covered about 75% of the possible ideas. In reality, that number is closer to 30%... That is a sobering reason to try silent brainstorming. I'll try to find the reference if this presentation is chosen.

  6. Comment

    I would welcome an opportunity to use silence more effectively. I see large gaps the use of voice with culturally disparate teams and would like to learn more techniques for leveling the field.

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