Jeff Maleski on Menlo Innovations and inspiring work

When Jeff discovered that Menlo Innovations (from the book Joy, Inc. by Richard Sheridan) was a drive away from his workplace, he got a few people together and started a journey that would change his view of how work should work. He decided that his work as a Scrum Master was about improving lives.

In this episode we refer to the TED talk by Shawn Anchor about The Happy Secret to Better Work.

Featured Retrospective format: The Sailboat Retrospective

In the sailboat retrospective we use a metaphor to help the team identify the goal, the obstacles (the rocks), the drags on the team performance (the anchor) and the things that push us forward (sailing wind). Through metaphor we help the team explore ideas that they would otherwise skip in a more structured retrospective.

About Jeff Maleski

Jeff is passionate about working with and building up both individuals and teams using ideas from Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0 and Dan Pink’s Drive. When leading project teams, Jeff strives for empirical based planning and forecasting, continuous learning, and delivering high quality software products that exceed expectations. Jeff believes in leading by actions and focusing on building relationships with others.

You can link with Jeff Maleski on LinkedIn.

Kimberley Miller on how to use self-assessment to drive team success

In this episode, Kimberley explains how she uses the Squad Health Check with her teams, and how that drives her to reach a successful outcome with the teams that she works with.

Listen in to learn about the changes Kimberley applied to the now famous Spotify Squad Health Check, based on her own experience.

Featured Agile Retrospective for the week

In this episode, we explore “The 3 Little Pigs” retrospective. A fun way to help the teams talk about the no-so-good things without the pressure or the judgment of other formats.

About Kimberley Miller

During the day, Kimberley is the Scrum Master at Hudl with over 5 years of experience in helping to implement Scrum in both software companies and standard business units. Kimberley is also an actress on stage and film, with a Masters in Performance from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

You can link with Kimberley Miller on LinkedIn and connect with Kimberley Miller on Twitter.

Paru Madhavan asks us to focus on the team, to understand the system

Start with the team! Paru asks us to consider the team when looking at the overall system. We can use the Squad Health Check (also the Atlassian version) survey or some other similar tool to understand how the system is influencing the performance of the team. As we go through the questions, then consider how the external (to the team) factors may be influencing the team. Listen in to learn how Paru uses these tools and other tools to help understand the system around the team.

About Paru Madhavan

Paru works as Scrum Master across two squads at OFX. She’s worked in Agile teams and in various roles such as Business Analyst, Product Owner and Scrum Master since 2011. To her, Agile and software development just go hand in hand!

You can link with Paru Madhavan on LinkedIn and connect with Paru Madhavan on Twitter.

Constellations dynamic for retrospectives

Total time execution for this format: 60-90 minutes

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The purpose of this dynamic is for everybody to participate and share their feelings, perceptions and opinions without even talking (at first).


  • For the team: They can see themselves and understand their colleagues from a different perspective, they can really feel others because they are not talking or trying to gain their position within the room. They just observe, feel and act their feelings.
  • For the facilitator: There is something so powerful about standing in a circle. You know it if you do your daily meeting. We can immediately see the whole picture, the real feedback from the team without mixed perceptions or words, which generally cover the real significance. We can say: “bodies don’t lie”.


  • Empathy building.
  • Address and specify the situation the coach is sensing and the team doesn’t feel like talking about this for of any reason (e. it’s too painful, they feel uncomfortable, and some team members are unaware).

What you need – Preparation

  • Find out the number of participants first: The room where the retrospective will be run must have enough space for everybody in the team to be able to stand up in a circle (and move from a tight to a larger circle).
  • Adhesive tape: to post the cards on the wall or board before the discussion.
  • An element or object: big enough to serve as a reference for the responses, noticeable and “good looking” (I wouldn’t recommend a trash bin), and not so distracting or not so high that participants can’t look at each other’s faces. (e., it could be a mini statue, an umbrella stand, or a little circle drawn in the middle of the room).
  • Write down statements or questions: to read out loud on cards so the team can express their response about these topics.
    • Statements examples:
      • I feel free to express in this retrospective.
      • I am satisfied with the results of this sprint.
      • I am happy with the quality of our code.
      • I consider our releases are easy and smoothly delivered.
      • I think my daily work is recognised.
    • Question examples:
      • Do you feel safe enough to be able to express in this retro?
      • Are you satisfied with the team collaboration?
      • Do you consider the technical debt has been reduced in this sprint?
      • Do you feel motivated in your daily work?
      • Do you think you are making an impact on people’s lives with our product?

How to run the retrospective

A. Introduction (1-5 minutes)

  1. Brief check in: Make sure the team is relaxed and ready to start. A brief check in exercise can help to set the environment.
  2. Explain the rules: Position the element in the centre of the room to act as a reference for the team members. No one is allowed to talk during this exercise. Only explain that standing closer to the object will mean “YES”, “I TOTALLY AGREE”, while being farther will represent of “I DON’T AGREE”, “NO”.

B. Running the exercise (10-15 minutes)

  1. Read the cards out loud one by one and leave time for the participants to respond with action.
  2. Observe the situation: They will individually respond by getting closer or farther from the object. You will notice people in between: “I AM NOT SURE” or “MAYBE”, just watch. Take mental notes, or have someone external to the team help you with the notes.
  3. Ask the participants about their feelings: Listen closely to what they went through during the exercise. You will notice the different reactions and realisations. That input is invaluable for you as a facilitator to go on with the discussion. Sometimes the participants are so amazed they need time to stay calm and reflect about what had just happened, especially when one of the topics was revealing for the team. Maybe a relaxation exercise is handy here, if necessary.

C. Sharing thoughts (10-15 minutes per topic)

  1. Post the cards on the wall and vote: Tell them to vote prioritising the situations according to what they consider critical to address now for the team.
  2. Select the topics: The most 2 or 3 voted topics will be discussed in pairs or mini teams of 3 or 4 people, according to the time left for the retrospective.
  3. Discuss: Start by the most voted one first. Set the time for discussion. Let the conversation begin!

D. Taking action: (15-20 minutes)

  1. Share results: After each topic discussion, share their opinions, proposals, options and work to find the next steps to follow.
  2. Make a commitment: The result may be an experiment to try: set the hypothesis, metrics, who will be accountable, and time to check again.

Powerful questions:

  • How does this topic make you feel?
  • Do the other team members feel the same? Why?
  • How can you contribute a solution to the situation you have just found?
  • What could we do to improve this particular subject?
  • Is there anything else creating this perception?
  • Where can we start? Who else can we involve in the solution?
  • Why is this important for the team?

Additional tips, comments and alternatives:

  • It is very important to find the right questions/statements for the team to elicit reflection, especially when you already know the situation, and they can’t see it yet.
  • Questions and statements are good for The participants tend to repeat them in their heads, so they get to their feelings and act accordingly.
  • Follow a defined format, questions or statements. Following all at the same time might be confusing.
  • Choose a maximum of 10 topics to avoid losing focus.
  • The topics can be technical, human, process or product related; there are no limits here. You could even use this dynamic for an agility assessment, where the statements or questions are related to the agile principles.
  • It has been very useful to me during facilitation in almost any case, with people; talkative or shy, who were new or had been working together for several years, who weren’t participating too much lately in the retros, and so on.

Special thanks

Thanks Vasco Duarte for bringing up the subject in your podcast: Scrum Master Toolbox

About Carolina Gorosito

Carolina is a natural connector and team enabler, great at finding people’s strengths and helping them combine their skills to become high performers in the organisations and obtain better results every day. She currently works as an Agile Coach and is a dedicated Creative Change Agent, specialised in problem solving and communication.

You can link with Carolina Gorosito on LinkedIn and connect with  Carolina Gorosito on Twitter.

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A “Positive” Retrospective

One of the Agile principles states that “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” These “meetings” are more likely called Retrospectives and can be held in many different formats (here are some examples er-facilitators and​. The most famous is the “Mad, Sad, Glad” format, and many others are just variations of this very basic format.

Read on for the “positive retrospective” format and exercises.

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These formats are based on the aim to analyze the previous team’s activities in order to achieve better results. Sometimes, it may also help to analyze the successes of the team in order to understand what helped in achieving them and how to replicate such successes: that’s what I call a “Positive Retrospective”.

The period we may wish to analyze may vary; last iteration, last month, last year and so on. What do we need to organize this retrospective? The usual materials such as some stickers, pens and a whiteboard or a flipchart.

The first action to take is to create a collaborative and positive atmosphere, so ask the attendees to write down some few words of appreciation for a colleague (or more), thanking him/her for something he/she did during the given period, for the person or for the team. Give the team 5 minutes to write.

Then ask each attendee to read aloud what they wrote, speaking to the colleague they want to thank. This phase shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes.

The next phase is to list all the positive results achieved in the period.

Ask the attendees to write down on the stickers all the positive results achieved, using a short statement (one per sticker) – they will be given the opportunity to explain in the next phase. Give them 5 minutes to write.

Now ask the attendees to explain the individual positive issues, one by one. They should be concise in their description but still be able to let the other attendees understand the issue. Then the sticker is pinned to the whiteboard. If any other attendee has a similar issue, he/she has to discard it. Please be careful to avoid starting any discussion. This is the time to list the results and not to discuss them (moreover, the discussion will be shaped in a particular way, as we will see in the following stage).

Once everybody has explained their issues (this stage should last no more than 10 minutes), you’ll have all the stickers on the whiteboard. It’s time to vote.

Each attendee will have six votes to give to the issues stuck on the whiteboard: three votes to vote the issues by its intrinsic or technical value (for example, the team reduced the technical debts by 50%, or has stabilized the daily standup) and three votes to vote the issues by the positive impact it had on the product (for example, thanks to this new feature, the customer increased his sales by 20%). You can use any means to vote: in my example, we used little red self-adhesive dots for one and green for the other, but you can use different signs, different colored pens, and so on.

Why differentiate this way? The answer is easy: teams tend to identify their success with the product’s success; we delivered this feature, the customer were happy, we eliminate that bug and so on, forgetting that with success stories, many other aspects must ​ be considered. For example, adopt a more effective framework for the chosen programming language, start unit testing, practice a scrum ceremony in a more efficient way and so on. The team must learn these positive issues as well, as they allow the team to be more effective ​ (as per the above mentioned Agile principle).

Once the voting is finished, just rank the issues by the numbers of votes (any kind).Voting and ranking shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

Once the stickers are rearranged on the whiteboard (the most voted ones are on top) you can start to discuss. The format may be free (you can discuss any issue as long as you want), or fixed (an issue can be discussed for a maximum amount of time of 5 or 8 minutes, for example). Choose the format you like, what counts is the discussion itself.

Ok, let’s discuss, but about what? We usually discuss what’s going wrong, and how to fix it. Now, here instead, we’re discussing what went right! Well, we can first identify what made that positive issue possible. Usually, we can identify two main paths: one internal to the team, and one external. The internal one refers to all the actions the team takes to achieve a result, which may impact the team, the process or the product. For example, by autonomously adopting a new programming framework the team was able to deliver those given features and the customer was very happy. Note the ​ word “autonomously”: the team was not forced by any external entity to take that decision, but reached a result that had an external impact anyway.

The external path refers to all those actions taken or conditions set up by the system (your department, your local agency, your company, and so on) that made it possible to achieve that given result. For example, the team was able to learn how to deal with noSQL databases thanks to a dedicated budget for training on new and emerging

technologies/methodologies. In this case, an external reason made it possible to achieve an internal positive result. Nevertheless, we mean to say that an internal result will sooner or later reflect itself into an external positive result (or at least, this is what the system hopes…).

The discussion stage may last up to 50 minutes, to keep the whole retrospective no longer than 2 hours.

And now, just like any Retrospective worthy its name, let’s write down some action points.

Like any positive issue in any field, we aim to replicate it and also do something to improve that experience to feel even better. So we can define the underlying actions that will lead us to even better results. Some questions easily come to mind: can we replicate the positives we had during the period, applying them to current or new issues? For example, we may ask for a new course to learn a new language to create a new software asked by our customers. Or, can we improve the path that led us to have positive results to have better results or even the same results but in different areas? For example, improve the continuous integration process to have a faster/safer deployment of our deliverables.

Or just have more frequent retrospectives to improve our work!

Discussing and writing the Action Points may take up to 20 minutes.

Now the meeting may be closed. See you next Retrospective!

About Enrico Di Cesare

Always interested in improving the quality of the software produced for himself or for his customers, Enrico became an Agile enthusiast as soon as he discovered it. With extensive previous experience as a Project Manager and Coordinator, Enrico works as an Agile Coach, Scrum Master and Product Owner, introducing, mastering, facilitating and refining the adoption of Agile with new collaborative tools.
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