Spring Forward Bristol 2018

I can hardly believe that a whole two seasons have passed since I attended the Spring Forward conference in Bristol. The day must have left a lasting impression since I find myself thinking about it now…

During the conference I heard many amazing stories from successful women. What I loved about the day was the broad definition of that term (as obviously success means a different thing to many different people) and how varied the talks were.

Hearing Lisa Ashton who is the founder and CEO of the Winnie Mabaso Foundation (helping orphans in South Africa),  or Trish Johnston who is the first female Bridge Master in the UK, not to mention Nathalie McGloin the first female racing driver paralysed from the chest down was truly inspiring. There were many amazing women taking about their path to success, incredible and uplifting stories that really made me realise how privileged we all are to live in a part of the world where we, as women, can pursue our dreams.

There isn’t a single recipe for finding your true calling and achieving success, but some of the tips I gathered during the conference were:

  • Follow your passion, what you believe in  – it is your life and you get to choose your own path.
  • Think about how you define success and keep your mind open.
  • Give yourself time and space to reach for your dreams, things might not go smoothly – be prepared to be flexible in your plans and reach for opportunities when they present themselves.
  • Things might not be easy – but even if you must take a step backwards – get ready to take a step forward soon!
  • Back yourself! Know your worth and value and what you are capable of, look for your strengths.

And the two magic words to make it all happen? Determination and confidence!


unsplash-logoAshley Bean

How to start with Design Thinking

So what is Design Thinking?

Design thinking refers to creative strategies designers use during the process of designing. It has also been developed as an approach to resolve issues outside of professional design practice, such as in business and social contexts” (read more on Wikipedia)

When did I use it?

My first experience of the Design Thinking method was when I run a workshop aimed at visioning a service. I was happy with the outputs of the workshop and thought that the method worked well.

Recently, I attended a learning session where we went through the Stanford Design Thinking Crash Course which is freely available on YouTube.

What is the Crash Course and how can you use it?

It is an interactive activity where in one hour you will be able to learn what Design Thinking is and how can it can be used effectively.

You can use the resource  on your own, with a partner or in a meeting etc. Having gone through the process myself I think it is a great way to introduce the concept of the Design Thinking and practice it on an example that it easy for all to contribute to.

What was my design?

I went through the design thinking process to prototype a perfect personalised wedding anniversary gift giving experience that would solve any problems and issues that the users might have.


As you can *clearly* see from the above pictures  (ehem….) the system sends you a reminder about an upcoming anniversary (heart post it note with a date on it)
and gives you options (represented by the little colorful squares) of possible gifts suitable to the wedding anniversary gift theme. Once you have chosen a personalised gift you will have an option to review it (little silver human looking at lego blocks) and to give feedback before it is sent to you.

Once you are happy with your gift you now have an option to either have it delivered to your door (with an app tracking the delivery) or collect it from a person (if you wished to ensure that it is exactly what you wanted).

Overall,  I managed to come up with a simple concept and probably not financially viable… However,  I was impressed that using the design thinking method I was able to produce a prototype that addressed so many of the user’s problems:

  • Forgetting the anniversary date
  • Not knowing exactly what the traditional gift is depending on the anniversary number
  • Ordering something which then gets lost in transit
  • Ordering a personalised gift which comes out not how we wanted it
  • Not complaining to the supplier due to lack of time (hence the customer experience never improves).

The Stanford Design Thinking Crash Course is a great little video to use to introduce anyone to this method. Do check it out!



The image courtesy of:

unsplash-logoGerrie van der Walt

Camp Digital Manchester – service design takeaways

Here are my main takeaways from the Camp Digital conference that I attended in Manchester at the end of May:

  • In the opening keynote Lauren Currie spoke about sharing our power. It was an inspirational talk focusing on how much good can a design led social change bring about. Lauren started a #upfront movement which aims to give people a chance to experience the stage in front of a big audience without having to present. She wanted to change the problem that was bothering her: very few women on the stage and therefore some powerful stories by women not being shared. She spoke to some of the women and identified that part of the issue was the barrier of the stage, so she created #upfront designed to give people a chance to practice being on the stage without the stress of presenting; this idea has spread reaching even events such as TEDx etc. It was really inspiring to hear that all you need is an idea and a # you don’t even need funds to start something going.
  • Emer Coleman in her talk “The end of the technology affair (it’s not me, it’s you)” called for being more careful with our data and how the big corporations are using it and their systems to engineer a society that they want to see (e.g. When did the loss of privacy became acceptable? Why are we OK with Facebook and Google storing personal data?) She encouraged everyone to ask questions around the ethics of working software as well as how the companies work.
  • Sophie Dennis’ “The Art of Things Not Done: Prioritising for User Value with the Kano Model” was an interesting and thought provoking talk. She said that “The art of doing less lies in identifying what you can and can’t cut without sacrificing the overall user experience.” It is important to identify the features that are really of most value to users, and build a product road map that goes beyond “minimum viable product” to deliver a “minimum viable experience”. The techniques described in the talk were: the Kano model, customer journey mapping, and user story map.

    It was interesting to have it pointed out that agile can be sometimes like “swimming with goggles on” – it is important to get out of the box of just looking at what is produced in the sprint and have an overview of whether the product deliver a coherent user experience.The Peak-end rule: people remember the best bit, the worst bit and the end.

  • Simon Wilson “… so you are doing service design?” – really interesting points made by Simon Wilson on the complexity of designing a service that works for people as it needs to work for everyone. He summarised service design as:
    • Setting the stage
    • Listening to people
    • Connecting dots
    • Trying things
    • Creating impact
      If service doesn’t put people first – people won’t use it. As yourself some very important questions:
    • What is the problem you are trying to solve? If there is no problem, move on – life is too short
    • Can something else solve the problem?
    • Has someone else solve the problem already?
      Write your assumptions down as hypnosis on yellow cards. Create a project wall, once you tested it red: invalid, yellow – trying to figure out, green – valid. Start with assumptions as hypothesis and challenge them with knowledge.

Overall a great day to learn more about service design, I will definitely be putting the knowledge I gained into practice.

Organising an internal TEDx event

My love of TED

I love discovering and learning new things. And that’s why I am a big fan of TED Talks. In one place you can learn about any topic from activism to 3d printing . What I love about TED is not only the variety of the topics and the diversity of the speakers but also the positive and real impact on my life the Talks sometimes have (I will blog soon about my 30 day challenge following this talk).

What is TED?

“TED is a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 110 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around  the world.”

My journey – from TED-like to the real deal

Sometime ago I run a few experiments at work – I organised TED-like events inviting people to come and talk about things they are passionate about or find interesting.  My TED-like events were met with very positive response. Colleagues were keen to attend and present their ideas. Following feedback I introduced some time for discussion and short workshop activities. The events were gaining popularity but it was difficult to get engagement from across the whole organisation. I needed something that would catch people’s attention, and make the event feel more inclusive.
I applied for a TEDx licence for an internal TEDx event. There are many event types that you can choose from – I am organising an internal TEDx event (and this is what this blog post is about). If you work for a nonprofit, government entity or a hospital you can hold a TEDx event without paying for a licence fee! Otherwise it costs  USD $10,000 to get a business TEDx event organised for a company with fewer than 500 employees.

But what exactly is the TEDx programme?

 The TEDx Program is designed to help communities, organizations and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences. At TEDx events, a screening of TED Talks videos — or a combination of live presenters and TED Talks videos — sparks deep conversation and connections at the local level. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, under a free license granted by TED.

Why should you consider holding an internal TEDx event?

I believe holding an internal TEDx event is beneficial for the business as well as the individuals. I think it it worth to take a day (or a few hours) out of our routine work to be inspired, learn new things and to meet colleagues we might otherwise not interact with.
This way of celebrating the ideas staff have gives a voice to many who otherwise might not be heard. And as the event is not the usual “team building” or management led affair I think it allows for a greater feel of a shared experience. And above all I believe it motivates people. Having an internal TEDx event allows for a supportive and innovative culture to emerge. If you would like to read more about benefits of hosting a TEDx event you can read more on the TED website.

Who should organise an internal TEDx event?

If you are reading this blog post I guess it means you are interested in TED events and even possibly thinking of whether you should organise an internal TEDx event. My advice would be simple – go for it!
There are lots of benefits of being a TEDx organiser, here are just a few:
  • You will get to meet and interact with lots of interesting people from across the whole organisation.
  • You will get access to the amazing TEDx community forum and the wealth of advice from choosing speakers to designing the best badges for your event.
  • It is very rearding to see people get passionate and excited about the idea of a internal TEDx!
  • It is a grassroot event – so even if you are not a manager you can lead people.
  • You will get the chance to choose the TED Talks which will be screened at your event and have a unique opportunity to shape the event (and also share some of your most beloved TED talks of all times! Yes it is definitely Shawn Anchor’s The Happy Secret for Better Work for me!)
  • If you looking for something creative to do – you can get your creative juices flowing when doing the comms for the event (see those amazing posters and badges to get inspired)
  • It is a lot of fun and you will also get a cool TEDx page with your photo on it (bonus!).

Just over a month left to the internal TEDx event I am organising. I can only hope the event itself will be at least as much as fun as organising it!


Photo source



Agile in the City – Bristol: Day One Takeaways

I really enjoyed the Agile in the City London conference earlier this year so when a local version of the event was advertised I knew I had to be there. And so last week I attended day one of the Agile in the City Bristol.

We never stop learning and events like these are important  in refreshing and building knowledge and also learning from others’ mistakes and successes. I definitely gained a lot by attending the conference but here are my top takeaways of ideas which I’m planning to explore further in near future:

Collaboration is needed to design a truly amazing product. With mediocre collaboration comes a mediocre product. So how can we ensure that we collaborate in a way that brings new insights and is inclusive?

Katherine Kirk talked about the need for inclusive collaboration – including people that are different from us and listening to them with an open mind. Getting similar people to work on a product the chances are high that the product will be bland and safe. We need to understand that different types of thinking are OK and find ways in which to support them so that everyone can flourish.  I’ve already had a look at the Inclusive Collaboration Experiments book that Sal Freudenberg and Katherine Kirk have written and felt really inspired to try out some of the activities described there.

John Clapham talked about biases and group thinking. Again, I found his talk really fascinating and will definitely be looking into biases further. To get the best and innovative ideas from our teams we need to understand how to best work with biases and how can we overcome them. I have heard of the six thinking hats method in the past – but now I’m really convinced of its value!

Talking about collaboration Katherine Kirk reminded us not to forget about collaboration fatigue. Sometimes people might have enough of collaborating and talking – especially if they don’t see it as a productive activity. I believe it is important to spot signs if your team or individuals are suffering from collaboration fatigue and explore what can be done about it.

Another topic close to my heart is organisational culture. Matt Jukes (from DEFRA) talked about his experience at the Office for National Statistics and his lessons learnt from his time there. I liked the idea of introducing company culture as a bottom up approach – working with teams to come up with their values and then trying to introduce it across the company, revisiting it when needed. I agree with Matt saying “Culture is not something that is imposed – it emerges.” Also inspired by Matt I will be sending everyone back to have a look at agile principles!

Participating in Agile in the City Bristol was great for getting some new ideas, challenging my thinking and also it was just nice to feel part of an awesome community! Having said that, I might be biased as I won a competition from one of the vendors by guessing how much sweets there were in a jar (there were 297 and my estimation was 280  in case you’re wondering) and won myself some amazon vouchers. So not sure if any other conference will beat that!

[picture source: licenced for reuse]

Listen, Empathise, Have fun – Thinking Digital

Yesterday I attended the Thinking Digital conference in Manchester. The conference theme is around technology, ideas and our future. On the way back (3 hours on the train – LOTS of thinking time!) as I was going through the notes from the sessions I noticed 3 main messages from the conference for me – to listen to users and communities, empathise and have fun!

At work I try to bring people together by setting up and facilitating events where colleagues can share ideas and get a sense of belonging to a community. So I was very interested to hear  Sarah Drinkwater talk about  Campus London which is a space for entrepreneurs set up by Google. It made me think about how open plan offices sometimes do not encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas – you need the right culture to enable that. I liked the idea of regular themes to help share passion and enthusiasm. Sarah’s message to “always listen, be ready to flex and be humble” and to put “community first” really resonated with me.

Amber Case gave a great talk on calm technology. You can read more on calm technology via calmtech.com or in Amber’s new book. And I think again the most important message here was to focus on task not the tool and “If technology works well, we can ignore it most of the time”. For me, the key here is to listen to what people want and empathise with the context in which the technology will be used.

Clara Gaggero Westway’s talk was full of beautiful examples of where design and technology come together. I really loved the mobile phone user manual in the form of a book (it even appeared in the Museum of Modern Art!). This product was designed to help more mature mobile phone users get started with their new mobile phones (after Clara’s research team found that what the users wanted was not the dumbed down version of mobile phones but phones with lots of interesting features that would come with simple instructions on how to set them up and operate). And for me again there was a really strong message around real users and their real (not perceived) requirements. More empathy with users can bring much better products!

The whole day was full of amazing presentations but I think Sam Aaron‘s live code rave was the most fun! I also loved Sam’s talk about making coding fun and how Sonic Pi can be a great medium to introduce kids to coding. I think I will give it a go myself!

Get some happiness into your life – volunteer!

Would you like to be happier? If yes, then you should consider doing something for other people.

I have recently read a plethora of self-improvement books and many of them point to the research that shows volunteering can increase our happiness levels. I decided to try out volunteering for myself.

Luckily my decision coincided with the Volunteers Week and a friend’s Facebook call for help with the Baby Bank Network’s first birthday celebrations (part of the Make Sunday Special event in Bristol).

I chose to help out at the cake stand (who wouldn’t?! I mean there will be CAKE!) and even got round to persuading my partner to bake some treats for the event.

When I turned up on the day I was greeted by many friendly volunteers and me and my daughter (who really wanted to help out) quickly settled at the stand. We were there for around two hours selling cakes and restocking the stand.

What I loved about the experience was how infectious the enthusiasm of the other volunteers was. I was truly inspired by stories of baking 70 cupcakes with a toddler in tow (big kudos to that lady, your lemon cupcakes were amazing!) and examples of how people help out with the Baby Bank Network.

It was really touching to see so much positivity and energy. I loved the fact that my daughter learnt a valuable lesson on helping others and that she had so much fun while doing so!

So did the volunteering experience made me happier? Yes, supporting the Baby Bank Network’s event was a really nice way to spend an afternoon and seeing how much money was collected was the proverbial icing on the cake.

But what dawned on me is that once you start caring about other people’s happiness you stop obsessing so much about your own. You are much more grateful about what you have in your life and that in turn makes you happy.

I think Heather French Henry words are important “Volunteering is at the very core of being a human. No one has made it through life without someone else’s help.”


*This blog post was first published on the Baby Bank Network’s blog


Reflections from the ICA:UK Facilitation Course

With so much advice and information available on effective meetings it might seem strange that people still complain that meetings are a waste of time. One explanation might be that most meetings lack a facilitator – someone with no agenda of their own, whose role is to ensure that the group’s objectives are met and who will  help with the flow of the meeting.

Recently I attended a facilitation course organised by the ICA:UK. The course introduced two methods: the Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop method. After two intensive days in London (the venue was very nice – the National Council for Voluntary Organisations located next to Regent’s canal) having observed, discussed and practiced the two methods I feel much more confident in facilitating meetings.

The course was filled with some interesting practice topics for group facilitation. I especially enjoyed the group work on ideas for  dealing with disruptive behaviour in a group and discussing what can be done to make teamwork more effective. It was really interesting to see that the collective intelligence and the ideas we came up with were better than our individual ones.

I also really enjoyed leaving my desk and day-to-day job  and meeting a new group of very interesting people from various backgrounds. It was great to observe other facilitators and learn from them. Our trainer Ghee Bowman kept us engaged for the whole two days – we had a really wide variety of activities, also getting active and out of our comfort zones.

The course made me reflect on my own facilitation style and gave ideas on how I can do things differently in future. It also made me think about the role of the facilitator and how the neutrality is sometimes undermined by the fact that people are asked to fill in both roles: to participate in a meeting and give ideas but also to facilitate others.

Overall I feel that the methods I mastered during the course will allow me to achieve much improved meeting experience for all involved and hopefully get some amazing Return on Time Invested feedback!

Lego Serious Play for Retrospectives

I have recently facilitated a retrospective (a meeting with a purpose to introduce good change to how the team works) with the use of Lego Serious Play. Here is a summary of the activities I used and some brief reflections on how it went.


  1. Introduction/Ice-breaker – we used the Lego Serious Play starter kits  and did the duck activity – all attendees have to find the same 6 Lego pieces and then make a duck out of them (I wrote more about this activity in my previous blog post). This activity is great for familiarising the attendees with the Lego set, getting them into creative mindset but also demonstrates really well that we all have different ideas that are worth listening to.
  2. The second exercise was to build an animal from the Lego pieces. The participants have to then modify the animal to express how they are feeling about the upcoming retrospective session. The purpose here was to lead the team from model to metaphor building and get them to start actively listening to one another.
  3. The follow up exercise was to modify the animal models to show how the participants are feeling about their team’s work. This marked the end of the ice breaker phase as the team started to focus on reflections on how they work.
  4. We left the Lego pieces for the next activity (Hot air baloon) and came back to using Lego in the gathering insights phase. I based the activity on the Perfection Game and asked the participants to build a Lego model of their production process that would score 10 points out of 10. After everyone described their models we put together the emerging common themes  on the flip chart paper. The next task for the team was to decide what actions would be needed to achieve the ideal process. The rest of the meeting was done without the use of Lego.

Using Lego for the introduction and ice breaker activities worked really well. Everyone in the room was really engaged and energised – well, I guess playing with Lego makes most people happy!

Using Lego made the meeting   more “lean in” with everyone participating equally rather than “opting out” and not engaging with activities. However, listening to everyone talking about their models takes time so  the process is quite slow.


On the whole I was happy with the use of Lego Serious Play for the retrospective, especially the team building aspect. I would definitely use Lego again, if there is enough time!

I’d be really interested to hear about any other Lego related activities for retrospectives – let me know on twitter (@alicja_shah) or in the comments below.



Retrospectives for any team – agile or not

Retrospective is a meeting in Agile/Scrum that looks at how the team is working together, the behaviours and processes that are undertaken. The meeting happens after each sprint (defined length of time to do the work). I’m a strong believer that techniques from a retrospective can be used with any team to improve their performance, productivity and team morale.

However, if you are thinking of conducting a retrospective for a team that doesn’t work in an agile way you might find the following helpful:

  • The team might not be familiar with the Scrum values such as trust, openness and respect so it might be more difficult to get them to open up about any issues. My solution would be to start the meeting by defining the purpose of the meeting together with the  team. It will be helpful to set a few working agreements (e.g.  one person speaks at a time etc.) to help with the meeting flow. It is interesting to ask the team what they want to happen if someone breaks the working agreement.
  • If the team has never experienced having a retrospective you might be surprised at the amount of things surfacing up during the meeting. My tip would be to carefully manage time and make the team prioritise the issues they want to discuss in detail. It might be better to come up with some actions to tackle one big issue rather than dwell for too long on too many things and end up with no clear actions.
  • It might be a good idea to check mid way through the meeting whether the team is finding the retrospective useful (smiling faces and a great atmosphere doesn’t guarantee positive feedback – I learnt the hard way!) or whether you need make some changes. So instead of having the “retrospective of a retrospective” at the end of the meeting you could do it before lunch or a coffee break to adjust the second half of the meeting.

I will be writing soon about using Lego Serious Play for retrospectives and sharing my favourite techniques – so watch this space!