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InfoQ Homepage Articles Training from the Back of the Room and Systems Thinking in Kanban Workshops: Q&A with Justyna Pindel

Training from the Back of the Room and Systems Thinking in Kanban Workshops: Q&A with Justyna Pindel

Key Takeaways

  • Training from the Back of the Room (TBR) is a powerful concept on how to build long term engagement during training, coaching sessions and consulting.
  • The 4Cs Map is a simple and useful model to design and deliver training based on how our brain acquires and remembers new information.
  • Kanban is an alternative path to agility. It helps  organizations deliver more value to the customer in predictable time.
  • STATIK (Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban) is a well-structured  model that helps teams to start their Kanban journey.
  • You can improve an already existing system by just visualizing it. Once you capture the big picture and have conversations with everyone involved, the ideas to improve it will appear all by itself.

In the book Kanban CompassJustyna Pindel shares her experiences from applying training from the back of the room and systems thinking in her Kanban workshops. She adapted her training approach by connecting with attendees and providing them suitable exercises to maximize learning opportunities.

InfoQ readers can download Kanban Compass with a 20% discount; there's also a free sample available.

InfoQ  interviewed Justyna Pindel about her experience from doing workshops, doing virtual classes and using visualization, dealing with people who complain about the current situation,  and fostering positive emotions.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write this book?

Justyna Pindel: There is no book (yet) about the practical use of Training from the Back of the Room in the Agile world, even though more and more Agile folks are getting interested in the idea of using brain science in training/coaching and consulting. So as an early adopter of exciting ideas, I decided to put my experience on paper and see if people could gain any knowledge out of it. 

InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Pindel: Kanban Compass is a useful read for Kanban professionals but also for Agile practitioners who are coaching teams, designing training and leading change.

It is a practical guide  for everyone who:

  • has worked with a tired team
  • tried to implement Kanban into an organization
  • would like to improve coaching, training or consulting style
  • heard about STATIK, but never had actionable ideas on where to start
  • read about Training from the Back of the Room, but didn't think that it would be useful in an Agile environment
  • never designed training
  • or designed too many training and feel that they’ve tried everything

One feedback that I heard from readers is that this book is a perfect match for everyone who is already familiar with the Kanban Method as it doesn’t provide a deep dive introduction to it. I was aware that this part was missing, but I decided to proceed to get audience feedback and improve my book based on that. The deep dive introduction will be added for the second edition of this book. So, please stay tuned!

InfoQ: Your book starts with a story about a kick-off workshop. What happened in this workshop and what did you learn from it?

Pindel: It was a kick-off workshop to begin our Kanban journey at a 100+ scaleup organization. Unfortunately, the team that I came across was not on board with any change, which was a huge surprise for me, as I got a different message from the management who hired me. Even though I had already designed the whole training cycle, I decided to inspect and adapt to new circumstances.  Otherwise, I was certain that it won’t work there. I would be wasting everyone's time and not helping anyone.

Once again, I learned that a one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. If you, as a trainer, want to maximize learning potential and help new learning to stick, you have to be Agile and adjust accordingly to new circumstances.  Otherwise, the happiest moment for everyone during your workshop will be THE END. The other key learning was that each of my consulting, coaching or training gigs should start with a kick-off session to meet the teams that I will be working with. Only by having  a clear vision in mind of the training audience will I be able to  design the whole learning experience for them. Learning is for people in the room, not for management who pays my bills.

InfoQ: You mentioned that less content translates into more value when aiming for deep understanding and a lot of practice. How can we select what to include and what to exclude in a workshop?

Pindel: It’s very tempting to put everything you know on a training agenda, especially when you, as a trainer, feel that you have to know everything and constantly impress the learners.

It’s always hard to chop workshop content into the bare minimum, especially when you have a lot of knowledge, experience, and fun stories to share. But if you are aiming for deep understanding and a lot of practice, less content translates into more value. Overloading groups with new information may lead to chaos during your class. They will struggle to understand which new tool or technique they should use first. In the end, they may just quit before they even start.

I focused on the bare minimum the team should understand. All other tempting additions were added to a separate page called “nice-to-know”, just in case the attendees were hungry for more. Having a list of future training objectives and the development direction is also very useful for me. It helps to make better decisions about the present content.

Whenever I have difficulty choosing the key messages, I ask myself:

What is my elevator pitch for this training?

If there would be only one new skill that I want everyone to have after the training, which one would that be?

If instead of six hours, I would only have three - what would I cover? What if I would only have one?

What is the key concept that all learners should know how to explain to others?

Then I look at my training objectives and compare what I’ve already put into the agenda, whether it fulfills this or not. Sometimes, if I already know the audience, I also go through the exercises one by one and ask myself if they bring any value to John, Tom or Alice.

InfoQ: How do you apply training from the back of the room in your workshops? How does it benefit attendees and you as a trainer?

Pindel: Training From the Back of the Room (TBR)  is a fresh approach to learning, training, presenting and facilitating that was developed by Sharon Bowman. It uses cognitive neuroscience and brain-based learning techniques to help learners to retain new information. TBR teaches you how to engage the five senses and keeps your learners active and engaged throughout the class. The concept is recognized internationally as one of the most effective frameworks for accelerated learning. It is a new way of teaching adults.

One of the key concepts that helps me as a trainer  is the 4Cs Map. I recommend it for everyone who wants to organize better meetings, run successful workshops or give engaging lectures.  The 4Cs Map is an instructional design and delivery model that is based on how our brain acquires and remembers new information. It includes four parts: 

C1: Connections: Building connections between attendees and topics in your classes is the first and the most important part of a training. It is so easy to lose everyone’s attention, especially when your training starts with a lecture about yourself. There are four important connections that you should try to build at the beginning  and during a  workshop: Connect learners to the topic; Connect learners to learners; Connect learners to personal goals; Connect learners to outcomes.

C2: Concepts: Whenever you’re designing a workshop, try to look for common ground with the group. If they have their own foundation, it will be easier to add a new layer of information. It also improves the retention of new information. 

C3: Concrete Practices: Don’t forget that your brain acts like a muscle. In order to be strong and well-developed, it needs practice using the new information, otherwise that information may not stay for long. Based on the concepts that you discovered in C2, you can now move on to practice. Look for suitable exercises that will help attendees to use theory in different practical contexts. 

C4: Conclusions: During the learning journey, your brain is in charge all the time. It looks for scenarios in which newly acquired knowledge may be useful for you. New information gets blended with the old. To support this step and enable your brain to fully build new, cognitive, emotional and physical connections, please never skip the Conclusions step. 

For attendees, this brings them:

  • Learning faster and remembering more with ease
  • Being able to teach others and apply theoretical knowledge
  • Acquiring new information in a multisensory way
  • Practical experience and confidence of putting  theory in practice
  • Fun and a lot of great memories :)

For trainers, this:

InfoQ: Right now many workshops are being given remotely.  How can we keep people engaged? What should we or shouldn't we do in virtual classes?

Pindel: To be honest, I started writing Kanban Compass when the pandemic began. Back then, I had a huge hope that once I finished writing, I would have a chance to run a class in the offline world. My optimism was the reason why I didn’t explore this topic in the book. Recently many readers have asked me for a 1:1 session to come up with ideas on how to use the knowledge in the book in the virtual world. I think I will have to write another book in this area. However, the common points are as follows. 

Should do:

  • Chop material in even shorter segments than usual,
  • Look for diverse exercise formats
  • Engage everyone to keep their cameras on - so as a trainer you see what the reactions from the attendees are
  • Have two screens: one to see the attendees and the second to lead the training
  • Prepare attendees on what will happen (inform them upfront about tools that will be used so they can play around)
  • Mix offline and online training; look for exercises that attendees can do with their hands but not with the computer
  • Look for ways to connect people and give space for that during training
  • Find ways to mobilize attendees- ie stand or change position,  so they get oxygen and their brain works
  • Facilitate conversation and agree on common rules of communication

Shouldn’t do:

  • Run eight hour long classes,
  • Skip breaks - as we have no time for them
  • Use only one type of exercises during the whole training
  • Be the only person who talks
  • Create a static power point presentation
  • Use too many and too complicated tools

InfoQ: How can visualization help to increase understanding of the current workflow?

Pindel: You can’t manage or understand what you can’t see. Our brain loves and understands visuals. If your goal is to improve the system you have to capture it. Only by having a clear picture and conversation with everyone involved in it, you can start thinking about improvement and optimizations. Think about this in this way: if you’ve never driven a car, are you able to advise someone how to drive better? Or if you’ve never seen how someone bakes a cake, would you be able to suggest a better way of doing it?

Visualizing the current workflow very often puts the spotlight on issues that were known but hidden for years, such as: bottlenecks, blockers that slow us down, too much work in progress, conflicting priorities, or any others. By seeing them and showing them to others, we are able to address and solve them.

InfoQ: When you're trying to get insight into the sources of dissatisfaction with the current system, people might be complaining about things or blaming people. How can trainers deal with this?

Pindel: It happens. Very often this exercise turns into a blame game or a compliment contest. Facilitation is key here. We want to give everyone space to express their dissatisfaction (for some team members, it can be the first time ever), but on the other hand, we don't get bummed. My suggestion is to keep in mind Mike Burrow’s FOTO (From Obstacles to Outcomes) exercise and try to navigate the conversation in a more solution-oriented tone.  Following Mike Burrow’s instruction of a 15-minute FOTO using Clean Language, you take your team from the discussion about obstacles to the discovery of outcomes. 

InfoQ: How can trainers facilitate groups to find ways to improve their work flow using ideas from kanban?

Pindel: Kanban is way more than a board. A lot of people are hung up on the first Kanban Principle, which is to “visualize work” and have a feeling that any board is a kanban board.

If you zoom into STATIK (Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban)  steps, you can get guidance on how to help the team to map their workflow, discover classes of service and create a visual based work management system. There are many aspects that should be taken into consideration while designing a kanban system, including: 

  • implicit or explicit policies, for example:  commitment and delivery points, demand shaping policies, Definition of Ready Done, Acceptance Criteria,  WiP limits, Classes of Service, and whatever makes sense to the team
  • board design: stages, swimlanes, queues, buffers, pool of options and whatever you feel is necessary
  • ticket design: who is working on it, time stamps, priority indicator, id and whatever is needed for clear visualization. Some teams need more information, some less. There is no silver bullet here
  • visualization techniques like: color-coding, blocker indications and clustering or anything that the team needs
  • prioritization techniques that work for them. If they don’t have any prioritization mechanisms this may be the perfect opportunity to change that

Each team has a different context, needs and personal preference, therefore as facilitators of a system design workshop, you should all keep your eyes open and look for solutions and ideas that fulfill their needs. Sometimes you have to look “beyond” kanban categories or find a compromise and roll out a Proto-Kanban implementation instead.

InfoQ: What are your suggestions for turning workshop insights and learnings into takeaways and actions?

Pindel: Actually, if you base a session on Training from the Back of the Room, the magic should happen all by itself. Why? Because if you spend enough time at the beginning on establishing a connection between the learning material and the personal goals and needs, everyone should feel responsible for their learning and know why they are here. During the block “Concrete Practices”, you can add different exercises in which attendees can experiment in a safe environment with new ideas. In order to cement the knowledge and give everyone space and time to put it into their own context, you can’t forget about the closing exercises.  

InfoQ: What benefits can positive emotions bring and how can trainers foster them?

Pindel: Positive emotions are essential in the learning process. They are a turn on for the brain. They make memories, which help our students to remember more from the classes. They also have a substantial influence on the cognitive processes, including perception, focus, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving.

If you are aware of their impact on learning, you will start to look for ways to bring more positivity and laughter into the training room. It will not only help attendees in learning, but it will also help you to enjoy your time as a trainer and space facilitator. Isn’t that a romantic vision, where learners don't want to leave the room because they have so much fun and in the background their brain is processing crazy amounts of knowledge without them even noticing

About the Book Author 

Justyna Pindel is a certified passionate Training from the Back of the Room trainer addicted to learning. She claims to have Agile in her DNA. As an Agile believer & practitioner, she always looks for the (im)possible 1% improvement. As a Flight Levels Guide, she helps organizations to achieve business agility at every level.

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