SPA Conference session: Solve Conflicts Without Compromise with the Conflict Resolution Diagram

One-line description:Apply Systems Thinking to unearth the assumptions behind conflicts
Session format: Workshop (150 mins) [read about the different session types]
Abstract:Have you ever been in a seen situation where you had to choose between two conflicting requirements: you really need A and B, but you can only have one? Or have you been in situations where one person needs A and the other needs B and only one of them can get their way?

Often, we'll try to solve these tradeoffs with a compromise solution, "a bit of A and a bit of B" and make everybody unhappy. What if we didn't accept compromise and instead really thought deeply about the causes of these types of conflict?

Our assumptions are:

* that every such conflict is caused by invalid assumptions
* that those assumptions can be found
* that we can find actions that dispel the invalid assumptions
* that this is the way to solve these conflicts without compromising

The Conflict Resolution Diagram (CRD) or "evaporating cloud" technique is one of a set of Systems Thinking tools that came out of the Theory of Constraints. We've found it an effective tool to unearth the unspoken assumptions that lie at the heart of these types of conflicts. Once these assumptions are visible for all, the solution either becomes blindingly obvious or we know what we need to do to invalidate the assumptions that are at the heart of the conflict.

We will work on conflicts that participants bring. These conflicts can have two forms:
* Contradiction: we must DO X but also NOT DO X. For example: I must refactor to improve the quality of the code but I must not refactor the code to avoid breaking it because I don't have a good set of tests.
* Exclusive alternatives: we can only HAVE A OR HAVE B, we can't have both. For example, I want to start a project with only high level requirements to stay agile and take advantage of new information BUT my customers needs to know exactly what they'll get by when.

Bring these types of conflict to the session and we will solve them together. The conflicts you bring along to use in our workshop can be work-related or not. If you have a life without conflict, you can help someone else create their breakthrough solution.

We will explain the techniques step by step. You will work in small groups to apply the techniques on the conflicts that participants have brought to the session. You will leave this session with one less conflict in your life: either you will have discovered that there was no conflict after all or you found the breakthrough actions to resolve the conflict and create a win-win solution for both parties.
Audience background:No required knowledge
Willingness to look at situations with an open mind
Benefits of participating:* Learn a technique for finding the underlying assumptions behind conflicts
* Add a tool to your Systems Thinking belt
* Learn some useful consulting and selling techniques
* Get ideas to solve a vexing problem you have
Materials provided:* Handout with a summary of the technique
* Books about the subject
Process:Volunteers come forward to present conflicts. They are the "clients".
The other participants act as "consultant" (to help the client examine the conflict) or "observer" (to record interesting observations and verify if the consultants follow the consulting guidelines) in small groups with their "client".
The session presenters provide just-in-time training and coaching for the consultants.

Over several short iterations:
* The presenters explain one step of the technique
* The participants apply the technique to the client's conflict
* Brief review of the results

At the end of the session, each client presents their conflict, the resolution ideas and any insights the group had. The insights are collected on one or more flipcharts.

The participants do a session retrospective
Detailed timetable: * 10' : introduction
* 15': clients present their conflict. From groups of client + consultants + observer
* 25': build up the CRD model in 3 iterations
* 25': brainstorm the underlying assumptions in 3 iterations
* 25': evaluate, develop and invalidate the underlying assumptions in 3 iterations
* 10': summarise the situation, the conflict and the way the conflict can be (or has been) solved
* 15': each group presents their situation and solution
* 5': participants perform a 4-quadrant retrospective
* 15': answering the puzzles from the retrospective + collecting the lessons learnt
* 10': overview of the thinking processes and where the CRD fits. Applying the thinking processes in the real world.
Outputs:* Conflict analyses with resolution ideas for each client
* Participant insights as posters + written up on the conference wiki
* Session retrospectives on the presenters' blogs
History:Run at Agile Tour Besanšon 2009, Scan Agile 2009, Belgian User Group meeting, XP Days Benelux 2009

The first tryout of this session was at a SPA BoF a few years ago
1. Pascal Van Cauwenberghe
2. Portia Tung