All eyes not on you – Chain Question

As a facilitator, I think it is my job create opportunities for others to speak. I try to keep in the background as much as possible, which isn’t always easy. Participants focus on me more often than I’d like. That is to say, not only when I talk about meta information like instructions, but also when they themselves talk about the subject matter.

One simple technique to connect participants to each other, rather than to you, is to create a questioning chain. This works well when the group forms a circle and there’s a question everyone should answer. As the facilitator you can start it of by asking the question to your neighbour. Then they ask their neighbour on their other side. It works best, when the asker actually waits and listens to the answer 😉

Just like Role Play for One this technique is popular with language teachers. I relearned it in Veronika Kotrba and Ralph Miarka’s workshop on solution-focused coaching.

I hope it’ll help you get attention off of you and on the content your participants bring to the table.

Do you have tricks you’d like to share?

Pink stickies considered harmful & other arcane facilitation tidbits

There are some odd tidbits of experience you pick up when you work with whiteboards and stickies for a longer period of time. Here’s a random collection of my tidbits that might be nice to know for beginners:

pink-sticky-stainsBeware, 3m pink stickies leave pink stains on most non-whiteboard surfaces. Walls, doors, tables, … Especially when wet / moist.

3m sticky notes are still the best ones, i.e. the stickiest ones that are least likely to fall off your board. AFAIR there are differences between the colors. The light yellow, archetypical notes are the stickiest.

We’ve tried out a lot of cheaper stickies and it just led to autumn being year round (= the “leaves” falling down a lot). Among the sticky note copycats I remember Tesa to be the best one.

The usual way to tear off a sticky (upwards) will make it stand off of the board at an angle. If you peel them off left to right, they’ll stay flat. Despite this knowledge I can’t rewire my muscles to tear off to the sides. My stickies always curl :/

Blue Edding boardmarker (most common brand in Germany) becomes non-dry-erasable after a few weeks. Really annoying! That’s why we’ve stopped using blue marker all together.

You can remove dried up writing on a whiteboard by retracing the lines with another whiteboard marker and then wiping. The solvents of the new line also solve the old writing. If you don’t want to whip out the whiteboard cleaner, that’s a working alternative.

Do you have any tidbits to share?

Ritual Dissent

At sipgate we sometimes are too nice to each other. That might sound like a luxurious “problem” if you’ve have to weather a tough company climate, but it can indeed be a problem. As in, we don’t shoot down ideas that aren’t that well thought out. Or we proceed with projects that only one person is really excited about and all others think “Meh” quietly to themselves.

What has really helped us to challenge and improve ideas is a technique called “Ritual Dissent”. It works like this:

One person pitches their idea to the others. Then the pitcher turns around, so that their back is to the group. The others then have to point out weaknesses and flaws in the concept (dissent) or can suggest alternatives (assent). They are not allowed to say anything positive!

Of course, the dissent should be something the pitcher can work with. “This is the worst concept I’ve seen today” fulfils the rule of “not positive” but the pitcher can’t use it at all. It’s bad how? In what aspect? Only speak if the pitcher can use your feedback to improve instead of slumping their shoulders in defeat.

The great thing about Ritual Dissent is that it a) absolves feedback givers from having to find positive aspects for a “sandwich feedback” and b) it gives you permission to criticize. It’s what we want here! You’re not a nagging nay-sayer if you point out flaws!

Usually you do Ritual Dissent when several people will present there respective ideas. One person pitches. The others dissent. Next person pitches.

It’s less personal if you know that after you it will be another one’s turn. This is also the official reason why the pitcher turns their back to the group, i.e. that it will feel less personal. My hypothesis is that as the pitcher you have to just absorb the feedback and aren’t tempted to argue your case. And as the dissenter it’s easier to say hard things because you don’t have to see the pitcher’s face twitch when you point out that their “baby” has three legs and no arms.

I find this to be a very valuable technique to improve ideas, concepts and designs in an environment reluctant to voice harsh criticism. Have you tried it?

Sketchnotes from XP Days 2015

Last week I was at XP Days in Karlsruhe, a very nice mix of talks, workshops and Open Space. I’m not very happy with the resulting sketchnotes, but I thought they may serve as examples of what happens when I’ve got too much or too little space left on my piece of paper:

Too much space

"Search inside yourself - Train your brain - Google style" by Markus Wittwer

“Search inside yourself – Train your brain – Google style” by Markus Wittwer

The whole upper left corner was empty at the end of the talk so I made up the buddha which hopefully fits with the topic.

Just right


“Continuous Database Integration with FlyWay” by Sandra Parsick

Here everything worked out, space-wise.

Too little space


“Lösungsfokussierte Retrospektiven” by Veronika Kotrba und Ralph Miarka

I ran out of space with 20 minute still to go. That’s why I decided to start on a 2nd piece of paper. In hindsight it was a really bad idea to draw the wavy separation line between parts 4 and 5 on the second sheet. Well, it is what it is.

Sketchnotes from ICP 2015

At the end of October I attended the International PHP Conference aka Webtech Conf in Munich. Even though PHP is not my strong suit there were plenty of interesting talks to choose from. Here are some sessions captured as sketchnotes:

20 Years of PHP - Keynote by Kris Köhntopp

20 Years of PHP – Keynote – Kris Köhntopp

Langlebige Softwarearchitekturen von Carola Lilienthal

Langlebige Softwarearchitekturen – Carola Lilienthal

Semper Fi - Leadership Lessons from the Marine Corps - Gordon Oheim

Semper Fi – Leadership Lessons from the Marine Corps – Gordon Oheim

Law of the Hot Shit - Keynote - Frank Kleine

Law of the Hot Shit – Keynote – Frank Kleine

Code Quality for Agile Teams - Frank Sons

Code Quality for Agile Teams – Frank Sons

Role Play for One

[This post is one of many inspired by Agile 2015.]

At Agile 2015 I was fortunate enough to attend many great sessions. Of all these my favorite one was Ellen Grove‘s “Games for Learning about Conflict Resolution“.


In it, she introduced “Role Play for One”.

Instead of Role Playing how to AIRR (Agree on a common goal, state an observation, describe the Impact on you, showing Respect and phrasing a Request), Ellen gave us a 4-panel comic strip to fill out. And it worked perfectly!

Role play - comic strip

This is a great technique for when it’s really more of a monologue, not a dialogue, you’re practicing. And it’s great for introverts, too.

Coming to think of it: I’ve seen and used comic strips in language books and teacher’s handouts. But it wouldn’t have occurred to me for other kinds of training. I like the reinvention! I’ll so use this in my trainings! Thank you, Ellen!

Sketchnote Equipment – What pens and markers to use?

[This post is one of many inspired by Agile 2015.]

When my sketchnotes circulated on Twitter due to Agile 2015 people asked me what pens and markers I use. Many sketchnoters have carefully chosen equipment. I don’t. Not yet, anyway. You don’t need special equipment to get started. Use whatever you have. Normal paper and a biro will do. There’s enough time to research equiment once you know that you like visual notetaking 🙂 Your sketchnotes will become nicer with better equipment, but it’s not necessary.

At Agile I used pens that I grabbed in the office right before I left. Except for the light gray marker. Once I had pledged to sketchnote at the conference, I borrowed a “shadow marker” from a colleague (Thanks, Peter!). Shadows are important to me.

Anyway, here’s my combo:

3 pens - Neuland No One Marker #102, orange Sharpie, edding 1200 black felt pen

The markers I used for all Agile 2015 sketchnotes

  • Neuland No One Marker #102 for the shadows – Can absolutely recommend! You can paint over other pens and the lines won’t bleed.
  • Orange Sharpie I got from the organizers after losing the board marker I’d brought (Thank you!) – It’s okay. Bleeds a little and stinks a little. Would use again.
  • edding 1200 black felt pen – It’s okay. Bleeds a little. Doesn’t stink 😉 I’ll try to find a non-bleeding pen with a finer tip to use next time.

Additionally I used thicker-than-usual paper (100gr instead of the usual 80gr) because I had a stack at home and thought the bleeding might be less of a problem. I like the thicker paper. Feels more substantial and it’s nice that they are less transparent. If I hadn’t had thick paper I’d have used the “normal” one for printers.

Many sketchnoters have beautiful notebooks for their sketches. I love to look at those, but I would be inhibited by such a book. I’d always be afraid to put in a shitty sketch in between the nice ones. (It has happened. I’ve redone sketchnotes before.) I can sketch more freely on loose paper. Maybe I’ll overcome this one day.

If you’re already a sketchnoter, what pens and paper do you use?

Little Book of Sketchnotes for Agile 2015

[This post is one of many related to Agile 2015.]

Listen up, y’all, Claudia Sandoval has created a thing of beauty!

Cover of the Little Book of Sketchnotes (Agile 2015)

She’s collected all known sketchnotes from Agile 2015 into an amazing PDF called “Agile 2015 – Little Book of Sketchnotes“. I’m honored to have my sketchnotes next to hers, Renee Troughton’s, Elizabeth McClellan‘s and Tim Meyers‘s. It’s a joy to flip through the PDF and see the different styles!

Check it out here

Thanks to my fellow contributors & especially Claudia for putting this together!

1-Pagers: Elevator Pitch Template, Fancier Sketchnotes & Configuration Management

There are 3 new 1-pagers over at that you might have missed:

An elevator pitch captures what makes your product a great solution. This elevator pitch template reminds you of all the important parts of an elevator pitch.

Want to spruce up your flipcharts and sketchnotes? 80% fancier sketchnotes & flipcharts.

Last but not least, something DevOps-y: Configuration Management – Ansible, Salt, Chef, Puppet.