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Sharing knowledge and starting discussions using lightning talks

May 11, 2016 7:48 AM - by Freek Lijten - 0 comments

Since lots of people at Procurios work in multi-disciplinary teams it is not uncommon to have only one or two direct colleagues that perform exactly the same tasks as yourself. A threat to this approach is knowledge on a certain discipline never goes beyond the virtual walls of an agile-team. Other disciplines have other challenges. Our servicedesk for instance is quite large and not everyone can share every bit of knowledge with every other employee. To share knowledge accross these boundaries most disciplines organize lightning talks.

I originally wrote this for the developer portal of the company I work for, you can visit it here.

What are lightning talks?

I don't think there is a definition that is set in stone but I feel it is generally accepted that instead of a full-feature presentation a lightning talk is a shorter presentation that falls somewhere in the 5 to 15 minutes range. At Procurios we follow this format:

  • A presentation lasts 5 minutes
  • After each presentation we have 5 minutes of discussion
  • Preparation is encouraged but not required, sometimes a rant is all it takes
  • Slides are allowed, not necessary (I write a lot of lightnintalks on a bit of paper, it is only 5 minutes after all)
  • The amount of talks per session differs per organizing discipline, but most I know of take a maximum of 3 per session

We use a clock for timing at most sessions I attend but if someone can finish his/her story within a reasonable time-frame we're probably going to let it slide. After all the purpose is information sharing. I'm particularly fond of the discussion time myself. This immediately tells us if this is something we can adopt then and there or if it is a hot topic that needs its own time in a separate meeting.

Lighting talks, lightning talks everywhere

Many disciplines and groups within Procurios organize lightning talks, there are lightning talks from:

  • Backend developers (weekly)
  • Frontend developers (weekly)
  • Web design (weekly)
  • The agile guild (bi-weekly)
  • Customer experience (weekly)
  • Company wide talks (regularly but without a set schedule)

I might even have missed one or two. Principally each of these sessions is open to anyone that has interest. Recently we've started experimenting with a lightning talk board where talks are announced making it easier to decide to go and visit one of the sessions.

Our board where several guilds can announce their lightingtalks for next sessions.

If you're having trouble communicating with peers across teams or even if you just want a central moment in the week where people discuss ideas I can wholehearthedly recommend lightning talks for any organization. Tweak times, interval, just make it work for you and your organization. And start learning from each other.

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