The Deliberate Discovery Workshop

This is a pretty simple workshop which I ran at Agile 2011 and have run as part of my BDD tutorial since. It usually gets people thinking differently, so I thought I’d share it with you too. Some teams have taken this away to use as another retrospective format, and I’m always fascinated by the stories that come out! It can often lead nicely into an explanation of Cynefin, and also introduces Real Options (it turns out that Deliberate Discovery and Real Options are two sides of the same coin).

I tend to give the instructions out one column at a time, to avoid people overthinking and trying to aim for some outcome at the end. I also walk round the room and ask if anyone’s having difficulty coming up with ideas, particularly with respect to the commitment. Identifying the moment of commitment – or recognising that someone else is making the commitment for you – is the heart of the workshop. Big thanks to Dominica for trying this out and helping with reflection on what works.


In groups of 3 to 4 people, get a big piece of paper and divide it into 4 columns.

1: Tell a story

Each person tells a story about a discovery; either a problem they encountered, or something they found out that they wish they’d known earlier. Give the story a title. Dan North likes “the one where (this happened)”. Put the title on a post-it or just write it into the first column.

If working with a large group, get 1 person from each small group to share their story.

2: Identify the commitment

What decision had already been made that meant it was a problem? Did you make a promise or have one made on your behalf? What was the point at which the decision became hard to reverse? When did an investment get made that was hard to recover? Put this in column 2.

If working with a large group, it might be worth picking out one of the examples to work through so they get the idea.

Examples might include decisions around scope and deadlines, external communications, spending money, or writing the wrong code.

3: Deliberate Discovery

Were there any ways you could have discovered information earlier that would have led to a different decision? Who could you have talked to? Where was the information located, and could you have gone there? This goes in column 3.

Examples might include talking to customers, sitting with users, trying to release early.

4: Real Options

Were there any ways of paying to keep options open, perhaps making the commitment later, when more information was present? Was the commitment simply made too early?

Examples might include good rollback procedures, using technology that’s easy to change, agreeing a range of dates instead of a deadline.

Wrap Up

If working in a large group, get each smal group to share their insights and anything interesting they discovered.

How likely is it that something similar will happen again?

If very likely, would adding the discovery process you identified help you avoid this problem? (This matches the “complicated” Cynefin domain, so cause and effect can usually be correlated and making the discovery early will often prevent the problem occurring.)

If it’s unlikely to happen again, would adding the options process also provide options in any other cases? (This matches the “complex” Cynefin domain, and processes which create options allow decisions to become safe-to-fail experiments or probes instead.)

Whatever the insights, this can then be used as a way of changing the process – and everyone loves to tell stories about problems they encountered!

This entry was posted in complexity, cynefin, deliberate discovery, real options. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Deliberate Discovery Workshop

  1. Pingback: More Agile Testing > Learning For Better Testing – Test Retreat

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