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Lightning Decision Jam

The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost, lose focus, and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s an effective solution: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges.

  1. Step 1:

    Pre-Task: Choose a Facilitator

    Select someone on the team to take the role of facilitator. They can join in on the process but they must focus on the group process and keep track of the time.

    Start with Problems — 7 mins

    The team spends 7 minutes writing all the challenges, annoyances, mistakes or concerns that happened during the week. These can really be anything from “I don’t feel like we’re making progress” to “I feel like project X is getting more attention than my project”. Anything that feels like an impediment.

  2. Step 2:

    Present Problems — 4 mins per person

    The facilitator calls for one person at a time to stand up at a wall/whiteboard to very quickly explain each problem as they stick them to the surface. Nobody else in the team speaks here. The facilitator times 4 minutes per person.

  3. Step 3:

    Select Problems to Solve— 6 mins

    The facilitator gives each member 2 voting dots (dotmocracy) — Everybody votes on the challenges they consider to be the most valuable to solve - without discussion.

    You can vote on your own posits here and you can put both your votes on one challenge if you feel strong enough about it. Once the 6 minutes is up, the facilitator quickly takes the voted problems and asks the group to arrange in order of priority. What about the rest of the problems that were not voted on? Do they get lost? Well, more on that later.

  4. Step 4:

    Reframe Problems as Standardised Challenges — 6 mins

    Turn problems into How Might We Questions

    Now, only focusing on the voted and prioritised problems — the facilitator is going to guide the group to re-write each one as a HMW challenge question, this will help them create solutions.

    Example: The top voted post-it: “I have no idea what’s happening on “project x”. Because many people have voted on it, we can see it’s clearly an issue many people are having. Rephrasing the post-it in a “How Might We” format allows us to make it solvable and standardize the way the challenges are written.

    The facilitator helps the group quickly rewrite all the problems, making sure they are still prioritized before moving on.

  5. Step 5:

    Produce Solutions — 7 mins

    Now the top voted HMW question will be used to produce solutions.

    Each team member is given 7 minutes to write as many possible solutions to the How Might We challenge without discussion, we’re aiming for Quantity over Quality– Later we can curate.

    Write a solution, speak it out loud to the group, and stick it on "the surface" (wall, whiteboard, flipchart, cardboard) as fast as possible. Speaking it supports collective intelligence in the group as it helps the group build upon each other's ideas. No discussion, just speak the idea, keep listening and writing.

  6. Step 6:

    Vote on Solutions — 5 mins

    Each team member gets three dots to vote on the solutions they think would best solve the HMW.

  7. Step 7:

    Prioritise Solutions -30 Seconds

    The group has 30 seconds to make a prioritised list of solutions.

  8. Step 8:

    Decide what to execute on — 5 mins

    It is clear that some solutions are more popular than others to test out, but it's important to know how much effort is required to execute the solutions – so here we use a simple effort/impact scale to determine which solutions to try ASAP, and which should be added to a to-do list, or however you store your backlog (To-Do).

    The facilitator needs to be proactive at this step, as it is the only one that has a tendency to open up discussion. The facilitator will take each solution one by one and add them to the effort/impact scale. Effort, in this case is how much effort we as a team think it will take to implement and impact is the degree to which we think it would solve our problem.

    Facilitator Instruction: Take the top voted solution, hover it over the center of the E/I scale and simply asks “higher or lower” — usually some small discussions break out here, so the facilitator has to be diligent in finding a consensus and stopping any conversations extending past 20 seconds. Once the effort has been determined, the facilitator uses the same method for impact: “Higher or Lower.”

    Now you have a clear overview of what which high-impact solutions could be executed on and tested very quickly (In the green sweet-spot on the top left), and which high-impact solutions will take more effort (top right). The facilitator should now quickly mark all post-its in the sweet spot with a contrasting dot so we can identify them later.

  9. Step 9:

    Turn Solutions into Actionable Tasks — 5 mins

    The facilitator takes the “Sweet Spot” solutions off the E/I scale and asks the person who wrote the solution to give actionable steps toward testing the solution. What is something that can be implemented in a timeframe of 1–2 weeks.

    Once all these solutions are written up, your team now has actionable tasks that can be committed to (depending on how your team deals with task management, that’s for another day). As for the solutions that didn’t make it in to the “Sweet Spot”? We actually turn all the high impact solutions into actionable post-its and add them to our backlog so they don’t get forgotten. What you might see happening is that the sweet spot actions actually end up solving problems in a way that the higher effort solutions become obsolete.

  10. Step 10:

    Structure and Discipline create the Freedom

    That’s it! In a short amount of time, your team has been able to define important challenges, produce solutions and prioritise what to execute on almost entirely without discussion!

    This is a good principle of cutting out open discussion in almost everything we do, from designing new product features to planning events or improving our office space.

    As I mentioned before: Creative problem solving is the core of design — so give it the respect it deserves and cut out the wasteful, demoralising, fatigue-inducing discussion.

    Frequently asked questions What about all the ideas we lose after the process, what if there are some great ideas that people didn’t vote on?

    Good ideas don’t matter, executing and testing is what matters. Even if the shittiest idea is voted to the top and then tested, you’re going to learn from it and it’s going to move you forward. Some of our clients like to document all the ideas produced during exercises like this but we try to move them away from doing this. Once you have a system for generating solutions to problems, you don’t have to be so precious about “good” solutions. So short answer: dump them!

    Isn’t voting a flawed way to decide on the most important things to work on? Isn’t this like design by committee?

    This is not a perfect system, but it’s 1000000000 times better than open conversation where nothing gets done, and people just concede to the loudest, most persistent person at the table OR walk away with nothing being done. Try it before you judge it, looking for holes in the system is just procrastination until you’ve done that.

    Is this sort of exercise only useful in Design scenarios?

    No! You can use this exercise for so many different things :

    -Planning a team retreat -Improving office environment -Marketing/Awareness challenges (How might we get in touch with “INFLUENCER”) -Sales (How might we increase client acquisition)