The Take-A-Panel module enables each participant in an event to respond individually, and in dynamic fashion, to a design challenge. This massive parallel-processing gets a wealth of ideas and models into play. Teams of participants then share their responses with each other and synthesize them in a form that can be shared with the full group. Take-A-Panel is one of the core activities of the DesignEvent process because it works on many different levels. It gets the participants working and using the environment in new ways. It gives each of them a canvas and a forum and turns them into painters and storytellers. The pent-up energy and solutions they brought with them to the event now have an outlet to be expressed fully, without censorship, without having to edge their way into a conversation, without having to justify their opinions. They speak from their own experience. During this creative outburst, no one is talking, no one is moving. Yet it is somehow not a low-energy activity. Everyone is physically active — standing, drawing and writing furiously. The squeaking of markers fills the air. There is an incredible amount of self-expression going on, an incredible amount of potential energy building up. The Take-A-Panel also works on the level of group dynamics. The self-organization that takes place as participants share and then synthesize their panels is important in helping to form cohesion and develop the new working culture of the participants. The Take-A-Panel module helps to break down paradigms and assumptions by putting participants into a future-state perspective of success, where they have already achieved their objectives. This mode is usually first established by the Take-A-Panel module and then revisited during some of the subsequent modules. The Take-A-Panel assignment itself is beyond robust. It usually stakes out so much ground for the participants to cover (and with only 30 minutes to cover it), that they must make quick decisions about what is important to them and rapidly organize a response to it. This includes organizing their thinking as well as a way of expressing that thinking on their panel. Because of the time constraints and the scope of what they've been asked to do, their urgency overcomes the many nagging doubts and editing impulses that can drain the life from a creative endeavor. As a result, their muse has freer rein to operate. In staking out so much ground, the assignment also serves notice about all of the issues and design elements that will need to be engaged in designing an effective solution. Critical elements of the solution landscape are established. Not the solution, mind you, but the battlefield on which that solution will be won.
Generally, all of the participants receive the same assignment. They scatter throughout the space and work individually, filling a 4' by 8' panel with their response to that assignment. After thirty minutes of quiet yet concentrated work, they receive their next assignment, which instructs them to find the other members of their team and walk about sharing their panels with one another. The environment fills with voices and activity as the groups self-organize toshare their work. Meanwhile knowledge workers have been spread about the space as well, hand-copying the panels onto paper on clipboards. (An alternative method sometimes used is to capture the panels with a digital camera.) After the sharing their panels, which takes about thirty minutes, each team settles into a breakout area and synthesizes their work, highlighting the similarities and differences. This synthesis is usually captured on hypertiles and either reported out or posted in a gallery where other teams can review it. The advantage of a report out is that it brings closure to the activity. The disadvantage is that it can get very repetitive. Variations can be made on the report out, including options such as a Gallery Walk or a facilitated discussion of the synthesis results. Or the groups could post their work and then engage in a large group module, such as Scenario Timeline or Mind Map. This module has a lot of flexibility in the straw dog.
Critical Success Factors
Good Take-A-Panel Assignment. Language is critical. The instructions at the beginning of the Take-A-Panel must be crisp yet also motivate participants to launch into a creative endeavor. The scenario must paint the picture of success in such a way that they take the imaginative leap into that future state. The questions must truly stake out the important ground and evoke a heartfelt response. Good Transitions. This module needs to flow seamlessly. The facilitation team needs to think through how it will capture panels, make the transition into Synthesis (setting chairs and perhaps tables), make sure adequate wall space is available to work on, make sure all of the panels have been copied, and all in such a way that teams aren't standing around waiting to get to work. In this module, the flow of the participants is a wonderful thing — from painting to walkabout storytelling to synthesis to shipping a product. Don't mess it up.
Writing the assignments for Take-A-Panel is a mix of adaptation and drafting new. For instance, it is very likely that you can re-use a Share-A-Panel assignment from another event without touching it. It is also likely that you can re-use a Synthesis assignment and adapt it slightly (perhaps change one or two paragraphs).
The Take-A-Panel assignment, however, will require a lot of work and new writing. This assignment consists of three sections:
- The Instructions — a paragraph that explains what to do
- The Scenario — a paragraph that establishes the client's future-state success in achieving its goal
- The Questions — a set of questions that ask how they did it, including how the important issues were addressed
The Instructions. These are fairly straightforward, but worth revisiting each time you write one of these. Think about how you can tighten the instructions, yet also maintain language that sets the tone that this is a creative/storytelling endeavor. Also make sure that your instructions about which panels to use or not use align with how the environment team is planning to handle this (i.e., don't use panels with red dots, or use panels with green dots).
Scenario. The scenario should paint the success situation in clear and compelling language. It should do so with confidence. Helping to underscore this confidence is the fact that the scenario puts the participants into the future.
It usually begins by stating that it is one, two, or three years in the future. The company is doing great because the project (or whatever) has been a tremendous success, and the team is asked to look back and explain how and why it unfolded that way.
A scenario written in a straightforward, no-nonsense way can be effective. On the other hand, a scenario that is playful and engaging can draw the participants into the situation. In fact, the scenario paragraph (a version of which is also used in Scenarios and Design Challenges) is about as creative as writing gets in a DesignEvent.
You are trying to get the participants to accept a premise that, to a lesser or greater extent, challenges their conception of the future. You want them to set that conception aside and envision and work within the framework of the scenario's reality. The more compelling that reality, the more likely they will be launched into it.
Here, then, is an example of a simple, straightforward scenario:
"Today is August 31, 2001, two years after you met at the XYZ to determine the future of Cinergy@Work. You've just been informed that the Wall Street Journal is sending one of its best feature reporters to interview you for a series entitled "The Millennial Workplace: A Connected Enterprise." Cinergy is being recognized as the surprise pacesetter that no one saw coming, and they want to know how you did it. As you prepare for the interview, you reflect on the design and deployment of Cinergy @Work, Cinergy's world-class knowledge management and employee self service portal."
This is fine. It does the job. Most importantly, it is clear and easy to read. The team working on it should have no question about what they're dealing with.
Here is an example of a scenario that takes a more playful and provocative approach:
"Dateline: March 3, 2001. Two years have passed since the "Changing the Rules" Design Session, and it is now clear to everyone — especially our competition — that Heinz has truly changed the rules of the game. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the price of Heinz stock, which has risen beyond our most optimistic projections. There is no question that our changes to the rules were revolutionary. But it is the synergy created by all of these changes that is the real story. We've made it a whole new ball game. That is why organization after organization has sent teams to conduct benchmarking tours at Heinz. In fact, you are preparing to conduct an interview with just such a team today. Their list of advance questions follows:"
Whether your intention is to write a simple scenario or a more playful, engaging one, your level of understanding will determine how good a job you can do. You must be able to visualize the reality you are trying to convey. Otherwise, you will not be able to create a piece of writing that enables a group of participants to visualize and work within that reality.
Questions. The scenario paragraph establishes the reality within which the team will work. The questions frame and direct that work.
Ten to fourteen questions is a good range to work within. The average is about twelve. You want these to be meaty and open-ended questions. They should ask how the success was accomplished and point toward difficult issues that need to be resolved. They should stake out the difficult ground traversed in achieving success, which will create a sense of urgency and hopefully result in a robust response from each participant.
Once again, in order to generate good questions you must be able to understand and visualize the reality of the company and the challenge it is facing. What are the implications of taking on this challenge? What are the tough nuts to crack in order to be successful? How will the effort affect customers? Employees? What has to change at the company? What do they need to keep doing? Stop doing? How will they roll it out? What will they do in thirty days? 90 days? Six months? Etc.
Adapting existing examples. There are more than 60 examples of Take-A-Panel assignments provided here, catalogued by client and solution. It is therefore likely that you will be able to find examples that will lend you ideas for your scenario paragraph. If you browse through these assignments, you should also find a number of questions that apply to your client's situation.
You may also have a Take-A-Panel assignment from a Discovery Day or Sponsor Session that you can draw upon.
If you do find an example you want to use as a starting point, read through it carefully and make all of the formatting and content changes necessary to adapt it to your event.
First, cut and paste the example into your template. Then change the simple things, such as the name of the client, the name of any project, the time frame in which the design challenge is set, the time the team has to complete the assignment, etc. Doing these simple things up front will ensure that you don't overlook them.
Then look at the scenario paragraph and either rewrite it or see how you might want to adapt it.
When it comes to the questions, if you have a good example then some of the questions may apply to your assignment. Pick and choose good questions from a number of different examples. This will give you a handful of questions to serve as a good starter set, which you can then iterate and supplement in terms of your event.
The main challenge Take-A-Panel presents to the facilitation team is the execution of the module.
Writing the assignment is not a lot of work. Usually, everyone gets the same assignment, so there is only three pages to write. And two of those pages can be re-used with very little change.
There are no reading or support materials to speak of, aside from the cups of markers and wipes that need to placed out to supplement the markers on the magnetic trays.
Aside from the writing team, the environment team has the greatest amount of prep work. They must count the panels available and come up with a plan for which panels to use and which not to use.
If possible, try to keep one panel in each breakout room from being used during the first phase of Take-A-Panel. This will ensure that at least one panel will be available for the team in each breakout are to begin writing on at the beginning of Synthesis.
When the module begins, the process facilitator and at least one member of the production team monitor the progress of copying. In addition, the PF monitors the progress of the module, handing out assignments as necessary and letting the krew (who are all busy copying) know how they should handle the transition into Synthesis.
If there will be a report out, some of the krew will need to support that, while others manage the refresh/reset for the next module, and the rest continue copying until all the panels have been copied and erased.
If there will not be a report out, then the transition into the next module must be managed while copying continues and a gallery is prepared for the hypertiles created during Synthesis phase of the module.
Once all of the Take-A-Panels have been captured and added to the electronic knowledge base, a gallery is often created on the knowledge wall for letter-sized copies of the individual Take-A-Panels.