YAB bootcamp

   Credit: Lindsay Adamski

If you want an inside look on how I develop my material and roll out new workshops, here is a case study. Last Sunday several members of NYFC YAB, accompanied by Lindsay Adamski (a.k.a., ladamski), joined me at AlleyNYC for a four-hour project management bootcamp. (Yes, you read that right: four hours on a Sunday. It was their suggestion. They are intense, these folks.) The aim was to finish the work that we started at the retreat back in August on the YAB Project Management Manual, which like their constitution, is co-authored by YAB and me. My model for this was the OCFS Handbook for Youth in Foster Care, which incorporates the voices of young people in care in every chapter. I especially liked how the handbook defines terms using the words of youth in foster care.

YAB does a terrific job of referring to a printed copy of their constitution during their meetings, and the manual is definitely supposed to act as a guide for every step of the project management process: brainstorming, project selection, planning, execution, and ending (termination, completion, and administration). Each section has handy tools and tips for success. We’re also making it available in digital format, however, because the manual is intended as a living document that they can edit over the years by modifying, clarifying, and elaborating on the existing material (e.g., working out their own ground rules and processes for each of these stages). There are exercises sprinkled throughout, so it also served as a workbook at the retreat and at the Alley bootcamp.

Full disclosure: the first project management workshop was a little rough. In a strict sense I wasn’t disappointed, though, because as with any new workshop, I was prepared for some kinks. (It’s always tough to time new activities.) Furthermore, it was the last workshop on the final day of the retreat, the youth were kind of restless and burnt out from all the work and running around we’d already done, and the creepy cabin we used as a classroom (the “dead animal room”) was not conducive to thoughtful dialogue. I’d assumed that we would finish the chapter on brainstorming rather quickly, but it took us an hour to get through the material. Nothing was too trivial for debate, and in my effort to write down everyone’s opinions, we lagged behind schedule.

It was clear that I had to recalibrate my approach (in business parlance, “pivoting” after “failure”!) for the follow-up session. This was a team effort. Lindsay got feedback from YAB about what they thought could be improved for next time, and the two of us met to discuss some tactics. Here are the ideas we all came up with:

  • Instead of me trying to fill the dual role of facilitator and scribe, Lindsay would record the session and also take notes on her laptop.
  • I would set expectations early on about how the aim was not to come up with firm project management processes (they would do that during their monthly meeting), but work through the method of arriving at them. We would spend no longer than 20 minutes on any given activity.
  • In addition to lunch, we would provide pre- and post-meal snacks to keep everyone’s blood sugar up.
  • We would build in breaks of varying lengths so we could stretch, grab a coffee, or go to the restroom. (This was especially effective during the post-lunch slump.)
  • We would begin with an icebreaker so members could ease into the workshop with something fun and get to know each other on a personal level. We did a simple pick a silly question out of a box and answer it type of exercise. They loved it.
  • After the icebreaker I would run a short activity I thought up called “What is your promise for today’s discussion?” We all had to think of something we could improve about our discussion habits and write it up on a piece of poster paper that I stuck at the front of the room.

Here is what everyone (myself included) promised that day (the last one is Jessica’s):

Discussion promises

     Credit: Lindsay Adamski

Having Lindsay be our scribe for the day not only was a great time saver, but it also allowed all of us to be much more present during the discussion because we could keep the conversation flowing without stalling. I was very happy with everyone’s level of participation. Unlike the workshop at the retreat, no one was noticeably hogging the mic or reticent to talk.

Another point of concern after the retreat was how to engage YAB in doing the difficult work of foundation building (constitution, ground rules and processes). I was less concerned about this for the bootcamp because I knew that once we got to the heart of the project management manual, they would enjoy the lessons I built in that were relevant not only to YAB, but to their current lives and their future ventures (quite a few YAB members are aspiring organization leaders and social entrepreneurs). As a student I take the view of learning for learning’s sake, but as a teacher I know that it’s vital to make explicit how the material is relevant—if not directly applicable—to students’ lives.

To take a concrete example, here is how I taught them the best way of charting a road map to hit a project goal (answer: start at the end). I started by having everyone solve a maze in the workbook and watched who started where. This exercise was not merely entertaining; it was also instructive on different levels. 

First, it related to an important life lesson on time perspective: how you solve a maze tells you whether you tend to be more present-hedonistic (starting at the beginning) or future-oriented (starting at the end). We talked about the pros and cons of these two time perspectives, and concluded that it was good to work on becoming more balanced, since either one taken to the extreme could lead to problems.

Second, we talked about how starting with the end product and working backwards helps you better plot out the correct steps to take for the project’s success. This is a logistical advantage. (Notice how easy it is to get stuck at dead ends when you solve a maze from start to finish.)

Lastly, we discussed how starting with your vision prevents you from getting stuck with current constraints and falling into a path of incremental improvement rather than disruptive change. (YAB loved learning how the concept of disruption could be a positive one, especially in the realm of social entrepreneurship.)

It occurs to me now that I should have included a note about how envisioning your success also fills you with positive emotions and improves your well-being. I’ll have to add that to the marginalia.

In terms of time management, certain sections took longer than expected and we had to be flexible about moving the breaks around, but by the same token, other sections were a lot easier to get through than I’d anticipated and we were able to make up time. It makes me feel like a pilot to report that we were only four minutes behind schedule (I made very good use of a timer the entire time).

This led to a review of our promises to see if we each thought we had fulfilled them and felt good about ourselves. I shared that my promise kept me on my toes for the four hours, but that my expectations for the day were well exceeded. Everyone else also felt very positive. Special kudos to Jermaine for making the effort to speak up more. His insights are always very welcome by all.

Since we had a few minutes to spare in Alley’s beautiful View Room, we decided to do another round of icebreaker questions.

All in all, we had a great time, though I missed seeing Ladasha and Jamar. I can’t say enough great things about YAB. They blow me away with their insightfulness, enthusiasm, and idealism. We should consider ourselves lucky that they are our future leaders. 

1 Comment

Decision-making with an #emergingleader | Minds On Fire · December 9, 2013 at 12:43 pm

[…] actually trained the NYFC Youth Advisory Board  to use this tool and included it in the YAB Project Management Manual in the chapter on project selection. The exercise enables you to arrive at a choice by first […]

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