The Hidden Power of the Essence Activity Spaces

Essence Activity Spaces and their Hidden Powers

Activity Spaces are part of the Essence Kernel and a provide one powerful view of the ‘Common Ground’ of software development. However, people often focus on practices and it’s easy to overlook the Activity Spaces. This would be a mistake. 

Including a focus on Activity Spaces helps us ensure that we are achieving the progress we expect to be and helps identify additional practices should we need them. 

The kernel alphas describe the states that important things (such as Stakeholders or the Team) will progress through, but they don’t give many clues about how to move through those states. That’s where the Activity Spaces come in. Each activity space has a plain language name that is easy to understand and a description of what activities within the space should do. They also specify how they relate to the Alpha states.  

For example, the Understand Stakeholder Needs activity space is fairly self-explanatory. It is about understanding what our stakeholders need! But is also has a description with a little more detail:  

Engage with the stakeholders to understand their needs and ensure that the right results are produced. This includes identifying and working with the stakeholder representatives to progress the opportunity. 

Understand stakeholder needs to: 

• Ensure the right solution is created. 

• Align expectations. 

• Collect feedback and generate input. 

• Ensure that the solution produced provides benefit to the stakeholders.

Although short, the description describes nicely the kinds of things that teams must do to ensure their stakeholders are satisfied. 

It also defines what states are required before starting work in this space and what states you will achieve. For example, ‘Understand Stakeholder Needs’ requires the Stakeholders alpha to be in the state ‘Recognized’ and the Opportunity alpha to be in the state ‘Value Established’. The Activity Space results in the Stakeholder alpha achieving the ‘In Agreement’ state and Opportunity reaching ‘Viable’.  

This level of detail may be sufficient. Experienced teams may well be confident that will be doing these things and therefore achieving the progress against the kernel alphas. However, this is not always the case. Teams may not intuitively be doing these things or making this progress. (To help identify whether this is the case with your team, use the Alpha State Cards to run a Healthcheck to see where you are). 

When teams are not successfully navigating the Activity Space intuitively, finding an Essentialized practice that includes Activities within this Activity Space is a good way to improve. For example, an Innovation practice like ‘Customer Centered Design’ or Business Model Innovation’ could help teams improve how they ‘Understand Stakeholder Needs’.  

Whether or not a team has specific activities in an Activity Space, it is still useful to check that you are completing it comprehensively enough. Just because an activity is in an Activity Space doesn’t mean that it covers everything necessary to make sufficient progress. 

One simple way to do this is to play a team game where  you consider each Activity Space in turn and rank it on a scale from ‘We don’t do this all the time’ through to ‘We’re awesome at this’. Analyzing the results will help you identify whether you need some additional practices or get better at the ones you already use. 

Activity Space Practice

Each Activity Space is described in brief on a card. (You can download the Activity Space cards to play this game using the form at the end of this article).  

Understanding Stakeholder Needs

Taking it in turn, team members select an Activity Space card, read out its description and place it on the board corresponding to how well they think the team work in this Activity Space. Finding ways to involve the whole team in this process (such as taking it in turns to position the card, simultaneous voting, anonymous voting, leader speaks last, etc) will help maximize the value of this exercise and generate stronger insights and suggestions. 

The team then analyzes the board, both individual card positions and trends across the three areas of concern, and suggests actions to help them improve.  

Using the Activity Spaces in this way tends to raise a few surprises. Teams usually find aspects they had forgotten about or neglected. Activity Spaces and state progressions are not one-time activities either. In order to remain in a given state, the teams revisit and iterate activities within in a Activity Space. For example, ‘aligning expectations’ of Stakeholders is an ongoing activity as expectations will shift as the external environment evolves and with each iteration of the product. Talking about these aspects can provoke teams to suggest many ways they can grow and improve.  

While the Activity Space cards are useful in their own right, there is a slightly longer description of each Activity Space in the following section. As with most things in Essence,  teams and organizations can also customize Activity Spaces and their descriptions to better follow their own ways of working.  

Detailed Descriptions of the Activity Spaces 

The OMG Essence Standard describes Activity Spaces in three levels of detail: 

  • The Name (as in the picture below) 
  • Brief Description, including Entry and Completion Criteria (as shown on the cards) 
  • Detailed Description (illustrated in the example above and described here

Activity Space Practice

Getting Started 

To get started, download the Activity Space Cards using the form below. You may also find the Alpha State Cards useful to help you understand the states that the Activity Spaces relate to. You can download these via the form below this one!

Download our Activity Space Cards!


Download the Alpha State Cards!

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