Sometimes when I’m working with a client to design and facilitate a Big Room Planning event [see Christine’s post on the various types of and agendas for BRPs], a client tries to segment the participant list. They want to invite certain people only to particular parts. The intent is kind: they want to spare people all the time. However, it’s often a misguided exercise that ultimate defeats the purpose. In this post, I explain why to err on the side of inclusivity.

At the end I invite you to join the conversation over in LinkedIn.

It’s called “big” room planning, because when we meet in person we usually need a much bigger room than we used to, because we are being much more inclusive in the way we plan. This inclusivity is the radical culture and process change we are trying to implement. It’s the core element that brings so many of the benefits we seek. It’s why BRPs accelerate program execution.

We get everyone hearing the same thing about goals, key results and strategy; we get everyone working together better; we make decisions and share information at a speed you just can’t do when everyone is working in a more siloed, separated fashion.

Let’s look at each part, and at the benefits of radical inclusion for each.

Benefits of Radical Inclusion

Information flows better, faster. So many of the challenges in traditional projects come from the delays and errors that occur when different people hear different information, or don’t get the info at all. Critical information–like ‘what do our stakeholders care about’–gets distorted through the game of telephone, as it’s translated through many messengers. In BRP, we hear and capture the same info.Alignment on purpose, goals. The most critical information that we want everyone on the same page about is deep understanding of the purpose and goals of the program. What are the success criteria? What really matters to the business, stakeholders, customers? Alignment means everyone’s energy moves us toward our goal. Misalignment means we work in different directions, on the wrong priorities, in the wrong way. The cost to the program adds up quick. In BRP, everyone hears the same strategy at the same time, and asks questions until they understand it, and understands what it means for them.

Hundreds of decisions get made. Think about a typical week in the middle of a traditional program. We need a decision–option A or option B. We can’t really proceed without it. So we escalate, up the chain, until we reach the person with the authority to make the decision. How long does that take? How often has your program schedule slipped because “waiting on decision”? In BRPs, we make dozens if not hundreds of decisions–about direction, about who will do what, about design choices, about priorities.

The humans and teams build great working relationships, fast. Modern business is a cooperative game, and software even moreso. No one can produce value by themselves. Effective collaboration is a must-have. It can take a long time for humans to work together well–to trust one another, to feel comfortable enough to seek each other out, to ask for and receive feedback well, to learn who’s good at what, to become a “we” instead of a bunch of “us’s and them’s”. BRPs accelerate that connection because we work together intensely to build our plan, and by explicitly helping the humans get to know each other, and by promoting working agreements for how we’ll communicate, make work visible, and behave.

We start the fast-learning, fast-feedback process. Agile projects are more successful because they are designed to create and leverage fast feedback. That starts in the BRP. We build a plan that provides immediate feedback to the viability of the strategy. We bring together many perspectives, then ensure we hear from all voices, so that those perspectives improve what we know. So, we gather product + tech, stakeholders, teams who know different parts of the system / different systems, people who understand our business strategy, people who know our customers.

We bring real focus. Agile programs deliver faster in part because they focus, working on fewer things at once. Many of those decisions around priority happen in BRP. And just as important, BRPs are where leaders give permission to focus–to say ‘no’ or ‘not now’. That works best when everyone hears the same message, AND when everyone can see all the work across the whole system.

Create leveraged opportunities; prevent waste. Another source of challenge for traditional programs is that people unintentionally duplicate work because they don’t know what others are doing. OR, they fail to leverage better designs or better re-use opportunities, because they don’t see what others are doing. Bringing ALL the players together in BRPs helps everyone see the whole–see what everyone is doing, and find those opportunities for leverage, or to avoid waste.

My one caveat to my encouragement to invite everyone to the whole thing is that we often want to (and/or are limited to) include the highest-level executive(s) for very explicit parts: the kick-off and context-setting, for which their perspective and inspiration is invaluable, and the results read-out, where we need their acceptance and understanding of our plan. We might also want to reserve the ability to reach out if we get stuck by problems only the execs can remove.

What has enabled you to successfully create inclusive Big Room Planning events? What has made it hard to get all the players in the “room”? I’d love to learn from your experiences. Join the conversation on LinkedIn!