Trigger BIG change by starting small with ‘15% Solutions’
Liberating Structures are facilitation techniques that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In this series of posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.
“Even a 100-mile journey starts with a single step”. This quote summarizes the power of 15% Solutions, a Liberating Structure intended to trigger big change by starting small. If you’re like us, you’ll recognize how easy it is to get lost in ambitious, over-the-top ideas that get bogged down in the realities of work. You may also recognize how easy it is to get lost in ‘Yes, but …’-thinking and focus on what isn’t possible. Either way, you can go easier on yourself and your team by starting small. After all, you can change the course of a river by changing the position of a few rocks.
15% Solutions is about changing the flow of the river by moving a few rocks.
In this post we explore a deceptively simple Liberating Structure called 15% Solutions. Rather than identifying what we have to improve as a group, we draw attention to how we — as individuals — can contribute to a change.
What is a 15% Solution?
The term 15% Solutions was initially coined by Gareth Morgan. It is any first step or solution that you can do without approval or resources from others and that is entirely within your discretion to act. More succinctly put, it is something that you can start right now if you want to.
15% Solutions can be identified in relation to a shared solution you identified with your team. But it can also be deeply personal. We’ve seen examples ranging from “I will buy different colors stickies to distinguish types of tasks” to “I will refactor this class we’re struggling with”. And from “Instead of staying silent and grumble, I will speak out when someone does this thing I don’t like” to “When I get worried, I will focus on my breathing”.
Uses in Scrum
As a simple, short structure, 15% Solutions can be used virtually anywhere. But these are some examples of where we’ve used it:
- Use it as a closing for Sprint Reviews to identify how people will contribute to improving the product based on was learned during the Sprint;
- Use it as a closing for meetings with multiple people to create space for people to identify how they want to contribute and to give and get help;
- Use it in a Sprint Retrospective to change focus from how ‘we as a team can improve’ to ‘how can I contribute to improving the team’. You can precede 15% Solutions with another Liberating Structure, like 1–2–4-ALL, to identify important challenges or themes;
- Use it after a team conflict or other incident. You might feel overwhelmed about how to proceed, 15% Solutions helps you focus on setting the first small step in the desired direction.
The steps of this structure are detailed below. Although you should make sure to do all the rounds and (at least) start each round individually, you can be flexible with the time-boxes:
- Introduce 15% Solutions. We find it helpful to also explain the concept of 15% Solutions, and how small changes can spark big change;
- First individually, ask people to list their personal 15% Solutions to a topic or challenge at hand. (5 min);
- In small groups, invite people to share their 15% Solutions (3 minutes per person). The purpose here is to share potential 15% Solutions, not to judge or respond to them;
- In the same groups, members help refine and clarify the 15% Solutions (5 minutes per person). The purpose here is to make the 15% Solutions as doable as possible and to make them smaller when needed. Another purpose is to explore how groups can help the individuals in achieving their 15% Solutions.
A single Liberating Structure may be helpful. But their true power becomes apparent when you combine them into strings. Here are some potential variations:
- Combine with a Troika Consulting or Wise Crowds to deepen the opportunities to give and get help. We’ve found it helpful to ask people to identify personal 15% Solutions, then move into Troika Consulting to give and get help;
- Start with Integrated-Autonomy to identify how people can contribute individually to solutions identified;
- Replace the third round of What, So What, Now What with 15% Solutions to draw attention to individual contributions;
- You can make individual 15% Solutions transparent on stickies and collect them on a location that the team frequently visits (e.g. a Scrum or Kanban Board);
- Emphasize that 15% Solutions isn’t about coming up with the most brilliant, creative or intelligent solutions. Sometimes it’s all about finding the first step that feels doable and safe. It’s a great way to build confidence;
- 15% Solutions can be used on a purely personal level just fine. They work best when groups of individuals can work together to identify contributions to common, shared purposes or challenges.
In this post, we’ve explained the Liberating Structure ‘15% Solutions‘ and how we use this structure. It’s a wonderful structure that can ignite big change by starting with small, individual contributions. We’re always happy to hear your experiences or hear your suggestions.
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