At Big Orange Square, we have been experimenting with different ways to study how teams learn best while they work to understand the use of iterative delivery techniques. Activities like the airplane game illustrate how “Inspect and Adapt” techniques can help a team produce more paper airplanes. While it does provide a useful illustration of these ideas, and as much fun as it is, it is not kinesthetic learning.

The Kinesthetic Simulation

We have built a class around Lego® and K’nex® parts to build a little car in order to show teams how to work when different technologies (including motors, sensors, and software components) need to be merged. The core principles of agile learning (teams and iterative delivery) are not just learned, but experienced in a way that helps people thoroughly absorb them through application, communication, and repetition. What students learn in the simulation can be compared to real-life situations. For example, a remote software team will cause integration problems in the little car, and the hardware team will need to work through these new problems to devise a solution that allows for full compatability. We actively use this style of kinesthetic learning when we travel to our client’s locations.

The Extended Simulation

When we work with teams in our training centers, we extend the simulation to a much deeper level. Over the course of two or three days, we will have the team build a concept car. From the frame, suspension, wheels, brakes, steering system — they’ll build it all. The life-size parts and life-size problems trigger thinking about real life problems. The simulations work far outside of automotive applications because they present a challenge that everyone is at least familiar with in terms of the basic needs of the project. While training teams from ARCA, whose products involve cash automation technology (transporting physical cash), we had them complete the car building exercise. This is one response from that exercise:

“The car build is the best exercise I’ve participated in to date. It’s real and it’s compelling.”
-Christopher Curley, ARCA employee

What Happens?

We have two goals with this training: experiential learning of the agile concepts, and inspecting in-company problems. The pattern is:

  • Teach an agile concept
  • Discuss the practices and implications
  • Apply the concept in a one- to two-hour round of car building
  • Inspect the exercise
  • Inspect the in-company practices working against the agile concepts

Here is an example of how we presented this to the ARCA teams: Four teams of six or seven people will work in parallel. The agile concept at hand is “iteration planning,” in which work for the next build is selected, and a detailed plan is agreed within each team. Then the teams execute their plans.

Without giving too much away about the exercise, some teams have dependencies (limitations). For example, one team can’t mount a suspension module while another team constructs the frame, and so on. The only way out of this dilemma is to solve these dependencies during iteration planning. Selecting work for the iteration needs to be done with all teams present so that dependencies are discovered and a solution is agreed upon ahead of time. Teams discover in the exercise at what times communication is necessary, how they need to communicate, and when the results are inspected and the plan for delivery might change.

That is kinesthetic learning, and still a simulation. After the exercise on iteration planning is finished, all 20+ people sit down and a comparison is made between the simulation and their in-company situation. What happened in the simulation is applied to their real life working conditions and then the solutions from the simulation are adjusted and applied to their real work. The team walks away from the simulation with an outline that features the many ways they can apply the agile practices in their company.

The result of this intense workshop is not only a rolling car (which is really just the reward and the fun), but is instead the application of agile practices that will only strengthen the team. The core agile practices are practiced, inspected, and practiced again. Practices are scaled, moments where documentation emerges are visible and made clear because of the multiple roles in the teams (design, purchasing, manufacturing, service). The car is actually a by-product of the exercise: the teams have created manufacturing instructions, parts lists, and tests that just happen to create a car by the end of the exercise.

In our kinesthetic coaching concept, the car build is a kick-start for organizational changes that will bring about agile teams and ultimately an agile organization.

Is This Assembly or Design?

It is a mix: most of the parts you’ll use have been designed by us, yet we will create challenges that will throw design problems into the mix. The car is always under development, meaning some parts are not ready and need to be cut and drilled, it needs an electric motor, batteries, and ideally, the frame gets a complete redesign. These activities are a normal part of the class, but this is definitely not a jigsaw puzzle with only one solution, and we are surprised and amazed by the improvements that are made during each and every class.

Is Kinesthetic Learning Only For Engineers?

Not at all. While some people are better with a drill or wrench, other team members design the solution or test components. Others keep an eye on deliverables like work instructions. Most of the hands-on work is simple and we’ve noticed that very few people want to miss out on the opportunity to get their hands dirty!

Words From a Past Attendee

Mike Few, former Director of the Agile Program Office at ARCA, brought together his teams from Italy and North Carolina for our class. This is what he had to say about the value of our coaching:

Conducting the Big Orange Square course in Boulder afforded us the opportunity to bring together our global junior leadership team in a neutral location for team building and problem-solving away from the distractions of our day-to-day work. In one week, with the help of the Big Orange Square team’s instruction on the Scrum framework, ARCA leaders began to think deeply about modern product development, and the resulting output was a burst of creativity and gravitation towards modular subcomponents, machine learning, simulations, and artificial intelligence. Simultaneously, the hands-on building of the concept car allowed us to understand the art of the possible when we work together towards a common goal. The ROI for our company was realized within one-quarter. I would highly recommend this course to others interested in investing in leader development.

Try before you buy?

Sure! If you want to visit our training center for an afternoon of learning and practicing, then you’re most welcome. The Longmont, CO training center is open now, and the Ft. Lauderdale center opens in September. Contact us to make an appointment to get serious about the change you want to achieve in your company.