“We have understood the task,” the product developers are certain. “We meant it quite differently,” the stakeholders complain weeks later. “That doesn’t meet the wishes of our customers,” complains the sales department shortly before the market launch. When the specialist departments speak different languages, misunderstandings and conceptual gaps are inevitable.
In my projects, I, therefore, attach great importance to intensive communication between all those involved. I like to use “Event Storming”: The modern workshop format for interdisciplinary brainstorming helps to discover and eliminate ambiguities and conceptual gaps at a very early stage of product or process development. Event storming is also fun — and it works remotely too!
Why Event Storming?
I am convinced of agile methods and the principle of iterative development. Because an agile working team is able to recognize misunderstandings during the process and gradually find the best solution for the task. However, it is also clear that many iterations cost time and money. The aim should therefore be to eliminate avoidable misunderstandings, ambiguities, and gaps in know-how right at the beginning of the project — without getting lost in endless meetings and documentation.
Event storming originated in the software environment but is now being used more and more in other contexts. Because the approach can easily be transferred to other areas: It is about achieving a common understanding of a field of knowledge across disciplines and breaking down knowledge silos with manageable effort. It doesn’t matter whether the payment processing of an online shop is considered, employee onboarding in the HR department, the digitization of workflows in sales, or the development of a physical prototype.
In contrast to many other brainstorming formats, event storming is thought “backward”, i.e. the process is not developed based on user requirements, but the participants reconstruct the previous “events” that led to this result based on the result. A simple example: If it is about the knowledge area “Payment processing in the online shop”, the end result would be “Payment received”. Based on this, it is considered which technical events must have taken place in order to achieve this result, for example, “customer has selected payment method”, “customer has confirmed shopping cart”, “customer has entered shipping address”, and “order confirmation sent by e-mail” and much more and after a chronological picture of the current workflow, to which the participants from the different departments contribute their knowledge and exchange information about the “why”, “when” and “how”.
The group of participants
The group should be interdisciplinary and allow as many different perspectives on the project or process as possible, e.g. stakeholders, managers, technical experts, future users, salespeople, and people who will later implement the task.
The flow of an event storming workshop
You need a room WITHOUT seating, participants from different departments, a very long strip of paper on the wall (approx. 10 meters and more depending on the group size), and enough space in front of it so that the participants can move around and talk easily, as well as a lot of mail -it's in four to five colors and some thick black pencils. I also recommend a facilitator explain the process and help prevent the group from getting too deep into technical details too soon.
Then it starts: All participants receive orange post-its and are supposed to use them to post the “events” explained above, i.e. relevant events in the business process, on the paper web. Discussions about the correct chronological order, possible gaps, and the correctness or necessity of process steps usually already arise automatically.
In moderated refinement rounds, the aim is to clarify the terminology: Were post-its hung up with different names for one and the same event? Or do terms that have been noted for different events need to be sharpened? Can the agreement be reached on the terms used that everyone feels comfortable with and can deal with in the future? Accordingly, it is advisable to have a continuously updated flipchart for the joint definition of terms in order to record the mutually gained understanding of special terms.
Event storming can also be carried out virtually with a shared digital whiteboard, for example as a kickoff workshop for projects whose stakeholders and departments involved do not work at the same location. If the group is too large for an efficient online meeting (> 10 participants), it makes sense to split it up into different topic sessions, the results of which are compiled on a common digital whiteboard. We like to use MIRO as a collaborative, digital whiteboard for online workshops. The role of the moderator becomes even more important in Online Event Stormings!
In further rounds, additional post-it colors are used to delve deeper into the technical context. Each color of the post-its has a specific meaning — write down these meanings in a legend for all to see on a flipchart. Possible examples:
- Visualize event triggers (what triggers the event?)
- identify relevant actors
- note automated processes (“whenever x happens, then y happens”)
- identify illogical processes or inconsistencies
Event storming simplifies interdisciplinary learning processes and intensifies the transfer of know-how. Mutual understanding is growing, as is an understanding of the connections in the overall process. Bottlenecks and illogical or faulty processes can be uncovered early.