The Big Room: Venue Selection

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Big room planning requires a... well, a ROOM!

 

One of the first things to consider when organizing The Big Room Planning is the best date for your event.  As we’ve learned at DI over the last 4 quarters that we’ve been conducting and improving our Big Room Planning sessions, this isn’t as simple as it may seem at first glance, since there are many factors to consider:

  1. When does your next release cycle begin?

  2. How early will you receive a requested feature list from your Products group?

  3. How long do your technical teams need to digest the information from Products before they can break Features down and make a plan/commitment?

  4. Do you have team members traveling in to attend the event?

Once you have picked a date and decided on the invitee list, send out that invitation so you can start to get a rough headcount.  Date and headcount will be needed when submitting an RFP to your top venue choices.  Accurate headcount will drive the amount of wallspace needed as well as the number of tables required, and knowing this ahead of time will determine the overall size of your room.  Having a rough idea of the size of room that you’ll require is also helpful before you start making site visits, so getting that headcount early gives you several advantages.

“Why do we need to do an offsite at all?” you might ask.  “We have a conference room available to us in our office suite.”  While this may be convenient and cost effective, and very tempting, an offsite is highly recommended to help your teams focus on the work at hand, without the distractions of their daily responsibilities right down the hall.  If the Big Room Planning is held offsite, there’s emphasis on the fact that you’re doing something extraordinary; something that requires commitment and undivided attention.

Site visits can be time consuming, so doing some internet research to narrow the field before hand is helpful.  You can search for “meeting space”, “meeting rooms”, “event space” or “hotels”.  Some websites (esp those for meeting rooms in office buildings) may list an hourly or daily rate, which will help you to immediately eliminate anything that might push you over budget.  Look for venues that are conveniently located to your office, the airport, or both based on where your attendees will be coming from.  A quick search should yield 3 or 4 likely candidates that you can then contact to schedule a visit.

It’s important to choose the right venue since it strongly impacts budget and affects whether you will have happy and willing return attendees.  These events are held for every major release your organization does throughout the year, so it’s important to have a happy crowd that’s eager to participate.  The goal is to minimize the pushback that you receive before each session; we’ve learned a lot about how to do that during this past year with food, scheduled breaks, and a sense of accomplishment ranking high in participants’ feedback.

Factors to consider in your venue selection:

Size

Look for a room that can comfortably accommodate your teams but isn’t so vast that it’s loud and inhibits communication.  With 65-75 attendees, we found that around 2k square feet was ideal.A rectangular room or hall works best to provide maximum wall space for team boards, risk registers, release plans and dependency charts.

Wall space

Each team will need about 10-12 feet of wall space that can be covered with butcher paper for  story mapping, brainstorming and release planning.  Look for spaces that don’t have a lot of artwork or signage on the walls, or clear their removal ahead of time with your event coordinator.  It’s also great if the walls have a covering other than paint so that you don’t have to be concerned about forfeiting a security deposit if your painters tape fails and pulls paint off of the walls.

AV needs

This can vary but I suggest keeping it simple and low tech.  We use one overhead projector and a laptop for visual aids during the delivery of Product and Architectural visions, and to display the Agenda during breakouts.  Does your meeting space provide these?  Is there a fee?  Keeping it simple will help keep you within budget.

Personalized service throughout selection process

An onsite event or catering coordinator is a plus, since you have a dedicated contact with which you can discuss breaks and meal options, room set-up, AV needs and budget to name a few.

Budget

Know your budget ahead of time so that you can negotiate with the venue(s).  Often times, if you’re purchasing onsite catering, use of the meeting space itself will be free of charge.  Also ask about package deals for meeting space and AV.

Catering (special dietary needs)

This goes back to having happy, participatory attendees that are eager to return for the next Big Room Planning.  If onsite catering is available, work with the coordinator to provide a tasty and plentiful lunch for your teams (don’t forget dessert).  Poll the crowd ahead of time for any special dietary requests such as vegetarian or gluten free that you need to accommodate.  Having onsite catering means full, dedicated service, but keep in mind that it may bring along restrictions as to what team members can bring in with them.   I also highly recommend providing coffee, tea and water endlessly, I mean continuously, throughout the day.  Generally speaking, a caffeinated team member is a happy team member.  If you have to have a 3rd party cater your event, look into packages that include breaks/beverages as well as lunch choices that go beyond a sandwich and bag of chips.

 

Restrictions (no outside food/drink)

If using onsite catering, many regional health codes prohibit your attendees from bringing any outside food or drink into the venue.  It’s good to be aware of this and, if it applies, let your teams know ahead of time.

Overnight storage of your supplies

Find out ahead of time if you can leave everything on the walls overnight.  This will save some time on tear down and set up.  If the venue has the room booked between your two days (evening of day one, or the day in between) request some closet space or the corner of the catering office to store everything.  Before removing the team and collaborative boards from the walls, use transparent tape to secure all of the sticky-notes to the butcher paper so that you don’t lose important user stories or features, or their placement on the board.  Then take the sheets down, roll them up and store them onsite rather than having to lug everything out and back again for day two.

Where to have HH after day 2

Trust me when I say, THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  You have just spent two intense days of discussion, compromise and possibly some healthy conflict with your teams.  It’s good to take a couple of hours at the end of the 2nd day to blow off some steam and talk about something other than Features and Dependencies and Cut Lines and Lead Times.  Choose a close, comfortable location where the teams can unwind and announce this during closing remarks.

Now that you’ve taken all of these into consideration during site visits at your top choices, submit an RFP to each of the likely candidates.  Be sure that the proposals you receive list what is and what isn’t included (ex: No free WiFi access in the conference room), fees and taxes that will be added to the final bill, as well as what forms of payment and payment schedules are acceptable.  Some venues require a deposit to secure the date, while others simply require a letter of agreement and then collect all charges at the close of the event.  Having at least two choices will give you bargaining power, at least on the bottom line.  If your number one choice comes in with a higher bid than a comparable venue, ask if they can match the lower cost.  They will likely work with you to secure the booking.

 

Once a letter of agreement or booking contract is signed, send an agenda to your attendees with the schedule for both days and the location of the venue along with directions/map.  Remember to follow up with your venue about 1 week before your Big Room Planning event to confirm menus, room setup, AV requirements, and final meal/beverage counts.

 

While a lot goes into choosing and booking the right venue for your Big Room Planning event, the real work begins once you step into the room.  Stay tuned for upcoming articles on “wall art” preparation, process training and much more.  

 

 

Author Bio:
Melony R Gibson
Author: Melony R Gibson
CSM and PM preparing to test for my PMI-ACP certification, I am active in the local agile community including being co-facilitator of the Agile Mentoring Peers (AMP) Mastermind group. While I'm a relative new-comer to the software development world with just over 3 years into my journey, I'm an avid agile practitioner who is passionate about the transformative process.