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There are a lot of people who have difficulty understanding what Serious Play and me being a Scrum Master actually means. I understand completely and trust me, it can be difficult to explain too! Not because I’m doing things that are necessarily very complex or difficult to understand but simply because it involves a lot of different aspects and has an impact on a lot of different issues and layers that are all somehow interconnected and – most importantly, if I’m being honest – because I’m sooooo, so, so incredibly enthusiastic about what I do that I tend to get so carried away when talking about my work that it ends up being this complete information overload. So, I decided to start a new blog series to help me explain what I do in bite size bits and pieces called: MY ROLE AS…..

Part of being a Scrum Master is being a Facilitator. And as a Facilitator, I make sure that a team is able to go about their business, work together, stay on track, stay motivated and stay focussed on working towards the same goal. Which is why I frequently organise Serious Play sessions and, as I mentioned in my previous ‘My Role as….’-blogs, during those sessions I work my ass off to make sure that they’re running smoothly while paying close attention to the behaviours and interactions of my team. And, if I do say so myself, most of my sessions are a great success. Ha! I’m good at what I do! Or as my BFG always says: ‘You make it look easy’. And one of the reasons I’m able to do that is because I always, always, always make sure I have a Plan B.

Planning Serious Play sessions takes a lot of time. Rule of thumb is that if I’m planning to do a two-hour long session, I’ll spend at least double that time preparing for the session. Organising the location, making sure I have enough supplies, deciding on the games we’ll be playing and which order, preparing my debriefing, and the list goes on. Because, contrary to popular belief, those lightbulb moments that occur during my sessions don’t happen overnight. Those things take time, planning and careful preparation. And no, because I’ve planned a lot of sessions over the years that doesn’t mean that the preparation time has shortened. Each team is different, each session too. I’ve picked up quite a few new methods and games along the way and deciding between those takes time too. But what’s also a big part of my preparation is thinking about are all the unexpected things that can happen. So that when things don’t go as planned, I can simply switch gears. And, trust me, they will: you’re working with humans after all, not little robots.

There are quite a few things that can go wrong. Technical failures, for instance. Gosh, we’ve all had those, hadn’t we? Especially these last few months. Mural/Zoom/Teams/Hangouts glitches, frozen screens, malfunctioning laptops, failing WIFI connections. So, what to do? Make sure that you’re familiar with the most likely fixes. But if those fail? Don’t go wasting precious time desperately trying to get things up and running again. Chances are that by the time you’ve got things sorted out, your team’s motivation has gone out the window. It’s better to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and make the most of it.

When planning sessions, it’s really easy to be overly optimistic about the things you can achieve in a certain period of time. So, always try to look at things from a ‘pessimistic perspective’. Not only can you experience technical failures, your team can show up late for some reason or other. And usually, by the time they finally show up, everybody will be flustered and you’ll need at least another extra 15 minutes to get everybody to settle in. Exercises can take longer or shorter than expected. So, having a Plan B means that you’ve already thought of the items you can skip when need be and you’ll have thought of a few extra games to bring in case you might need them too.

Another potential hick-up in a carefully planned session is an important but completely off-topic issue that suddenly pops up. Now you have a choice to make: do you stick to your carefully planned session or do you tackle that issue that’s clearly bugging your team? Having a Plan B means that you can be flexible and simply change things up accordingly. You already know which items you can skip, so it’s not that difficult to create room for that much needed conversation or even better, an alternative game that will help you make the most of the situation. And because you’ve planned ahead, the extra games you’ve brought are versatile ones that can easily be adapted to suit your team’s unexpected needs.

When planning a session, you never know what’s actually going to happen. Over time you’ll learn to read your group and make small adjustments to your programme accordingly. And the best way to learn is by always asking feedback at the end of your session. But still, some days things will be sailing along smoothly without a cloud in the sky while on other days, you’ll find yourself struggling and stumbling to reach the end of that finish line. But, as my old father always told me: Never let on that something went wrong, always pretend everything’s going as planned. That way, nobody will be the wiser.

Having a Plan B means that at the end of the day - even though nothing has gone as planned and you’ve been improvising like crazy to make things work - you’ll be able to sit back, cross your arms and with a big and very self-satisfied smile on your face say: ‘I love it when a plan comes together!’.

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