Cross-posted from the personal blog of David D. Parker: A Changemaker in the Making
I am engaged in a learning process with a charity that has undertaken to implement a new model of volunteer coordination based on OpenAgile, an open source agile method. We recently held an orientation with our new volunteers. In the hopes that this information will be useful to others who are trying to innovate on their model of volunteer coordination, here are the instructions I shared with the volunteers. In summary, they cover our process for sharing tasks, the tools we use to communicate with each other, and our use of what we are calling “60/40 time” a twist on Google’s “20 percent time“.
I. Agile Volunteer Team Process
We are all here to support the charity. We are inspired by its mission and goals, and we want to help in a way that draws on all of our abilities, knowledge, skills, and creativity.
Our team uses a specific system for producing valuable results. We work in Cycles of 5 weeks. The charity’s staff talk with the stakeholders and decide what steps are necessary for accomplishing the organization’s goals. Each one of these steps, called Value Drivers, add up to providing value for the stakeholders once they’re delivered. The staff also decide the priority order for completing the Value Drivers.
In week 1 of the Cycle, there is a planning meeting with all the volunteers who are committed to doing work during the 5 week Cycle. All volunteers are urged to attend and participate.
- The meeting begins with reflecting on the results of the previous Cycle. These observations and lessons are an important part of the planning process.
- Next, the team of volunteers works together to create a Cycle Plan by taking the highest priority Value Driver and breaking it down into tasks. Tasks are represented by sticky notes on the wall.
- Third, the volunteer team counts the number of tasks needed to complete the highest priority Value Driver. If the past Cycle showed that the team can complete more tasks, then the team takes the next Value Driver in the list and breaks it down into tasks. This process continues until the team makes a unified decision that it has taken on the amount of work it can actually accomplish.
- The last part of the meeting is commitment. Everyone shares the responsibility for completing the Value Driver (represented by multiple tasks) by the end of the Cycle of work. Therefore each volunteer must truthfully commit to completing the work. If a volunteer is not comfortable committing to all the work on the task wall, then some tasks must be removed until everyone is able to commit.
In week 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the Cycle, the team of volunteers complete the tasks in the Cycle Plan (aka “doing work”).
- Volunteers are free to take whatever task is of interest to them. If they need more information about the task, they ask the other volunteers or the staff for details.
- When a volunteer begins a task, they sign their name on the bottom of the sticky and move the task into the “in progress” column.
- When a volunteer completes a task, they move the task into the “done” column.
- There are weekly conference calls where all the volunteers check in. They answer 4 simple questions
- What did I do last week?
- What will I do this week?
- What did I learn/observe?
- What obstacles, if any, are affecting my ability to do work?
- New tasks can be added to the wall based on any of the volunteers’ observations, obstacles, clarifications, questions, urgent new tasks, etc. If you add a new task to the wall, add your name to the bottom of the task, so that other volunteers can know who to go to for questions. Note that these new tasks must also be completed by the end of the 5 week Cycle.
At the end of the 5 week Cycle, the team presents the valuable results it has produced to the charity staff/stakeholders. Any insights, observations, corrections, etc. are factored into the next Cycle Plan.
II. Communication Tools
Over the time we have worked together, the volunteer team has decided to use a few tools to help us communicate. The main tool is the task wall and sticky notes. The secondary tool is a shared Gmail account.
NOTE: This list of instructions is a working, evolving document; it is not set in stone. Volunteers are encouraged to work together and adapt the way we do things to create a system that works well for all of us.
- Login and read new messages
- Emails in the Inbox means there is work to be done (if the task is complete, archive the email to remove from the Inbox aka the To Do List)
- Apply Labels – Gmail doesn’t use folders; it uses labels instead. Apply labels to emails to assist other volunteers with how to treat the content of that message.
- Write up volunteer tasks for the task wall (Note: Label as “Task Written & Posted”)
- Get work done:
- Move the task on the wall to in progress
- If the task came from an email, label the task with your name
- When the task is complete, label as “Task Complete” and archive the email so it doesn’t appear in the Inbox
- ??? – this means more information or context is required to understand the request –> ASK QUESTIONS, or get help, to complete the task
- By Volunteer Name –> This means the task/email is in progress; A volunteer labels the email with their name when they accept responsibility for a particular task
- FYI (For Your Information) – these are emails that contain information that is relevant to volunteers, but does not necessarily require action be taken. If action is required, write up a task and post it on the wall)
- Task Complete – Use this to label When a task is complete; archive the email so it doesn’t appear in the Inbox
- Task Written & Posted – apply this label after you write up the task and post it on the wall
- Social Media – these are emails that apply specifically to social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- Website – these emails are relevant to website updates
III. What is 60/40 Time?
There are many reasons why people volunteer. Here is a short list that comes from Molly Schar’s article Making the Most of Nonprofit Volunteers:
- Belief in the mission of the charity
- Desire to “give back”
- Meet new people
- Make new business contacts
- Invited or inspired by another volunteer or staff member
- Improve resume
- Learn new skills
- Benefits such as free events
We want all of our volunteers to get the most out of their experience here. Rather than insisting that every moment of a volunteer’s time be spent on completing tasks on the wall, we ask you to split your time 60/40. We want to give our volunteers freedom to spend a large portion of time doing things that satisfy their motivations while still providing value to the organization. For example, if someone has an interest in building skills in using social media, but there aren’t currently any tasks on the wall related to social media, the volunteer would be encouraged to use 40% of their time using social media to benefit the charity. The remaining 60% of the time is essential for delivering other important results to the organization. We aspire to having a trusting environment, so it is up to you to monitor how you’re spending your time. During progress updates, all volunteers are encouraged to share what they’ve accomplished during their 40% time. This will help other volunteers to learn what motivates their teammates and will give the team information that can be integrated into future Cycle Plans.