June 1, 2020

Open Space

Open Space is one of the 33 Liberating Structures listed in the Book "The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures " (2014), but because Open Space has been around for quite some time, the power of Open Space did not come as a surprise for many.  

Being thrown into the same bag with some straight-forward liberating structures (e.g. 1,2,4,all) is a pro and con for Open Space. A pro because it shows that it does not require a ton of tools and equipment. Or that Open Space is exposed to a much wider group of people who would have otherwise not seen this technique. But a con could be that readers might not recognize the full power of Open Space. Harrison Owen, creator of Open Space, wrote an entire book about called "Open Space Technology - A User's Guide" which was released in 1993. In over 200 pages, Harrison Owen does not only explain Open Space but also gives a ton of use cases how this technique can be applied. 

Open Space has been successfully applied during conferences and regular large scale meetings on a regular basis and many participants testify that they have felt liberated. We have noticed however when working with clients, emphasizing a few important elements of Open Space, can increase the effectiveness even more. Try this if you are not doing already: 

  1. Clear definition of a theme stated as a question (increase focus and purpose for the group)
  2. Shaping the role of a facilitator (define the role and responsibility of that person)
  3. Leave with proceedings (an artifact that captures the recommendations on how to proceed) 

If you like to see how Open Space can be used during retrospectives, I invite you to check out this event. We will see how Open Space can be used not only as part of Sprint Retrospectives, especially in larger groups for example Scrum with Nexus. But Open Space can also cover Release Retrospectives, Product Backlog refinement or possibly even the creation of a Product Backlog with customers and stakeholders.

Back in 2012, Harrison Owen presented "Organizational Agility" at the Agile Day in New York City which also gives insights into this technique how it can disrupt organizational structures and challenge a need for servant leadership. This is a popular topics among agile teams and Harrison Owen paved the path by using Open Space. The Agile Transformation Kata, as a different example, uses Open Space to organize and plan for organizational experiments to increase agility.  

Open Space Poster
Open Space Poster 

If you wonder how an Open Space can be performed online in a virtually setting, check out this Agile NYC event on JUN 19th. You can connect with others to discuss how COVID-19 impacts the work of many agile teams but also see a virtual Open Space in action.