The Tadpole Technique - Breaking things down in a new, interactive way

The Tadpole Technique is an approach that teams can use to break a larger idea into smaller pieces in an interactive and visual way.  This facilitated session is a way to get team members to participate in some chatter as well as as generate a few takeaways from the session.  This technique is useful in meetings where a group of approximately ten individuals and a facilitator go through a series of discussions following a brief writing activity.  The result is a visual representation of the teams thoughts and discussion, and can be used to further expand later talks or to create some takeaways.

This talk will explain the mechanics of this technique, what teams will need, and explain how to facilitate the session.  Participants will then engage in an exercise where they get to experience the technique as a group, enhancing their ability to facilitate future sessions of their own. 


Outline/Structure of the Workshop

What it is

  • A facilitated discussion that gets a group of people talking
  • Easy to get started, doesn’t require formal training just some practice
  • Anyone can participate, good for group of 10

Why it’s useful

  • People can get distracted
  • It’s hard to keep discussions focused
  • How do you remember what you talked about?

Where to use it

  • In meetings with team members trying to break an idea down
  • Helpful in any sort of story-mapping exercise
  • Works best with around 10 participants

What you’ll need

  • Enough sticky notes for all participants, preferably multi-color
  • Enough pens / pencils for all participants
  • Large wall or whiteboard that the sticky notes can cling to

Step #1 – Talk about the topic

  • A topic is shared with the group, sometimes by a facilitator or someone else that may be working with the folks in the room
  • For teams using scrum, this might be a Product Owner sharing a high-level piece of functionality or abstract idea with the Scrum Master facilitating the session
  • The facilitator needs to timebox this to approximately 5 to 10 minutes – don’t’ stay on this too long!

Step #2 – Write a few words

  • First reaction when people say “write” is often to get verbose
  • This exercise we do it a little differently
  • Team members (on their own!) then will write what they think will need to be done to accomplish that larger idea with ONE RULE:
  • They are limited to one to three words, no more
  • Do this quickly – timebox this to only a few minutes as well (say around 5, more if you need to)
  • After this, take the pens back – participants are done writing

Step #3 – Build the Wall

  • Facilitator uses the wall or whiteboard as a working space
  • Sticky notes are spread out in the area at random, mixing them up
  • Using multi colored stickies helps
  • Do NOT go and write more stickies, you are done writing!

Step #4 – Build a pile

  • Facilitator goes to the board of random sticky notes
  • Pick one at random, and ask who wrote that one sticky and what did they mean?
  • Have some discussion about it, and ask “did anyone else have something similar?
  • Start to see if those notes are “same bucket, different bucket”
  • Keep discussion high level!!!
  • Name the pile before moving onto the next one

What does it look like?

  • Larger piles on the left will show that more participants were thinking about this topic (even if it’s low level!)
  • The piles where only a few people thought of it, or one, doesn’t mean it’s not important
  • Instead it means that if that person weren’t in the room, the team wouldn’t have identified it!

Exercise: Yard Sale (part 1) – 2 mins

  • Timebox this to 2 minutes of writing
  • For table-based piles, have teams spread them out in the middle of the table

Exercise: Yard Sale (part 2) – 10 mins

  • Building the piles is the hard part
  • Select a moderator who will drive the discussion
  • Explain rest of instructions

Exercise Debrief

  • Discuss with team members how it went, visiting a few tables
  • Timebox this for the rest of time

Learning Outcome

Introduce participants to the "Tadpole Technique"

Explain mechanics and benefits of the session

Learn to facilitate a "Tadpole Technique" session

Target Audience

Facilitators and Team Members who routinely break work down in a group


schedule Submitted 4 years ago