Explore new frontiers to improve communication within the project team
the LEGO® Serious Play® method
Chiesi Farmaceutici Spa –
University of Milan (Bicocca)
As explained in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth Edition, “Project communications management includes the processes that are required to ensure timely and appropriate planning, collection, creation, distribution, storage, retrieval management, control monitoring and the ultimate disposition of project information” (PMI, 2013). Each project manager spends most of his or her time communicating with team members and other stakeholders to collect information and to solve communication issues. During the daily routine of the team, it is clear that the communication is not equally distributed and that some team members do not share their opinion during the meeting.
This lack of participation is often due to different cultural and organizational backgrounds, different levels of expertise, and different characters.
In light of these communication issues, it is important that each project manager increases his or her ability to improve collaboration and communication within the project team.
This paper starts by explaining the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY (LSP) methodology as a technique to improve communication and collaboration within the project team and show how this method could help in enhancing communication.
Keywords: LEGO® Serious Play® method, communication, stakeholder involvement
The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) method is a technique that improves group problem solving. By utilizing visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic skills, the method requires participants to learn and listen, and it provides all participants with a voice. The method serves as a shared language regardless of culture or company position.
1. Origin of the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method
The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method was created by LEGO® Company as answer to an important business challenge in the mid-1990s. The original method was created for internal strategy: LEGO company have had this intuition: introduce the bricks inside the decision processes as a powerful driver to explore more solutions and to obtain a fast track to take decisions and define strategies in order of complex issues. Then later, the LEGO® Company decided to introduce the process outside the company1.
2. LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology
The core of the LSP method is how adults learn and imagine. On a scientific point-of-view, our brains are limited in how much information they can consciously handle at one time, but with the help of the neural connections in our hands, we know more.
The guiding principle is that our hands are connected to between 70–80% of our brain cells. So, when we use our hands in learning, a complex process takes place and increases our ability to generate new ideas. The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology is an innovative process designed to enhance innovation and business performance. The concept is based on research which shows that this kind of hands-on, minds-on learning produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities.
3. The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method assumption
The LSP methodology is based on the following assumptions:
- leaders don't have all the answers, so, LSP is for brave managers
- people naturally want to contribute, but there are cultural barriers, so the project manager has to use a real bottom-up process
- the comfort environment allows each member to contribute and speak out
Moreover, as everyone has experienced, the project teams often work sub-optimally. Why? Some reasons:
- leaving valuable knowledge untapped in team members
- making poor decisions based on illusion rather than reality
- reacting to events unconsciously rather than consciously and with intention
Thus, the LSP method was designed and developed as a way for groups to interact so that afterwards:
- new insights have been uncovered and everyone's experiences, knowledge, and understanding have been tapped into
- team members feel more confident and motivated to act on knowledge that was shared
- team members feel more committed to shared action
The LSP method is built on the theory of constructionism from Seymour Papert: building physical artifacts can improve your knowledge and awareness. Papert said, “the knowledge happens better when we construct something external to ourselves” (Papert, 1993).
Robert Rasmussen said, “The LSP is a way of building the capacity into a group to respond intentionally and optimally to the unknown, at every moment. It improves the quality and speed of their decision-making, which again leads to faster and better implementation of changes and solutions.”
4. The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method core process
The core process is a four-step process:
- First step: Posing the question—the challenge The LSP method facilitator has to ask the team the challenging question. The framing of the challenge has to be clarified by the facilitator to all team members.
- Second step construction: Build their own model Each team member has to build his own answer to the question. Each team member is involved to find the answer to the challenging question. Through the building process each team member generate new idea, new answers. This step help participants to understand that there is not a wrong answer but the collaboration of everyone could help the team to find the team answer.
- Third step: Sharing the story—each team member must tell his/her own story about the model
- Fourth step: Reflect. With the facilitator's help, participants are encouraged to think about what they have seen in the models and heard in the stories. The use of metaphor enables individual and team insights and imagination.
5. The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method's seven application techniques
The LSP method has seven application techniques:
- building individual models
- building shared models
- creating a landscape
- making connections
- building a system
- playing emergence and decisions
- extracting simple guiding principles
The main objectives of a LSP wp are: During the PMI Global Congress 2016—EMEA workshop, participants can experience the application of the first technique. The others techniques will be demonstrated by the case study. Each application technique has its own specific goals and tools, but all are managed by the core process.”
6. When and how the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology could be a useful tool to support a project team and to improve its performance
Do you need to help your team members to better know their colleagues, their specific competencies, skills, and tools? Or, do you need to help your team to overcome a crisis or impasse? Again, do you need to help your team to better describe or define the project requirements and the stakeholders? In each of these issues (and in many others, of course), you can help your team through the LSP and, in particular, with the application, Real Time for Team Life.
According with the Johari window, the LSP method can improve and boost the team identity and can help each team to recover the guiding principles as a strong and solid framework that is able to activate and unify the human capital to reach a common objective together.
7. Learning objective and results expected of the LSP wp delivered during the congress
The learning objectives of the wp LSP are:
- learn what is the LSP method and how/if it is applicable in your team
- understand an innovative methodology to help a project manager in the management of a team project: even if you are a SUPER project manager sometimes you have to face communication issues
- understand how the physically built something together improves the team communication
- verify how the “thinking by hands” improve the exploration process of a context and accelerate the process of making decisions about the system explored
According to the learning objectives, the attendees will be able to:
- understand the most relevant characteristics of LSP methodology
- evaluate the communication issues and opportunities in which the LSP methodology could be used
- better understand how a project team can improve its performance by the sharing of physical artifacts (thinking by hands)
- capitalize the lessons learned from the project focused organization thanks to the presentation of some case a
Chiara Mazzoli is a project manager with a chemistry and science background. After graduation, she started her professional career as a quality assurance officer and auditor. After five years, she moved to the analytical chemistry lab as a scientist and became the head of the Quality Control Laboratory of R&D Chiesi Farmaceutici.
Ms. Mazzoli has supported and coordinated the setup of the new chemistry lab in the new R&D center following all activities from building to the AIFA approval.
Over the last four years, she has been involved as the R&D project manager in the coordination of top-priority development projects in different stages from early to late phase, supporting a multidisciplinary team. This includes development activities in all geographies ranging from Europe to Asian countries.
She continued her academic education with a master's degree in project management at Luiss Business School in Rome. She is an enthusiastic trainer of team-based project management to spread out project management principles and improve awareness of the team member role and responsibilities.
Giorgio Beltrami, PhD, is a lecturer at University of Milan Bicocca in Italy. His subjects are project management and service design. As a researcher and consultant, he is involved in many projects, for instance, the CASI project (http://www.casi2020.eu/ - FP7). He is an expert in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology and he has managed more than 100 workshops in many organizations just in the last three years. He is also an expert in international standards (ISO) and in change management processes.
Frick, E., Tardini, S., & Cantoni, L. (2013, August). White paper on LEGO Serious Play: A state of the art of its applications in Europe. Università Svizzera Italiana (USI).
Kristiansen, P., & Rasmussen, R. (2014). Building a better business using Lego Serious Method. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. (2002). The science of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAYTM. Play, Construction, Imagination. Executive Discovery, LLC. Retrieved online at: http://www.strategicplay.ca/upload/documents/thescience-of-lego-serious-play.pdf
Møller-Nielsen, L. (2009). Personal - and shared experiential concepts. Department of Architecture & Design, The Faculties of Engineering, Science and Medicine, Aalborg University.
Papert, S. A. (1993). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.
Papert, S. A. (1993). The children's machine - Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide) – Fifth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.
Rasmussen, R. (n.d.). Helping organizations function intentionally and optimally in the moment (white paper). Retrieved from http://withinvision.com/uploads/3/3/7/1/3371987/lsp-white_paper.pdf
1 The LSP methodology was developed with the help of Johan Roos and Bart Victor from IMD (a leading business school in Europe). These two professors were working on the poor results from traditional, strategy-development techniques. Kjeld Kristiansen, the CEO of LEGO® Company, decided to work together on this problem by founding the Executive Discovery, a separate LEGO® subsidiary.
© 2016, Chiara Mazzoli, Giorgio Beltrami
Originally published as part of the 2016 PMI® Global Congress Proceedings – Barcelona, Spain