Written by on 12 November 2015

The decision roundtable

Coolblue is a flat organisation which is growing very fast, the IT development department is growing even faster. This makes it harder and harder to involve everybody in decision making, something that we value as really important. So, in order to support this process, especially regarding our ever growing code base, we introduced the decision roundtable. The decision roundtable turns out to be highly effective and resulted in the team taking full ownership of their code base. So, after using it for more than half a year now it’s time to share our experience.

The decision roundtable is based on the roundtable meetings used by Etsy.Change
Together with a colleague I’ve had the opportunity to join a decision roundtable facilitated by Mike Rembetsy and Patrick McDonnell from Etsy at Velocity conference in Barcelona. At that moment in time, making a decision with the whole e-commerce development group was a painstaking exercise. Many opinions that all wanted to be heard and only a few were really involved in the discussions that followed. So after seeing it in practice in Barcelona, we decided to give it a try.

The setup is really easy. There is a biweekly meeting, always at the same time and location. Everybody can add a proposal for change to the agenda, no subject will be declined. Anybody can join the decision roundtable and even function as a proxy (when voting) for someone else if that colleague can’t join that particular session. The roundtable is hosted by someone that is not involved in the subject for change and can act as a neutral facilitator.

The execution is a bit more difficult, especially for new participants. Etsy describes it as: “It’s like a game of Monopoly: If you’ve never played it, it may take you a game to really get the hang of it and understand the rules and cadence.”
So every session we start off with the rules of the decision roundtable:

1. We start on time!
2. Ask questions only, this means no opinions and no discussions (there is time to propose amendments);
3. Ask questions via the facilitator (like in parliament);
4. You will be interrupted (by the facilitator or the time keeper), don’t worry it’s nothing personal.

All the steps of the roundtable are timeboxed, so the first step is to assign a timekeeper. He or she is responsible for keeping track of time, for example with their mobile phone, and sounding the alarm when time is up.

Then the next step is the pitch of the proposal for change by one (we see a lot of duo presentations as well) of our colleagues. They have 10 minutes to explain their proposal for change and try to cover the following bullet points as well:

– What is the problem + solution to be decided on?
– Who: Who all does this decision impact?
– Risk: What is at risk if we change nothing and what is at risk if we choose new plan?
– Goals: What are the goals?
– Timeframe: When + How long will this solution be tested for?

After that there is time for the other The decision roundtableparticipants to group up (groups of 3-5 persons) and write down questions they want to ask the presenter(s). When the alarm sounds it’s time to ask the questions to the presenter(s) by addressing them to the facilitator, as mentioned before just like in parliament.

When the questions are answered or the time is up we proceed to the part where the groups can propose an amendment to the proposal of change. The presenter(s) then have the possibility to decline or accept the amendment and add it to their proposal.

The next step is to vote and by that decline or accept the proposal (incl. accepted amendments). If the proposal gets accepted a driver is assigned (most of the time the presenter(s)) and a moment in time is assigned at which we implement the change. Most of the time the change is in effect from that moment on, but some need some preparation before they get implemented.

We are now using the decision roundtable since March this year and it turns out to be highly effective. Since the introduction a lot of proposals have been accepted and executed. Ownership of the code base has become stronger as everybody is involved.
It helps a lot as well to show too new joiners that we appreciate input on how they think we can improve the code base and their colleagues motivate them to bring their own proposal for change to the decision roundtable.

Colleagues enjoying presenting proposals. Preparing them by talking with other colleagues about the pros and cons of their proposal. Refining their proposal when it doesn’t get accepted. And step by step bringing our code base to a higher level.

Many thanks to Mike Rembetsy for sharing the information about the Etsy roundtables and my colleagues at Coolblue for all their proposal for change and participation in the decision roundtables.

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