by Stan Kurkovsky, firstname.lastname@example.org, @SKurkovsky
Software engineering courses at the post-secondary level usually integrate students’ programming skills with their knowledge in many other areas of computing, such as databases, security, or computer networks. Software engineering, however, is much more than simply putting existing knowledge and skills to practice. There are many important principles and concepts that are central to the practice of modern software engineering, such as requirements engineering, emergent properties, socio-technical systems, etc. Given the engineering nature of the discipline, one of the best ways to learn these principles is usually to apply them in a practical context, such as a case study.
Recently, we began using LEGO SERIOUS PLAY as a foundation for hands-on case studies to teach the core concepts of software engineering to senior (4th year) students at a university. As with all LEGO SERIOUS PLAY workshops, students were first introduced to LEGO SERIOUS PLAY by participating in a skill building session, which took an entire 75-minute period. All of our case studies went beyond building individual models and included building either a shared, a landscape model, or both, which promotes team building and creating of shared understanding. These two kinds of models force students to compare their thoughts and views on the same concept, which helps each student correct any possible misconceptions and crystallize their understanding of that concept. We piloted several LSP-based case studies, one of which is described below.
The email read: “We currently manage a very evolved graduate programme. This includes some of the brightest and talented graduates from exclusive universities. Our final selection is regarded as the crème de la crème. We offer our graduates three jobs over a period of five years on two continents. We have ten new grads. joining us in February. Along with our current grads. we would like to have a fun-filled, exciting team building day for them to get to know each other and work together.”
I think: “I’ve got just the answer for you.”, because:
LEGO SERIOUS PLAY in itself is team building.
LEGO SERIOUS PLAY in itself is fun.
The client wants to mix the current grads. with the newbies. I’ll allocate some of each of them in each team.
They are supposed to be clever, so the issue for them to consider must be a challenging one.
Besides team building of the established and new grads. we are dealing with induction of the new grads. and marketing the company to them.
I’ll propose to the prospective client a one day LEGO SERIOUS PLAY workshop centered on the issue: “Build a LEGO model of a successful candidate on Company X’s Graduate Development Programme.”
I think again: “What is the second right answer?”
These guys are serious: a programme consisting of three jobs over five years on two continents.
Not only are they serious, they are prepared to make a long term investment.
The one day team building workshop cannot be a standalone incident unrelated to the overall investment.
It must be integrated with the other programmes the grads. will undertake.
The power of LEGO SERIOUS PLAY lies in its ability to emotionally involve the delegates in the issue they jointly consider.
Beyond factual answers, we are building a sense of belonging and commitment amongst the grads.
The issue they tackle must be useful and meaningful to each and every one of them as they embark upon their managerial career.
How about them answering the question “What must be done to succeed on the Grad. Development Programme?” They can first build individual models of their own thoughts and then collate them into an agreed answer.
Then, as those annoying infomercials say, “Wait, there’s more.” Then they each have to build an individual LEGO model in answer to “What must I do to succeed on the programme.” Each delegate is then required to evolve the 3-D LEGO model into a written action plan that then becomes an integral part of that grads.’ performance appraisal over the next few years.
Hey, this is fun, so I think again:
I buy into LEGO SERIOUS PLAY because if addresses joint issues at an emotional level as well as a rational one. I don’t quite understand what’s happening but I firmly believe self-motivation is triggered. After all, decisions aren’t only rational.
Maybe there’s more I can do to strengthen the positive emotions and attitudes evoked by LEGO SERIOUS PLAY.
How about the framework of Experiential Learning: Doing, Reflecting, Applying. Let the delegates “play” with LEGO. That’s the “Doing”. Then they can reflect upon their behaviour. After all, playing with LEGO is fun and it creates an atmosphere supportive of introspection. So if the LEGO exercises are structured in a way to elicit certain managerial behaviours, afterwards they can be reflected upon. Then a LEGO SERIOUS PLAY session can be structured to work out an answer as to how the delegates can successfully implement those behaviours.
Oops, time to think again.
Wait a minute! Who is the client? Let’s get back to what the client wants. What is right for the client?
Sure, ask the client, but I have to put a proposal on the table to even stand a chance of getting the business.
What would you do? Please add your comments below …
Slightly different from “classic” LEGO SERIOUS PLAY methodology, Dominic Krimmer (Twitter@dkrimmer84) has written an interesting case study about the combination of LEGO and Scrum tools. Here is his blog post “The LEGO Retrospective”
The LEGO® – Retrospective is a quite nice method I tried out with a team in my current company. The reason why this exercise is so exciting is the fact that team members are joining a totally new creative space where they can try out to express their thoughts on an abstract layer. In this post I’d like to share some experiences about this improvised retrospective.
preparation: 10 minutes
retrospective: 60-90 minutes
What you can expect:
The LEGO® – Retrospective helps teams to dive into another kind of space where the rules of ordinary life are temporarily suspended and replaced with the rules of this game. As almost everybody played with LEGO® in his childhood you can expect a high engagement as adults might love to remember the good old creative time :-)
Object of play the LEGO® – Retrospective:
Most of us are familiar with LEGO® – one of the best known brand toys. This game gives team members an opportunity to express their views on an abstract way. It’s valuable because you are able to create the conditions that will allow unexpected and surprising solutions to emerge.
Suburbs of Rome in Italy are on the front line these days. Violence, riots, anti-immigrant protests, racism accusations. Rome’s experiencing what Paris, London and other capitals have already experienced in the past. In this environments youngsters live hardship, considering that most of them, even with a university degree do not find a job. An institution, the Goethe Institut in Rome, two associations, Italienverein in Dortmund and Corda Aurea in Rome and a Theatre in Rome Teatro di Tor Bella Monaca, consider that there’s a lot of potential in these youngsters which can be untapped just providing the right competences.
Together they are testing a project in Tor Bella Monaca where a group of young people (3 girls and 4 men, ranging from 18 to 30 years old) are acquiring entrepreneurial culture in order to build companies rather than wait for a job which might never come true. The project is organized in a series of workshops, ranging from business modeling, to marketing, from logical framework to diversity management. Yesterday the people of the project attended a four hours’ workshop using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® materials and methodology. This is a brief note on this unique experience.
Before, just few words on the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology. As the official website of LEGO® states “The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is an innovative process designed to enhance innovation and business performance. Based on research which shows that this kind of hands-on, minds-on learning produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities, the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology deepens the reflection process and supports an effective dialogue — for everyone in the organization”. Started in corporate environments, workshop using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® materials and methodology has already moved into social environments, in particular in Mexico where is used extensively by communities, local and federal government. Continue reading →
Learning Services at University Campus Suffolk (UCS) consistently strives to implement teaching and learning practices that are innovative, creative and effective in order to better engage with our dynamic population of students. Over the summer, we began developing a means to introduce Lego Serious Play (LSP) into our academic and library support teaching sessions – including facilitation training, purchasing the necessary kit, and working with academics to capitalise on the opportunity.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, LSP was developed by Lego, primarily for use in business settings to explore team building and group dynamics. Recently, the tool has been adapted for use within library and academic settings for similar purposes. However, Learning Services at UCS have decided to move beyond utilisation with staff and have looked toward investigating implications for using the tool directly with students, focusing on the cognitive links associated with exposure to LSP and skills acquisition related to library and academic services. In other words – if LSP positively influenced staff synergy within the global business sector, what was stopping it from providing a useful means of developing library and other learning skills amongst students?
CBi is the latest iteration of an evolving experiment at CERN in Geneva. The CBi acronym stands for “Challenge Based innovation”, and the experiment pulls in students from several countries and multiple disciplines. The Scimpulse Foundation collaborates with CERN since 2013 and in this occasion we facilitate a concept design workshop.
It’s a sunny September morning in Mayrin, the outskirts of Geneva, right on the side of the ATLAS experiment building there is a new shell enclosure where a bunch of students practice and learn about innovation. Dr. Marco Manca is the coach of the team and he wants to make sure that they come out of the experience with a new mindset. That is where we come into play, literally.
The challenge is to design something that may enable blind people to perceive the surrounding environment; maybe some type of augmented sensory device. We use the LEGO Serious Play* method combined with a bit of acted scenario, getting the group into a divergent thinking flow to co-create solutions beyond what the standard game-storming or design thinking methods may produce.
They call themselves the “Heisenberg” team. Entering the room I can feel the expectation from the group, curiously sitting around an improvised set of tables. I skip any introduction and immediately go on guiding them through the first half hour of rigorous LSP language training.
They fly through the training! From building a tower in 20 seconds, to making a story and using metaphors in a matter of minutes; faster than any group I have seen so far.
After announcing that now we were going to get serious, I pose the first question: – I am going to ask you to go beyond the normal concept of blindness, starting from the opposite side … let’s build the model of:
what is Vision?
In a matter of minutes the models start coming up, It turns out that Vision is not only the capability to “See” with our eyes, but also an enabler, some sort of superpower that drives Decision, Choice, Selection, Trust, and Truth.
Our horizon expanded from the simple definition of “Sight”, to the more meaningful and all-inclusive concept of “Vision”.
From here we can start exploring the user point of view and find possible solutions, but that will require a simulation or a prototype, to have a first-hand experience of what the user may feel when is using a machine that helps hims or her in performing a simple task.
Since the beginning of this year we started working with students from the Faculty of Engineering at a Chilean university, the purpose is to develop their entrepreneurial and innovative capacity by connecting them with creativity. An important part of this program is that they experience things from another perspective, to live new situations in changing scenarios; that they can identify opportunities and translate them into concrete actions, working as a team, to think with their hands, and learn of the own discoveries and another’s.
The first step is to accompany them to get out of the comfort zone and to achieve this we design a practical exercise.
EXERCISE “THE ZONE”
Without giving any information, at the beginning of the class we ask them to be organized in groups of 10 students. Each had to wear blindfolds and accompanied by 5 teammates who cared not have accidents, they had to walk from the door of the University to the classroom without looking.
This is a walk they do every day, but this time we forced them to do without the sense of sight, which would generate a series of reactions and emotions in them. Once they got to the classroom, we invite them to sit at the tables where the Lego pieces were and we asked them to build an Individual Model of them Perceptual Experience, then tell the story of that journey.
The exercise was very significant since students sharpen their senses on both the walk and at the time of building. As never, Models were loaded with emotions. Construction was the heart of the experience. Some were scared or frustrated for not remembering the way, others were disoriented.
Empathy was generated from practical experience, allowing them to connect with the responsibility of being part of a community and also with satisfaction that delivers surpass themselves and achieve the goal.
Finally we reflect on the experience and decided to work, using Design Thinking to design positive experiences for students and disabled members of the University. The prototypes will be built with Lego bricks.
Over the last few weeks, I have been partaking in a series of LEGO Serious Play rapid prototyping design challenges at the Research Institute for the Finnish Economy. The focus was to conceptualize, visualize and manipulate a new approach to designing blended asset investment vehicles. The prototyping application is tied to a 2.5 year project on ‘Financial Innovation for Industrial Renewal‘, financed by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes). The project involves partners from industry centers of excellence, economic development groups and equity investors, with an advisory board that includes European Investment Fund (EIF) and P80 (pension fund) Foundation managers. Our rapid prototyping design team was comprised of equity research analysts, investors, economists, management scientists, industry practitioners, and academics in entrepreneurship. The 4-week process design, comprised of individual builds and challenges, and culminating in team builds, was laid out and facilitated by Sven Adriaens, a high school senior from Pinckney, Michigan (US), an intern seeking to advance his educational interests in design sciences.
Industrial renewal has become a widely used concept at the highest levels of economic policy in the US and Europe. It involves the repositioning of industries, by leveraging and realigning value systems, while integrating innovative companies to ‘turn the ship’. Given the requirement for considerable capital infusions, the European Commission is restructuring fiduciary requirements for pension funds to drive engagement in potentially riskier investment vehicles.
The overall core challenge of the project was how to organize, select and visually represent companies that become part of blended asset investment portfolios comprised of: an index (public), a bundled loan product (SMEs), and equity investment (startups and growth companies) placements. How would such a portfolio be structured and administered? When is a company or a portfolio investable? What are the risks? The new portfolio investment vehicles are targeted at institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies, as well as family offices, thus impacting the risk:return profiles of the product. The spirited discussions around this topic exposed the tension between economists, management scientists and investors, and centered on the (types of) data used for decision-making, and the fundamental (theoretical or case-based) underpinnings that guide the investor and company management team.
Visualizing an investment vehicle and business model with LEGO bricks opened up a query that continues to vex entrepreneurs and investors alike: What are key selection metrics for high value investable companies positioned to drive industrial innovation?
If we consider the research in the field, salient ingredients for entrepreneurial success are often distilled down to: indomitable optimism and enthusiasm of the founder, a game-changing product, leveraging mega-trends or policies, mixed in a cocktail of product and/or market pivots. These ‘potentially observable management inputs and management characteristics’ are, however, insufficient to explain why one venture succeeds and the other fails. Potential, because, for example, recent HBR research showed that companies built by serial entrepreneurs aren’t any more likely to succeed – even if investors consider the ability of past experience in their equity-taking decisions. The residual variables of success are not observable: skill, luck and timing.
There is a significant parallel between these uncertainties, and how economists ascribe differences in company productivity to allocation efficiencies of resources such as capital and labor. The difference is that in microeconomics there are elegant theories that explain how inputs (of mature firms) relate to outputs, presuming that allocation is optimal and aimed at profit maximization. Yet, after accounting for all measurable inputs, often more than 90% of company productivity variability between companies is captured in a ‘multi-factor productivity variable’, which cannot be measured. It is often explained as a measure of technological change in the industry that contributes to the allocation efficiency. Because it is not observable, it can’t be explicitly considered. Economic theory is data-driven, yet the magnitude of the unobservable residual is similar to that which explains entrepreneurial success. In entrepreneurship there is no theoretical underpinning for success – rather our knowledge is based on case studies. Since measures of success derived from cases are difficult to abstract and made generalizable, the development of theories is notoriously challenging.
Going back to the Serious LEGO design challenge then, how do we make portfolio resource allocation and investment decisions for individual companies in the face of unobservable factors for success and productivity?
This series of blogs covers the context of the LEGO Serious Play portfolio design aspects, both at the strategic level of industrial renewal and tactical or operational level describing the analytical engines driving the project. The angles on this problem will represent the expertise and background of the participants, and culminate in a description of the final team build product design. The educational aspects will be addressed from two perspectives. From the student-facilitator’s angle: How can LEGO bricks be used to help the uninitiated teach finance and business models? From the professional participants’ angle – How do LEGO bricks help in the design of new investment vehicles and their management structure?
For more details, including a video on the final team build, please contact:
Peter Adriaens, PhD
Finnish Distinguished Professor, Research Institute for the Finnish Economy (2014-2016), Helsinki, Finland.
Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy, The University of Michigan (Ross School of Business – Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies), Ann Arbor, Michigan (US)
Antti Tahvanainen, PhD
Chief Research Scientist, Research Institute for the Finnish Economy, Helsinki, Finland