Frame, Top and Tail

The activities we run during an inception fall into two groups: sessions during which we run the activities that help us deliver the expected outcomes, and the Frame, Top and Tail activities. These are the supporting activities that facilitate, structure and optimise our inception. The inception schedule illustrates these, and we’ll discuss each type below in more detail:

Set-up, Standup & Prep

We like being well prepared. Plus, no matter what we do, there will always be cases where we’ll just have to wing it – so let’s not add to them.

Every day, before you enter the room, you will want to briefly regroup with your team (and maybe close clients) to make sure you’re all set for the day ahead by being aligned on what you want to achieve and how you will run each session.

In our experience, setting up on the first day is always a bit different. We may not know the location, we may have to go through lengthy check-in procedures and getting onto Wifi can occasionally be less than straightforward.

Kick off

With the inception kick off, we begin our inception. It’s our chance to meet and greet and set the scene. In some respects this is the single most important meeting. We discussed this further in Design an inception.

Recap

Where you are dealing with a large number of (changing) participants, or clients that are new to agile practices or inceptions, consider holding regular recap sessions where you re-iterate principles, progress and goals to focus the team and provide reassurance.

Sessions

This is where the magic happens. We run the various activities and sessions that make up our inception, following the inception schedule. Of course, there are best practices we tend to follow, which are outlined in the facilitators’ cheat sheet and contributors’ cheat sheet.

Day job catch up

We need to be considerate of inception attendees and respect that most will have day jobs. It can be helpful to cater for daily slots for clients (in particular) to catch up on urgent work.

Retros and Lessons Learned

We usually run retrospectives jointly with some of our closer clients. These are an opportunity to reflect on how things are progressing in terms of our objectives, and cultural fit. Are we learning what we need to? Have we missed something big? Is progress looking good? Is everyone engaged? Do people see the value? What concerns do we need to address? What insights have come to light? We use these questions (and more!) to adjust our approach as we go along.

We run retros at end of each day, week and inception. The final retrospective is run with our clients to get their views on how the inception went. We use this to improve the engagement, as well as future inceptions throughout our network.

End of day review / post processing

This is an opportunity for the core team to reflect, discuss learnings, concerns, needs to shift or pivot, add / remove sessions, adjust methodology, approach and engagement techniques. In our experience, inceptions frequently require adjustments to cater for client preferences, availability and culture.

We also recognise that we must allow for some time to write up and process learnings from the day. This is particularly important to drive upcoming sessions, and stay abreast of the documentation needed. Be very careful not to run eight hours of workshops and then post-process for another eight hours. Trust me, we’ve done it, and it’s not pretty. Six hours of actual workshops in a single day is about right as a maximum).

Playback

The inception playback is the final presentation of our findings to our clients. We start with the brief and our agreed inception goals, and present our insights, findings and recommendations. We need to be sure we are answering the brief well.

In the case of long or complex inceptions we may want to run a demo or playback session to demonstrate status and progress. We usually do this as the last session of the week.

Also, don’t forget to create an deliverable to leave with participants. This could be a presentation deck or some other form of artefact so that our clients can peruse, refer-back to and share the inception outcomes.

Pro tips

Be well prepared, but expect to have to adapt – you never know what obstacles you may face.

Use your inception presentation deck to not only drive the inception but also for interim playbacks, by turning it into a diary. This is an efficient way to provide an overview of what has happened and the insights derived. However, your final deliverable may work better with a more considered, narrative based structure.

You’ll all be working hard, but there is no point in driving yourselves to burn out. Allow for a maximum of six hours of workshops per day, and allow space to post-process, reflect and prepare further.

Not all stakeholders (or even your colleagues) may be able to attend all sessions. Standups, recaps and playbacks help with this. This can add distraction, unease, and be outright counter-productive when decisions are questioned by those dipping in and out. Be prepared to handle this: by default we assume implicit consent by those absent, in line with Sociocracy 3.0 practices.