What can we do about Workshop Remorse?

Workshop remorse

A workshop is arranged with the goal of solving a particular problem. Let’s say the problem is that the pages in a section of a website have become messy and need to be reorganised to improve the usability for visitors. The workshop uses a card sorting exercise to rearrange the existing pages and create a new structure. Everyone in the workshop accepts it and agrees the next steps.

Then… a few days after the workshop, some worries start to creep in. Things like, what if the changes affect our page search rankings, what if the changes make it harder for my customers to do what I want them to do, what if my manager doesn’t like the changes I agreed to.

That’s workshop remorse.

So then the emails start, emails that communicate those doubts and create little speed bumps. Shared among the group those worries multiply, and quickly people start to think of reasons why not to do what was they agreed at the workshop. The speed bumps grow into road blocks and everyone agrees that it would be better to wait some for seemingly connected thing to happen before we go back to solving this problem.

That’s the impact of workshop remorse.

How can we tackle it?

Every workshop should be about creating a space that has psychological safety for those involved. They should feel safe to say things they wouldn’t normally allow themselves to.

Maybe a part of a workshop should be spent talking about fears, concerns, barriers, internal agendas and organisational politics to bring this remorse to the forefront before it happens. Talk about it and tackle it.

Let’s see if by making the organisational politics visible we can challenge it. There’s no blame, we are all victims of our organisational culture and all implicit in creating it, so let’s be open about it.

Let’s see if by admitting our fears and worries we can overcome them and take control of them rather than allowing them to impact the work we want to do. It’s fine to have fears, we’re all human.

Let’s see if by talking about internal agendas we can reach some shared objectives that help everyone achieve. It’s not a zero sum game. One person doesn’t have to lose in order for another to win. We can all win if we work together.

What could we do?

We could hold a ‘Confessions time’ as part of the workshop. Maybe people would feel like it’s ok to open up.

Someone who has been workshops like this before might say: “I’m concerned that we’ll do this exercise but it’ll take so long for us to make any positive changes that we’ll all lose our enthusiasm and it’ll feel like wasted effort.”

The person running the workshop might say: “My worry is that you all won’t trust in the process and will want to feel in control of what we produce rather than allowing what users want to guide us.”

One of the less confident people in the group might say: “I’m worried that my part of business will be under-represented and I won’t achieve what I’m supposed to.”

And so everyone starts to understand how everyone else is feeling.

Then we can get on with the card sorting, because actually the workshop isn’t really about organising pages on a website, it’s really about having a safe and inspiring place to work, it’s about how we can improve the organisation one step at a time, its’ about people working together to create something awesome.

Quality quantity discussions rather than iron triangles

Waterfall says Resource and Scope should be fixed and Time is the variable for delivering projects. Agile (or maybe Scrum) says Resource and Time is fixed and Scope is variable.

Nothing is fixed

Fixing resource is kind of nonsense when by ‘resource’ we mean people. People take days off, have good days and bad days, get more done on some days than others, so resource is constantly moving in both quantity and quality. In reality nothing is fixed.

Scope = quality

When we talk about Scope we’re really talking about the quality of the solution delivered. Sometimes, if the quality of solution required is too great for the fixed length of time then the quality (scope) is reduced to fit the fixed length of time.

Time = quantity

When we talk about fixing Time, such as in a two week sprint, we are really talking about the quantity of output, the amount of work that gets done.

Quality / quantity

This is why the Scope / Time discussion is really a quality / quantity discussion. If you reduce the Time available to work on a solution you have to reduce the Scope of what will be delivered. You can have it in one day and the solution will be good, or you can have it in one week and the solution will be better, or you can have it in a month and the solution will be the best. Sometimes ‘good’ is good enough, and sometimes ‘good’ is all you have time for, but by fixing Time (and so fixing quantity) you limit the ability to deliver the best solutions.

Perhaps allowing the team to decide what quality of solution needs to be delivered, and how long that solution will take to build sets them up to do great work rather than doing just what they can fit into an arbitrary length of time.

Transparency because…

…stuff gets lost in hand over.
…sharing work creates faster feedback.
…communicating openly builds trust.
…responsibility and accountability are everyone’s responsibility.
…planning is easier when done in context.
…opportunities for convergence are essential.
…generalists learn together.
…course corrections happen faster.
…team culture should be nailed to the wall.
…decision making involves everyone.
…knowledge is power, and everyone should have the power.