Bag of Tricks: Start / Stop / Continue

It’s an oldie, but goodie. And is a great quick way to structure a balanced discussion with a group to get feedback on a topic.

“Start / Stop / Continue” (aka “the +/- ” or the “plus / delta”…) is a technique I’m constantly pulling out of my toolbox. It’s a valuable approach that anyone who manages a group or runs a program (or heaven forbid, does consulting) should have in their back pocket.

Facilitate a Start / Stop / Continue discussion if you want to:

  • Get feedback from a group or team
  • Do a checkpoint in the middle of a project to see how things are going
  • Hold a “Lessons Learned” session at the end of a project

Basically, use it in any situation where you want to get a sense of what “shoulda, coulda, woulda” worked. It’s a great way to autopsy what has happened so far and encourage the group you’re working with to optimize and improve a situation.

If the technique is new to you (or it’s been a while since you’ve done one) here’s a reminder of what to do. Set up three flip charts as shown and give the following instructions to the group:

A few Basic Tips:

  1. Discussion Ground Rules: Level set with the group. As with all discussions that have some element of brainstorming and also reflection, encourage open dialogue. You want people to feel ok about poking the elephant in the room (or on the project). You want them to speak up about ideas they have that they may not have felt there was time and space to discuss to date.
  2. Room Set-up / Three flip charts: I like to have three flip charts going at the same time so that ideas can be sorted into the right place to begin with. Also, this encourages the group to voice ideas about all three areas and you tend to get a better distribution of ideas. For example, if you begin by asking about all the things that the group wants to “stop”, they may spend a lot of energy on that and / or run out of time by the time you ask what things should “continue”.
  3. Prioritize: Save time at the end of the discussion for the group to reflect on all the input and determine what they as a group want to act on. The group can go into overload – especially if there were a lot of ideas generated. Have them pick their top 3 ideas to act on.

My “go to” approach for prioritizing the ideas that are generated is “Voting Dots”. It goes like this:

  • Give everyone three sticky dots and tell them to walk up to the flip charts (you’ve taped them all to the wall so they can see all the ideas that have been generated) and vote by placing a dot next to the ideas they think are best.
  • They can put all three dots on one idea or distribute to three different ideas.
  • Yes, they will balk. You will hear pleas for more dots, (e.g. “I can’t possibly pick just three ideas”). Be strong. They will narrow it down to three.

And after everyone has put up their dots, without fail, you end up with agreement on the top items to act on.

Then, all that remains, is (gulp) to implement the ideas that got prioritized …

Until next time … wishing you business readiness success!

Kirsten Jordan is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @Kirstenkbdb.