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Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Open Space

Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Open Space Technology

You’ve heard about it, but you aren’t sure if it’s a new Feng-Shui technique or the latest operating system for a smart phone! Read on to find out the top 10 things you need to know about Open Space Technology.

1. What Is Open Space Technology?

Like the Lean Coffee format, Open Space Technology, sometimes referred to as just Open Space,  is a way to conduct an agenda-less meeting with just a small group of about 20 people to thousands who voluntarily attend the Open Space.
The format, designed to nurture creativity and leadership in people, create an environment that encourages those who attend to collaborate in topics they create and are passionate about.

2. Who Created the Concept of Open Space Technology?

Sometimes the best ideas are formed while sitting at the bar having a couple of cocktails. No, really. Just ask Harrison Owen the creator of the Open Space Technology. He sort of set the bar for Open Space Technology at the bar.
Mr. Owen, a priest and consultant has spent years studying how we can live full, meaningful, lives with purpose and productivity. He has a unique perspective on how to approach organizational transformation. Mr. Owen is also the author of several books including “The Power of Spirit: How Organizations Transform” and “Open Space Technology:A User’s Guide“.

3. How did the concept come up?

One could say that Mr. Owen’s “ah ha” moment was when he realized that no matter how much effort he put into creating his own conferences, his attendees looked forward to the coffee breaks the most which was the part of his conferences he had no control over! Why not flip the responsibilities and instead of creating a formal agenda, allow the attendees to create it?

A meeting without a formal agenda? Are you thinking Mr. Owen must have been a little tipsy to even think that this idea could work? This is exactly what I thought and this concept certainly sparked skepticism. However, it has been used for over 2o years and in over 132 countries. 

4. Why does it work?

The secret sauce to an Open Space Technology meeting is that they are designed to create and sustain an environment for self-organization. They operate under four principles and the Law of Two Feet.

The four principles are:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
  3. When it starts is the right time
  4. When it’s over it’s over

The Law of Two Feet states that you are to stand on your own two feet and take responsibility for what you care about. If you find that you are neither learning or contributing, use your own two feet to move somewhere you can.

5. How do you conduct an Open Space?

The steps to create an Open Space environment are super easy to implement.

What you need:

  • An open space large enough for people to move around with plenty of wall space.
  • A facilitator
  • A simple, open invitation that states the purpose, place and time of the meeting
  • The length of your Open Space can be one day or more
  • In the open space, arrange the chairs in a large circle, concentric ones if you expect many people
  • In the center of the circle, place large pieces of paper, markers and tape – people will use these to write down their issues and tape them to the large wall that becomes the “Marketplace”
  • Printouts of the four principles and the Law of Two Feet.

For a more extensive list of items, check out Chris Corrigan’s planning checklist.

Now that we have an overview, what happens at the meeting?

OPEN: The facilitator will open the meeting and will explain how Open Space meetings work and then they allow some time for the group to think about issues they are passionate about.

CREATION OF THE AGENDA: Once people are ready, they are invited to the center of the circle to write down their issue on the supplied paper, announce it to the group and then tape their issue on the wall.
These contributors become known as “convener”, someone who brings people together to address an issue. They are to take personal responsibility to ensure that there is a discussion around their issue.
SELF-ORGANIZATION: After everyone has had the opportunity to write down their issues and tape it on the wall, then the facilitator invites everyone to the Marketplace where all the issues are posted.
They are invited to group like issues together, sign up for issues to discuss, form their own groups, create their own agenda along with meeting times and location.

CLOSING CIRCLE: At the end of the meeting, there is a brief “closing of the circle”. In the same style as the opening, invite people back to the circle and allow people to share any new insights  or anything that they have learned that they can take away with them to the real world.  If the group is small enough, pass around a “talking stick” and ask everyone to share one by one. And lastly, celebrate! 

6. What is the role of the facilitator?

The facilitator opens and closes the meeting, ensures that everything is running smoothly logistically and that the atmosphere allows for creativity and self-organization.

7. What type of topic should be discussed?

The topic should be something very urgent, has a level of high complexity, the outcome is completely unknown and there is some conflict in the organization that could be preventing the ability for change to take place.
It could be policy making, strategic direction, new vision for a department or even a reorganization.

8. How many people should attend?

Preferably an odd number and anything less than 20, the group tends to lose its diversity, however Open Space meetings have been successful with only 5 participants.

9. Who should attend?

Attending and participating in an Open Space meeting is voluntary. Invite those who have the power to change. Those that attend will do so because they have the desire and passion to change and will be the right people.

10. What are the expected outcomes?

Concrete outcomes are difficult to determine since the outcome of an Open Space Technology meeting is completely dependent on the people who attend.
If all works well, then all issues raised are now “out in the open” and there are action items created by those who care about those issues.

If you want more information check out Open Space World and if you have conducted or participated in an Open Space, please share your comments!

Why You Should Use the Pomodoro Technique

Pomodora Tomato

Pomodora Tomato

Why You Should Use the Pomodoro Technique

“The Pomoooo…what?”

The Pomodoro Technique.

It’s an Italian strategy for throwing a tomato at a Spaniard at the famous Tomatina Festival in Spain. First, you squish the tomato then you take aim…then…Just kidding.

This doesn’t really describe Pomodoro Technique. But we made you look!

While there might be some secret hidden strategy to throwing a “Pomodoro” which is Italian for tomato, The Pomodoro Technique is much more useful and less expensive than a trip to Spain.

It’s a time management method that helps to encourage Lean thinking, drives productivity and is a great tool to add to your personal agility toolbox. Created by Italian entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo during his days as a university student cramming for exams, The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to set 25-minute work intervals to help establish focus on a particular task.

Once that interval is up, you earn a check mark and a short break.

The use of a timer is a way to firmly establish your time box, a fixed increment of time for your task.

Steps to earn your Pomodoro (a check mark):

1. Choose a quiet location.

Did you know that any time you are distracted, that it takes an average of 23 minutes to refocus on your original task? Choosing a quiet location may be difficult as we are all surrounded by potential distractions. If you can find a quiet place to help minimize interruptions, you will set yourself up for success.

2. Choose a task.

If the task seems too large, break it down into something that you think can be accomplished in 25 minutes or less.

This links back to personal agility by breaking focusing on small, measurable tasks so that ultimately you will produce something of value. Still stuck? Your first task could be to create smaller tasks and prioritize them.

3. Set your timer for 25 minutes and press start.

Francesco used one shaped like a tomato which is why it’s called the “Pomodoro” Technique. Feel free to use one shaped like an egg.

4. For 25 minutes (pomodoro) you are to focus only on the task you chose in step 3.

Ignore the urge to check the Facebook notification you just received or start assembling the Ikea furniture that’s blocked free movement in your living room for the past week.

If you are distracted by an important business or personal matter, inform the person that you are “right in the middle of something”, decide when a good time would be to get back with them, schedule it and then follow up after your pomodoro is complete.

You shouldn’t do this if your boss would like to discuss your raise with you and this certainly won’t work on your infant that demands to be fed. If you must tend to the distracting task, then certainly pay it attention and simply restart your pomodoro when you are able.

Lean practices encourage us to avoid wasteful activities and for many of us this takes discipline and practice.

5. Once the timer “dings” to alert you that your pomodoro is over, put a check mark on a piece of paper.

Stop your timer. Congratulations! You earned a pomodoro!

You earned the check mark for staying focused for 25 minutes, not necessarily completing the task.

Do you have less than 4 check marks? Yes? Then…

6. Take a short break for no more than 5 minutes.

Do some quick jumping jacks, refill your coffee cup, clean out that old junk drawer, book your flights to Spain or even download a great Pomodoro app such as the Pomodoro Time app which is available for android and apple users. The key is to not do anything that will require more than 5 minutes of your time.

Do you have 4 check marks or more? Then…

7. Take a 15- 30-minute break.

Take a walk over to the water cooler and see how your co-workers are doing with their fantasy football leagues or start preparing for that amazing spaghetti sauce you are going to make with all these tomatoes.

8. Return to step 3.

If you haven’t completed the chosen task, continue until its complete.

Or if you have had enough, stop. Before you go through another cycle, if the 25-minute time interval is too long, adjust it to a shorter time frame until you are able to focus for 25 minutes.

Why use the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique can complement Agile and Lean within an organization or to help you improve on your own personal agility by keeping you focused on getting things done.


This technique is simple and tends to work for the majority of us out there that are constantly distracted by outside forces and internal ones.

All you need is a timing device, paper and a writing instrument.


How many times you have worked for hours straight without taking a break to get some fresh air or even food?

How much did you actually accomplish or was it time spent generating a series of emails, web browsing, information gathering and meetings where nothing of real value can be measured?

The Pomodoro Technique helps to give us a sense of accomplishment.

We, too often, forget that we are more than just a resource to a project or company.

We thrive on a sense of accomplishment.

Encourages Physical Activity

Using the Pomodoro Technique encourages active, physical involvement such as movement during a break, putting a check mark on a piece of paper or the physical act of setting or stopping a timer. What happens when you move?

You get creativity, productivity and blood flowing!

And you may even perfect that awesome throw (or duck) at the next Tomatina Festival!

The Bucket List and Time boxes: Why Are They So Important?

Time boxes: Why Are They So Important?  Bucket Lists. We see them all the time. Engaging images posted all over our favorite social media sites of beautiful, scenic beach pictures of Bora Bora or our sister’s free-fall picture of her death defying sky diving act. These pictures are usually captioned with, “Bucket list! Check.”  A […]

Kansas City + Agile = A Great Fall Season!

KC_ChristaThis fall, Agile and Lean professionals in the KC area have several events that are bringing in national talent!  There is something for all skill levels, both those new to agile or those who have been practicing for awhile. So, check out the following events and find the ones that are right for where you are on your agile journey. 

Agilehood KC has done a tremendous job bringing such high caliber agile and lean resources to the area!

  • The Kansas City PMI chapter is hosting its annual Professional Development Days on September 19th and 20th. Several agile-related presentations as well as ones focusing on interpersonal skills and personal development are scheduled. Visit the KC PMI Chapter website for more information and to register. 
  • Collaboration Essentials for Project Portfolio Management & Agile Teams on September 21st and 22nd. Join Luke Hohmann, creator of Conteneo (formerly called Innovation Games®), as he takes you through an interactive workshop designed to teach you how to successfully collaborate with both internal and external stakeholders. You may choose to attend one or both days of this session, depending on your schedule and budget. (If you are interested in hosting this, please email us!)
    • Agile KC and Limited WIP KC will jointly be hosting a MeetUp featuring Luke Hohmann. Check back for details!
  • The Agile Manager, offered through the Agile Coaching Institute, will be held September 28-29 in Kansas City. This course is geared to give middle managers the awareness and know-how needed to create organizational environments that allow an Agile team to truly grow and prosper.You’ll come out of this class being able to answer the following question: What do agile teams need in order to not just be great agile teams, but to catalyze real organizational agility? (
  • The Agile Facilitator, offered through the Agile Coaching Institute, will be held October 20-21 in Kansas City. This course, geared toward experienced Agilists who wish to dramatically increase their facilitation skills, will focus on professional facilitation skills and techniques as applied specifically within the Agile context. (
  • DevOps Days KC will be held October 20-12 at Musical Theater Heritage. With more than 500 members in the local DevOps Meetup group, this conference will draw an elite group. Come and enjoy excellent presentations from local and international experts as well as the famous hallway track.
  • Lean Agile KC is back by popular demand. If you missed last year’s event, plan to attend this year on November 9th to hear presentations on Lean, Agile, DevOps, Lean UX, and more. (

Blueshift Innovation is also leading (or co-leading) several classes accessible from the KC market in the fall! 

  • Agile Fundamentals, a two-day class offered through Centriq Training on November 1 and 2, is geared to all roles on a team (developer, architect. BA, tester, manager, and project manager) regardless of experience with agile. All class participants will leave the course understanding key agile concepts such as adaptive planning, value-driven development, progressive elaboration, and frequent feedback for continuous improvement. This course prepares participants for the ICP (ICAgile Certified Professional) credential.  
    • Agile Fundamentals, will also be co-taught with Kay Harper Consulting in December, stay tuned!
  • Agile Project Management, a two-day class offered through Centriq Training on January 23 and 24, 2017, explores the differences between traditional and agile project management, providing strategies and techniques to help make the transition to a more servant leadership type role. Using a variety of hands-on exercises, participants will practice the techniques discussed. Additionally, participants will learn more about basic agile concepts such as adaptive planning, customer collaboration, and value-driven delivery.  This course prepares participants for the ICP-APM (ICAgile Certified Professional in Agile Project Management) credential. 

Although not in KC, some of us are traveling to support this excellent event in St. Louis!

  • Agile Coaches Camp will be in St. Louis October 12-14 for a three-day Open Space Conference. The focus will be on values, principles and practices supporting agile software development as well as its supporting information technology and business activities. (It’s not KC, but it is a short drive away!)

Agile Fundamentals (ICAgile Certified Professional)

In a world where the market demands that companies deliver “better, faster, cheaper,” organizations and employees are turning to Agile for improved results.

On Monday & Tuesday, November 9th & 10th, from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. At Brio Tuscan Grille, 502 Nichols Road
Kansas City, MO 64112; Jenny Tarwater and Kay Harper are leading a training course with certification. This course is designed to provide a base understanding of Agile values, principles and practices. The Certification, ICAgile, is recognized globally as a superior certification offering that provides competencies at every level across all disciplines.

The course and certification are available for $1,400.00+$9.95 admin fee for individual General Admission and a group discount, 20% off, for $1,120.00+$9.95 admin fee per ticket.

The course is your first step in (and prerequisite to) a deeper roadmap of learning and certifications, it allows you to immediately apply the concepts to your current work environment. After attending, you will understand the origins and history of Agile, its cultural impacts to organizations and core principles, including business and technical partnership, focus on maximizing the work “not done” and many others. In this highly interactive class, you will experience many of the practices associated with some of the most popular agile approaches.

This course is best for individuals who are early in their Agile adventure and would like to understand the fundamentals before more advanced courses. This is a great training course for larger groups preparing for an Agile conversion.  

The learning objectives found in ICAgile’s Learning Roadmap are created through the collaboration of the leading Agile industry experts. ICAgile’s focus is not just on classroom training, but on building competencies focused on BEING Agile and is evidenced through their ICAgile expert certifications. Unlike certifications offered by other organizations, the ICP does not expire and no renewal fee is required. For more information, see

Jenny Tarwater is a skilled Agile Project Manager, with 20 years experience at Sprint; who loves working with medium to large companies who are starting their Agile transition. She receives joy watching companies develop their process, with observing the growth of respect, guidance and growth, within their ranks. Her goal is to introduce the transformation, which emerge early in the process, when her clients begin to understand the underlying principles of Agile, and locating the mountains of inefficiencies emerging from that knowledge.

Kay Harper is a coach trained in Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC), Agile Coaching (ICAgile), and Agile/Lean frameworks. She has partnered with businesses to create sustainable change and growth. Her coaching stance can be described as holistic, comprised of a dual-focus on addressing both the people side of organizations (culture, leadership, teamwork) and business side of organizations (strategy, process improvement, implementing delivery frameworks).

To sign up for the course, please enroll through Eventbrite; training can be selected from now until November 9th.

For more information, reach out to Jenny Tarwater ( or Kay Harper (

Scaled Agile Framework – Free Webinar!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

12:00 pm EDT  |  11:00 am CDT  |  10:00 am MDT  |  9:00 am PDT

Seminar Description:

IT Organizations have been using Agile methodologies for years to deliver more value to their customers in less time. While frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban and Extreme Programming enable frequent communication from individual teams to their customers, often we find organizations will still rely on Waterfall relics such as Status Reports, Change Control Boards and multiple meetings to enable this communication beyond the scope of the team and those local goals. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), developed by Dean Leffingwell, outlines an approach to help organizations harness the power of Agile throughout the enterprise and then provides a framework to ensure a consistent cadence and alignment between teams, projects, portfolios, and programs moving the entire organization in a shared, positive direction. SAFe seeks to keep everyone informed, engaged, and involved while focusing on delivering the maximum amount of enterprise value. This webinar defines what SAFe is, how it is being used by today’s leading development innovators, and how to use SAFe to lead the adoption of Lean and Agile methods across your enterprise.

Jenny Tarwater

Register for this FREE web seminar

Attendees will receive 1 PDU for this web seminar.


Picture Perfect Technical Debt

Here is the story I tell in Agile Bootcamp, accessible to those technical and non-technical alike. True story follows…

One Saturday morning, I asked my husband to hang a picture in the living room. Just a 8X10 picture. How long do you think it took?

  • 15 minutes? No
  • 30 minutes? No
  • 4 hours? You betcha! 

Wait how could somethig as simple as hanging a picture take almost 20 times longer than it should? In my house, we’ve cut corners on maintenance and organization. Over time, that creates issues. First, my husband went to go get hammer and nails out of the junk drawer where they were “easily accessible” and “handy”. Except that the small junk drawer had a large accumulation of junk. It wouldn’t even open because it was so full. So everything was extracted, no hammer was found, drawer was reorganized. We sought the hammer in the garage first, then the toolbench downstairs, with similar results. Finally, we gave up, and went to Home Depot and bought a new hammer and hung the picture after lunch. 

Now this story had a happy ending. It was a Saturday, so we weren’t under the same time pressures we normally were, so we took the time to “fix” all of the obstacles we encountered. We left the junk drawer much better than we found it, and straightened the garage and basement workbench a little bit while looking there. In other words, we left things better than when we found it, if not restored to full functionality. 

What does this have to do with agility and software development? Over time, the pressures of situation, or just outdated infrastructure accumulates debt. I had organizational debt. We call this technical debt. Over time, things require maintenance, upgrades, refactoring to bring it keep it in tip top shape. 


Coaching a Coach

I learned a very powerful lesson this week about coaching. And I’m a coach!

As recently as five days ago, my five year old daughter Raegan would not put her face in the water. Today she jumped off the diving board at our pool. I know that she is the one that did all the work, but the catalyst that made it happen was four swim lessons with Miss Connie, who has been coaching swimming for 47 years. 

Lesson #1 – Just because YOU are scared of a new skill, doesn’t mean its scary. Agile can be hard – we truly need to be transparent, aligned and collaborative. Transparency, for example,  makes you vulnerable! 

Lesson #2 – Don’t tell someone they are doing great when they are not. Its a disservice to you both. 

Lesson #3 – Notice when their edge behavior and help them through it. 

When I’m with my agile teams in the future, I’m going to remember Miss Connie and have faith that they CAN learn new skills very quickly, because I should have faith in them that they can do it!