Stop hosting meetings that suck! A step-by-step guide
You are working on a project with your team, but somehow you feel like you aren’t making any progress at all? Or you are at the very beginning of a project and are seeking an actionable plan, but all your strategy meetings mainly consist of endless discussions with no concrete results?
Did you know?
The Lightning Decision Jam was originally created by the design sprint agency AJ&Smart.Check out their video about LDJs
This is where my favorite decision-making method comes into play: The Lightning Decision Jam. This is an easy method to incorporate Design Thinking into regular meetings in order to achieve quicker and more innovative results. If you would like more information on what the method is about, I recommend you read this post first.
The good news is you don’t have to be a Design Thinking expert to host your own Lightning Decision Jam. In the following steps, which I’ve adapted based on my personal experience, I’ll tell you how to go about it.
Step ZERO: Is a Lightning Decision Jam the right method for your meeting?
If the meeting you’ve got planned does not allow for decisions to be made or goals to be achieved via a quick poll, you’re probably wasting your time hosting a Lightning Decision Jam. However, if you want to avoid unstructured discussions and come up with creative solutions for a problem or get your team to talk openly about issues and also incorporate the opinion of quieter or introverted participants, a Lightning Decision Jam is perfect for you.
Step ZERO POINT FIVE: Get ready to jam
If you are the organizer, make sure you pick the right time (maybe not right after lunch) and place (ideally with daylight and some space to move around). Invite all stakeholders who can contribute to the decision or are affected by it, prepare your materials (I’ve written out a small check list below), and – if you want to go the extra-mile – play some nice, relaxed music during the individual work sessions.
Materials you need for a Lightning Decision Jam
- Sticky notes (regular-sized and large)
- Small sticky dots
- Pencils and Scissors
Give the people you invite the chance to prepare: Explain the goal and agenda in your invitation and ask participants to think of current problems in their project or team (technical, structural, interpersonal).
You have a tight schedule, so plan some time for people to arrive and request them to switch off devices like smartphones or notebooks. Kick off the Lightning Decision Jam by introducing the agenda again so that people are focused and ready to go.
Step ONE: Let’s jam! Collect the problems
Duration: 7 minutes
As a first step, everyone writes down their current and most urgent problems on sticky notes. Remind the participants to write legibly and to keep it short and simple. You, as facilitator, are the time-keeper. It helps if everybody can see the remaining time in this step, so I recommend using a time-timer.
Step TWO: Present the problems
Duration: 4 minutes per person
Now every participant gets four minutes to present their problems. Be strict, as it’s your job to make sure everyone gets an equal amount of time to talk. (Hint: if someone is writing down dozens of problems, ask them to identify the top 5 problems and then focus on them.)
Step THREE: Select and vote
Duration: 6 minutes
As you can’t solve all problems in this session, you have to come to an understanding. Sticky dots will help you identify those problems that most participants find important. Give a limited number of dots to everybody (2-3 is usually a good number) and ask them to mark their favorites.
Then it’s Christmas time! After the last dot is placed, you rearrange the sticky notes, positioning the most voted for problem at the top and all descending dot-votes below to form a pyramid or Christmas tree. I’ve sketched an example below.
Step FOUR: Reframe as challenge
Duration: 6 minutes
Now, you open the round for ideas. It really helps to align the problem to a challenge everyone can commit to. Pick the most voted for problem and rephrase it into one “how-might-we” question, which you write out on a bigger post-it. For those of you wondering what “how-might-wes” (HMW) are, they are a simple framework that help reframe any problem into a challenge. You can carry out the reframing work together as a group, but make sure you keep an eye on the time! If differences of opinion crop up during the exercise, take them on board and try to come up with a wording that works for everyone. Keep it short and simple, but be precise with the goal of the challenge. My advice: only reframe the most voted for problem into a “how-might-we”. Reframing all problems can be inspiring and help participants familiarize themselves with the reframing process. You are, however, required to follow just one challenge in the next steps, which could make leaving all the other challenges unsolved a painful process.
Step FIVE: Produce many Solutions
Duration: 7 minutes
Creativity and ideation time! In this step everyone uses sticky notes to write down as many solutions for the HMW as they can think of.
Step SIX: Put the solutions to a vote
Duration: 10 minutes
When the time’s up, all participants should stick them onto a wall or whiteboard where everybody can see them. Ideally, if there are any obvious clusters, try to merge the ideas to simplify the voting process.
Speaking of voting, each participant gets six voting dots (after restricting them to just two, this feels quite generous, doesn’t it?) and ten minutes to re-read all solutions, do some more clustering, and then vote for their favorite solutions.
What? It’s Christmas time again?
It’s true! After the ten minutes have lapsed, you just repeat the sorting process like you did before. The shape of the tree might look a bit different this time around.
Now you’re all set for …*cue drum roll*…:
Step SEVEN: Decide on execution
Duration: 5 minutes
You’ve already managed to inspire the majority to try out a new solution to the problem. However, there is no estimation on costs and no plan how to do it. In this step you’ll overcome this challenge as well. Use a whiteboard or flipchart to draw the following matrix:
The sweet spot is the upper left corner, where the impact of execution is high and the effort low.
Then you pick just the top-voted solutions and place them where your crowd thinks is right. You can do that using a short group discussion, but my favorite method is the “clap-o-meter”: Start with the first top-voted solution at the lowest point of “Impact” and slowly raise your hand to the very top. In the meantime, your cheering crowd will applaud the loudest at the spot they think the solution should be placed. When you’ve found the right height of “Impact”, do the same with “Effort” from the left to the right. Pin or write down the solution and proceed the same way with all other top-voted solutions.
In the end, you should have at least one item in the sweet spot quadrant. Highlight this (or these) and continue with the last step in the process:
Step EIGHT: Actionable tasks
Duration: 5 minutes
Now you are diving right into the actionable next steps – the result that so many meetings lack. Ask the person who came up with the winning “low-effort, high-impact” solution for ideas on testing the solution. You have five minutes left to discuss next steps. Rule of thumb: You should execute/test the solution in less than two weeks starting from now. This helps you stay motivated and quickly iterate the solution until you actually solve your problem.
And boom, you’re done! All it takes is an hour-long meeting to listen to people’s problems, decide on solving the most urgent one, create diverse solutions, pick the most promising answers, and transfer them into action steps. Simply put, divergent <> convergent.
I’ve been personally applying Lightning Decision Jams in customer projects and internal team meetings. In my next blog post, I share some of my lessons learned with you. Read it here.