How to Conduct a Remote Event Storming Session

April 21, 2020 Rohit Kelapure

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Put simply, Event Storming will help you make sense of a great big mess. Use it to rapidly model new flows and ideas, quickly synthesize knowledge, and drive consensus by getting the right people involved in a facilitated set of exercises.

When to do it

Use Event Storming when you need to 

• understand a broad problem domain, like how a business unit functions from end to end;


• map the value stream of a business process; and


• understand an existing technology system and define a future state solution.


From in-person to remote Event Storming

VMware uses Event Storming to help customers explore broad problem spaces, to map value streams, and to quickly model notional architecture. It’s a flexible and rapid way to model new flows and ideas, synthesize knowledge, and facilitate group participation that drives consensus and definition of clear steps forward.

In-person Event Storming is a tactile, collaborative experience that demands participation and a high degree of facilitation. Facilitation techniques focus on giving everyone a voice and making implicit knowledge and disagreements explicit on paper. When done well, it can align a technical team, business analysts, and domain experts towards a shared understanding of a complex problem space. 

Shifting to a remote-only Event Storming venue requires a different approach to be as successful as in-person ceremony. As in the physical world, things may not go as planned; flexibility and adaptation to the unexpected will go a long way in delivering a valuable outcome. This reality is amplified in a remote-only setting where it’s much more difficult to “work a room,” monitor body language, and quickly course correct.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to millions of people working from home, many for the first time! It takes practice, empathy and flexibility to work effectively. The same can be said for remote-only Event Storming. VMware Pivotal Labs has quickly adapted our years of experience facilitating Event Storming to our new reality. These techniques require practice and will evolve and mature over time. This resource offers a toolbox of tips and tricks to serve as a starting point for remote Event Storming, guiding you toward a successful outcome.

The following tips and suggestions are based on VMware Pivotal Labs experience facilitating remote Event Storming sessions with clients.

Best practices for virtual collaborative modeling

Preparation

Early preparation is critical to a productive session and quality outcomes. We recommend the following:

• All participants must use video conferencing software with the camera turned on. No exceptions. Software should be installed and tested in advance.


• If possible, all participants should use a wired Internet connection, as Wi-Fi speeds are intermittent and dropped connections can be disruptive. If a wired connection is not possible, run a speed test to assure adequate bandwidth is available.


• Use a virtual, collaborative board. We use a Miro or Whimsical canvas, which effectively provides an infinite online whiteboard space in a way that everyone can interact with in real time.


• Conduct an introductory training session in advance for all participants to become familiar with the tools before the session begins. Some participants may not be able to connect to Miro over VPN, so be prepared to find alternate ways for participants to access Miro. 


• Schedule a mock Event Storm to familiarize the audience with techniques, expectations and outcomes. This will relieve anxiety during the main event. 


• Look at the maintenance windows for Miro to ensure there is no blackout period during your Event Storming sessions. Back up all of your boards after every day.


• Use a separate board for each activity conducted during the Event Storming sessions (e.g., Goals & Risk; Current State, etc.).


• Jot down a canvas legend of terms and ensure it’s visible at all times. 


Facilitation

Unlike a physical Event Storming where bandwidth is infinite, virtual Event Storming only has a single channel for all participants. Providing a productive way for all participants to contribute is critical and it works quite differently compared to the physical world. Here are various tips and tricks from our experience: 

• Plan to have two facilitators. This helps facilitators maintain the level of energy required to keep participants engaged in a virtual setting. We recommend that facilitators alternate roles, with one managing comments and hot spots and the other doing facilitated storytelling and enforcing the timeline. If you have a third facilitator, they can write up the domain glossary. If you split into multiple rooms, you may have to allot one facilitator per breakout room. 


• Event Storming should be driven in chunks of 10–15 minutes, alternating between silent ideation and facilitated model merging. Replay the narrative to all groups at regular intervals. 


• Facilitators will need at least one large screen to see the participants in Zoom dashboard view and a second large screen for the Miro board. It’s important to set aside issues/topics that cannot be agreed upon and come back later.


• Having a primary facilitator to merge the model and enforce a timeline while reconciling all the stickies brings the relevant parties into the discussion. A secondary facilitator in parallel will be looking for subtle cues, nonverbal cues, bringing folks into the conversation, or pulling on critical threads.


• Capture all assumptions, hotspots and comments on stickies and make them visible—but be mindful of interrupting the storyteller or the main facilitator. As Alberto Brandlolini, the inventor of Event Storming, says in the virtual DDD meetup, “Once everybody starts interrupting, throughput falls to 0.5 person/second.” It is critical for participants to write down the issue before interrupting the facilitator. 


• As an alternative to synchronous checkpointing, you can follow a split ‘n’ merge approach, in which you create multiple groups with an expert in each group and then rotate the groups across the board to merge the model and enforce consistency. Create a Zoom breakout for each subgroup and have them do readouts when they return. 


• A pivot event signifies a key transition in state or lifecycle of an entity or business process. Use these to frame boundaries and narrow the scope of activity to split into smaller breakout rooms and do readouts to the larger group when the breakout team returns. 


• Designate happy and sad flows and use an explicit sticky for subprocess to hide the complexity and prevent rabbit holing to stay at the same level of abstraction. A subprocess sticky is a great way for parking content. 


• Address all the hot spots and questions while enforcing the timeline. The model should be merged and a narrative should be built forward, backward, and from the middle, as it will identify critical missing pieces when different perspectives are taken for the same process. 


• Discuss only what is visible. Make every discussion visible on the Miro board as stickies. 


• Create, improve and reuse Miro canvas templates to structure your work. VMware Pivotal Labs has templates for the entirety of our Swift methodology (which includes Event Storming for systems design). 


• Practice layering and incremental notation. In the first round, start with domain events, hot spots, questions, and external systems. Layer in commands, read models, policies, and UI if needed in the second round. The final round should always be naming the aggregates that should naturally fall out of the domain model.   


Overcoming challenges

Event Storming is tremendously beneficial for quickly starting or advancing a project from ideation to execution, but it requires practice! Even the most experienced practitioners must overcome challenges, and here are lessons we’ve learned to do just that:

• A common challenge for any virtual group activity is simultaneous conversations among the participants. Remember, an online workshop only has one channel to accommodate a large group of people conducting a complex, collaborative exercise that requires everyone having a voice. This contention can result in poor bandwidth of communication.


• Remote Event Storming can be long but if the facilitators take a heavy hand at trying to control or set the pace, it can inhibit participants from taking a more active role. This is a thin line and warrants practice and reflection.


• It can be difficult to include both business and domain experts for the entire time, but this is critical to success. 


• Tool mastery gets in the way of folks doing Event Storming, particularly for those who are not familiar with Miro. It’s critical to train in preparation for Event Storming. Do this in a separate session for 45–60 minutes.  


• Expect that online workshops will take 20–40% longer than in-person workshops. This is primarily due to a lack of context and the challenge of a group of people working together for the first time. The storming and norming process that bonds a group together takes more time virtually. There is no way to speed this up and so this must be accounted for in the agenda planning.


• Get comfortable with silent pauses. They can be longer (10–15 seconds) and feel more awkward. Use Slack for longer-form, persistent conversation during the Event Storm, and Zoom or Miro chat.


• Engagement can be challenging initially but you can overcome this by seeding a few ideas on stickies to help the group warm up. Ask participants to start with any sticky note. Participants can put up ones that are most important. After the first 10 minutes, revisit the grammar and semantics of the sticky notes and make any corrections so that future stickies adhere to the desired language and color format. 


• Have fun and model it as a game. There are no wrong answers. Remember that no one can be obligated to write stickies. 


• Have each participant tag their stickies with their name or signature so that when the facilitator enforces the timeline, they can directly discuss with the person who wrote the sticky instead of playing a game of name tag. 


Continued learnings for success

• Consider conducting a dedicated Miro training for both facilitators and participants so that everyone is a Miro ninja. It is recommended that no more than 7 people participate in any single remote session. If there are more than 7 participants, split the group into smaller virtual breakout rooms and then bring everyone back together to do a summary. Split the business process into high-level categories and break into different rooms if there are more than 10 participants.


• Take breaks. Facilitators should do walkthroughs at shorter intervals than during in-person workshops.


• Get dedicated time from the business and domain experts. The number one reason for an Event Storming failing is that a diverse and complete picture of the business process, system, or flow does not emerge because of the lack of knowledge of the participants. It can be argued that the business analysts, domain subject matter experts, and management stakeholders are more important than technical architects or technical leads in an Event Storm. 


• In a virtual Event Storming, it may be difficult to register points of conflict. Facilitators must be watchful of nonverbal cues, as well as language and tone. Remember that silence is not agreement. Highly structured facilitation should be used to draw out ideas from all participants whenever organic participation wanes. Keep sessions to 90 minutes or fewer.


• Online collaboration for Event Storming in many ways is like Mob Programming and massive multiplayer online games. The same principles apply in spirit. 


Miro tips

• Use canvas templates as a productivity booster to land multicolored empty stickies. A brainstorming template is especially helpful. 


• You can lock a certain part of the canvas of the Miro board with locking frames. Click on a frame to bring up  the context menu, then click on the lock icon. That will lock the frame in place, but still allow you to move things around inside the frame. 


• You can lock most elements, lines, boxes, labels, or anything else you’d like to remain in an anchored location on the canvas.


• Use Bulk Mode for folks to add sticky notes. It lets you type a list of stickies then dump them on the board when you hit Done.


• Use labels in the sticky note context menu to categorize the notes.


• Leverage the Icon finder to add incremental notation and icons to the Event Storm. Have fun with it!


• Everyone can use the same size function to make their stickies small, medium or large. Stickies default to different sizes depending upon the user’s zoom level. Stickies can be resized to S, M or L by clicking the S, M or L icon in the sticky note’s context menu.


• Use Miro’s cards and dot-voting features for prioritization and affinity mapping of ideas.


• Enable the tracking of people on the board using the Collaborator’s cursor feature. This enables a live view and gives insight into live activity on the canvas.


• Learn the shortcut for sticky duplication, like Ctrl-D.


Please reach out if you’d like a free one-hour consultation with VMware Pivotal Labs on remote Event Storming.

Event Storming resources

[Book] Introducing Event Storming: An act of Deliberate Collective Learning by Alberto Brandolini

[Blog] "
Event Storming in COVID-19 Times" by Alberto Brandolini

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