Nov 3 2018
Cécile Roche‘s day job is to run Lean & Agile for the Thales Group. In her spare time, she writes and teaches short courses at engineering schools in France. Her latest book is a Travel Guide to Lean Engineering that she co-authored with her colleague Luc Delamotte. The latest two-day class she taught on this subject didn’t start well but she was able to recover by having the student prepare PechaKucha — that is, presentations of 20 images, shown each for 20 seconds.
What follows is her account of this experience:
I was recently asked to give a Lean Engineering course to graduate students from Canada and France who were studying in Paris for a degree in international business. I had eight hours to cover the principles and practices of Lean Engineering, as part of a 9-module program on Lean. So I worked hard to prepare the course, planning to adapt to their effective knowledge of engineering basics, or lack thereof.
On the first day, I realized that the first four-hour module was scheduled from 9:30 to 13:30. I thought that things were probably not going to go as planned because hunger would distract them… I arrived early, as always in an unknown place and environment.
It was a Parisian school – the detail is important – because, like many schools in the old city, its premises have a historical significance that unfortunately does not compensate for their lack of amenities.
Not being a regular contributor a that school, I had not taken markers and flipcharts with me, so I first had to find an office to negotiate the loan of a few pencils that I promised to return as soon as the course was over. The room was inconvenient, poorly lit, and poorly equipped. But all this wasn’t going to stop me, I love teaching.
At 9:30 am, I had 3 students in front of me, out of the 18 enrolled.
At 9:35 am, one of them told me that the subway was out of order, which didn’t help.
Between 9:40 and 10:10 am, a dozen students arrived, in a dispersed order. I decided to start 45 minutes late, without waiting for the last ones, feverishly imagining how to adapt my program to this shortened schedule.
Later, several of my colleagues would be amused and comment that this had been a test of the “agile” methods I promote. At the time, however, I didn’t laugh.
The worst was that each late arrival interrupted the course to give me a tardy note they had picked up from the office, which made their lateness even more disruptive. At first, I thought it was a joke, but they weren’t laughing.
I told them that, from my perspective, they were adults who came of their own free will to learn, and that, if the subject did not interest them, I would prefer them to go for coffee, not too far away so that they would not have an accident when crossing the street. And I filed all the tickets in the garbage can.
They all chose to stay, with only one question: “How will we be evaluated?”. Once they were reassured on this point, I continued.
It was not my first class, far from it, either with adults in the workplace or with students. But I assure you it was the most difficult. It was tough… like never before, in front of people hiding behind their computer screens to do… I really didn’t care what.
The two or three who had an engineering degree, however, seemed to be interested a little, and, at the break, a good half of the class asked questions. And there, sad moment… Noon. You don’t feed 20-year-olds with words: they came back from the break with coffee and sandwiches, and I felt like I was finishing my class in a cafeteria.
Day One Feedback
At 1:25 p.m., I asked them to rate the course on a scale of 1 to 5. Of the 16 present six give it a 5; seven, a 4; three, only a 3. I asked these 3 about what they missed. The first, not very brave, tells me that he is wrong and that he gives me a 4 instead. The second, more honest, admits that, given his background, he lacks the basics to understand everything.
And the third one, who had spent part of her time at the back of the class hugging her neighbor, says that the problem isn’t me but her and her relationship to the training. Despite my resolution never to comment on this kind of feedback, I can’t help but agree.
At 1:30 pm, I am finished. I have no energy left, but I am proud to have managed to get some ideas across. I return the markers, sit down in my car, and a terrible thought hits me: I have to come back next week.
Preparation for Day Two
I am panicking. Am I going to call in sick for the first time in my life? It seems impossible for me to spend another four hours the same way, and, in any case, adding water to a full cup only makes it overflow. The rest of my program seems out of reach. I return to the office depressed, tired, and out of ideas.
The next day, by the coffee machine, I share my story with colleagues and I confess to them that the thought of spending my weekend preparing 4 more hours of classes in these conditions ruins my sleep. One of my colleagues then tells me about PechaKucha. A friend of hers in a similar situation had used this format with great success. The following is a PechaKucha about PechaKucha:
I immediately look it up, and learn that PechaKucha (from Japanese ペチャクチャ : “chat”, “sound of conversation”) is a format that synchronizes an oral presentation with the projection of 20 slides, for 20 seconds each, if possible without animation effects.
The presentation thus lasts exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds. It requires eloquence, a sense of narrative, rhythm, conciseness, as well as graphic expression. The goal: to learn the art of pitching with conciseness, rhythm and eloquence!
The following week, I meet my students (with one or two more), and ask them to break into 3 groups and take the first 3 hours to prepare a presentation in this format, summarizing the previous week’s course. I reserved the last hour for presentations and discussions.
I suggest that they consider their PechaKucha an engineering project and apply the practices presented the previous week. They can go where they want, ask me all the questions they want, and of course use their digital tools as much as they want…. They hesitate a moment.
“But ma’am, I wasn’t here last week…”
“Exactly, it’s a team effort, get organized…”
They start off in a hurry. During these 4 hours, I felt like I was dealing with other people than last week. The passive and distracted students are transformed. They are now engaged, curious, autonomous, and resourceful. The 3 presentations are excellent and reflect effective teamwork.
Day Two Conclusions
Best of all, the students are very satisfied with the experience.
And beyond Lean in engineering, from which they probably retained *something*, they appreciated learning to make presentations “without cheating” or “padding as we usually do.”
This made me think. First of all, I have long believed that the one to whom we give a carrot will behave like a donkey. The same students ever behave like schoolboys forced to be there one day and engage in real learning dynamics the next.
Teamwork can multiply individual energy, and powering up different from pressuring up; one generates innovation and the other causes people to push back. How can learning, which can only be achieved through practice, occur in a classroom?
But first of all, that day, I thanked PechaKucha for saving my class!