Playing With Time

One day last week I spotted someone dragging a huge sheet of brown paper around with them. Being curious I followed this guy and started talking with him. Turns out that Ed, for that is the name of the brown paper guy, is helping people to play with time. A bit like Doctor Who, but with fewer Daleks (although I’m sure I’ve spotted the odd alien lurking…) and much more focus on practical application. So what is Ed up to?

playing with time
playing with time

Ed is helping people to sequence and prioritise stuff in a participative way. So he fixes this great long piece of brown paper on the wall, and teams use it as a timeline to stick up notes about what they want and need to do, with whom and by when. Once every one has flung their stuff at the wall, so to speak, the team then thinks about the resourcing of the work and the timing of the work. Then they play with all the stickies and try to reach agreement about what to do, when to do it and how to do it.

What emerges is a useful plan which sets things out for the next few months. Importantly the playing and discussion creates a sense of collective ownership. That’s not to say that everyone owns everything – all the stickies are the responsibility of individual people. And because the timeline has been played with by everyone and the tensions which originally appear are discussed by everyone, there is a sense of community about the outcome. I was going to say a sense of “we’re all in this together” but HM Government has shattered the delightful High School Musical association I previously had with this phrase and forever made it a no go zone.

I’d not seen this method before and I quite like what Ed has helped to make happen here. It’s certainly a whole lot more fun that staring at a spreadsheet! Have you got any examples of enjoyable and effective planning you’d like to share?

Dalek image c/o Jim’s Dalek Site

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

11 thoughts on “Playing With Time”

  1. Hi Doug,
    You’ve just changed the way I look at brown paper. In a previous life, I’ve applied the brown paper exercise in much the same way as a methodology – participative, flexible, challenging – but wearing a corporate restructuring hat, the end result was generally the removel of tasks and ultimately roles. It’s a great process analysis tool. But it left me with a deep rooted sentiment that the brown paper exercise would always be perceived as a negative one from the participants point of view. Always good to have another perspective.
    By the way, love the dalek – he gives the sensation of rotating as you scroll down the page!

    1. Hi Lynne – thanks for popping by. I’m going to play with the brown paper methods later this week and I am interested to see what others think. So your thoughts on this are appreciated and I’ll come back to this subject with more experience of it later.

      I see what you mean about the dalek – scary!

  2. In a different setting, I’ve used a SWOT analysis approach when looking at personal development. Specifically within a session that lasts over 2 days, you get the delegates to put together their SWOT with post-it notes. Over the course of the 2 days you get them to move the notes around as they see fit, add some, and take some away. By the end of the 2 days their SWOT looks very different and raises some important self-learning.

    1. Cool idea – thanks for sharing Sukh. I’m encouraged by the fact that you make space for considering personal development to this deeper extent – most people try and figure it on the back of a frag packet!

  3. Love the sharing folks! My contribution, more along the lines of creating common understanding and planning for improved performance, is the “F**k up cascade”. If you don’t know it….

    Ask a team to identify the 5 key elements of the business they really need to f**k up to ruin the whole show, to be as bad as you can imagine – put sticky notes on the left. Then ask them to identify for these same 5 key elements what makes for best in class in each – put sticky notes on the right. Finally get them to identify where they as a team currently sit on these 5 continuums.

    Usually things are better than they seem so a great way to recognise current effectiveness and “park the noise”. The 5 continuums logically and quickly moves the team into planning how to achieve greater performance. More sticky notes can be used to show the high level steps towards the right they need to undertake.

    Works a treat especially if you have a vocal naysayers in the team!

    1. Thanks David – this appeals to my anarchic tendencies and I look forward to trying it out. Cheers – Doug

  4. Love it! I did a similar thing when I was managing a small team and we were hiring a new person – we put all the tasks we had as a team (it was a recruitment team so pretty much all ongoing tasks) and then each had a sheet each (and one for the new person) and then all went for the tasks we wanted. It was really useful – everyone felt they owned the process and even the dull jobs were allocated fairly.

    1. Hi Alison – lovely to hear from you, sounds like a useful way to distribute what needs doing – thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. You can buy in Germany some specific boards “Metaplan” for tacking brown paper on, it comes with pins and different shapes of card and can be a useful (though a bit expensive) facilitation tool.

    I work a lot with cross cultural groups and find that the use of visuals, wall charts, post-its etc help balance participation for non-native speakers and creates a lot of interaction, movement and colour.

    I now run two-day training courses without a single PowerPoint – and I can’t say I miss it.

    1. Hello Kevan – it’s good to hear from you. I like your note about cross cultural groups appreciating a more visual approach and love your PowerPoint free environment. You don’t miss it and I bet your clients thank you for being different? I hope so.

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