Agile Practices Retrospective – How to help teams get unstuck!

This is a guest post by Jeff Campbell, author of Actionable Agile tools (available on Amazon, and direct from the author at bit.ly/aatbook)

Keeping retrospectives impactful and fresh

We like to keep our retrospectives fresh. We find it helps to reveal things we might not otherwise have found if we alter the format frequently. With this goal in mind, we follow a simple system:

Once a month we use our ”normal” retro format. Everyone in the team is familiar with this, and we can perform them quite quickly, with minimal prep work and explanation required. Basically, effective with very little admin.

Once a month we have our ”experimental” retrospective. A little more set-up time required, but a good opportunity for experimentation and explorations.

This is the story of one such retrospective.

Agile Practices

Obviously, you can perform many Agile practices, but not be Agile. However, there are a lot of practices out there and sometimes teams can become focused solely on those that they are currently using, rather than looking at other tools they might bring to bear. This is where the Agile Practices Retrospective comes in.

Prep Work

In preparation for the retrospective, we created cards with various Agile practices as headlines, and a brief explanation of each listed on it. I also color coded them under various categories so they could be more easily identified from afar. Then we simply taped all these cards to a wall in their respective categories. There were about 50 cards in all.

Special thanks to Jurgen Appelo for providing the initial list I worked from:
http://www.noop.nl/2009/04/the-big-list-of-agile-practices.html

Here is a link to a google doc with the prep work I have done, to save you some time:
https://tinyurl.com/l8loec6

Reducing the complexity

With over 50 cards, there was a lot of information. We split into groups and started categorizing the cards under a new set of headings, it was made clear to all that they were not expected to read all the cards.

Headings:

  • Doing (Working Well): Things we are currently doing, and quite happy with the way they currently work.
  • Doing (Could be better): Things we are currently practicing but could use improvement.
  • Not doing (By choice): Things we are not currently practicing, but have made a choice not to use in our context.
  • Not doing (Not tried): Things we are not doing, and have never really tried.
  • WTF!?!: We have no idea what this is, or what it means.

Deciding what to focus on

We obviously cannot talk about all these things. So, we used dot voting to decide what topics to focus on. Each team member was given 3 ”dots” for each of these types of vote:

  • We should start and or alter this practice in some way. (Indicated by a dot)
  • We would like to learn more about this practice. (Indicated by a +)

I also printed out simple list versions of the same information, as I knew it would be hard for everyone to gather around the board when deciding how to use their votes. Despite this, this was still not as successful as we would have hoped. Part of this is because we are actually two teams and our 3 customer representatives, so the whiteboard was too crowded. I feel this would go better with a single team.

Discussions and action points

We had open discussions and tried to create action points/experiments around the topics we had discussed. I will just give a very brief of what we arrived at:

Root Cause Analysis/ 5 Why’s

Discussion:
We even arrived at the fact that without formal tools, we are still quite good at root cause analysis. But perhaps a formal tool might reveal something we would have otherwise been unaware of.

Experiments:
1)Focus on using our discussion time during retrospectives (Generate Insight) to use more formal tools like 5 why’s.
2) When events are added to our timeline at daily stand-ups, then we should also consider doing a more in-depth analysis of those items.

Product Vision

Discussion:
We felt that we very likely do have a product vision, and even a fair amount of impact mapping done for that, but this is not communicated to the entire team at a frequent enough rate. Also, we need to get better at following up these things.

Experiments:
1)Make the product vision more concrete and communicate it at a regular interval.
2)Follow the vision and impact map up at a regular interval.

Behaviour Driven Development (BDD):

Discussion:
This is a discussion point we wanted to learn more about. So, the discussion was brief. We basically arrived at the fact that it was intriguing and we want to know more.

Experiments:
1)The two team members who know something on the subject will provide some links and a quick intro for everyone else.
2) Some of the team will experiment with these concepts in our ”Brain Day” next week.

Conclusions:

The Good:

This retrospective was reviewed well by the team, everyone generally liked it.

It was a fairly active retrospective, because of all the moving things around and working in teams, so the energy level remained high throughout.

Probably the best aspect of this retrospective was the addition of fresh concepts into the team, the idea to focus on things we wanted to learn more about was a good one. In the future, we would probably recommend only focusing on these things.

The Bad:

There was a fair amount of prep work involved in this one, although I consider it worth the investment, it wasn’t free. Hopefully, a bit cheaper for you, as we have provided the work we have done. Once again: https://tinyurl.com/l8loec6

It was too hard to get an overview with so many items, this may have been due to team size, and might have been possible to mitigate by having the team read the list beforehand.

Despite there being so many items, the list was not even close to exhaustive, and it was hard to leave off some practices that really should have been included.



About Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is the author of Actionable Agile Tools, a book with practical tools and practices to help you amplify your impact as a coach and Scrum Master

Jeff is an Agile Coach who considers the discovery of Agile and Lean to be one of the most defining moments of his life and considers helping others to improve their working life not to simply be a job, but a social responsibility. As an Agile Coach, he has worked with driving Agile transformations in organizations both small and large.

Jeff is also involved in the Agile community and is one of the founding members of Gothenburg Sweden’s largest agile community at 1500+ members , and he also organizes the yearly conference www.brewingagile.org.

You can link with Jeff Campbell on LinkedIn and connect with Jeff Campbell on Twitter.

The power of visualization to drive action and manage work

“What’s the most important work to do right now?”

This is a question that every Scrum team should know the answer to. Not knowing the answer means more meetings, more disagreements, more conflicts, and ultimately the wrong work gets done first. But this does not happen because anyone is doing something wrong! It happens because there’s no common, agreed and clear way to decide what is the most important work. How to solve this problem?

Continue reading The power of visualization to drive action and manage work

Jeff Campbell describes one key Systems Thinking tool

We observe the system we work on every day. We even have many ideas on how the system could or should change for work to flow better, for people to feel better. However, without a form of visualizing the system we work with those are just fuzzy speculative ideas that may or may not matter in the end. Jeff walks us through his version of a Value Stream Map for knowledge work, and how that helps visualize and understand the system we work with. It is only then that we can start changing the system.

About Jeff Campbell

Jeff is an Agile Coach who considers the discovery of Agile and Lean to be one of the most defining moments of his life, and considers helping others to improve their working life not to simply be a job, but a social responsibility. As an Agile Coach, he has worked with driving Agile transformations in organisations both small and large. He is one of the founding members of www.scrumbeers.com and an organiser of www.brewingagile.org in his spare time. He is also the author of an open source book called Actionable Agile Tools, where he explains how he uses 15 of the tools he uses in his daily work as a scrum master and agile coach.
You can link with Jeff Campbell on LinkedIn, and connect with Jeff Campbell on Twitter.

Dennis Wagner maps the system, by mapping the stakeholders and their expectations

How do we get started mapping the system conditions we must face every day? Dennis suggests that you understand the stakeholders that the team needs to interact with. By understanding the map of the system you can then dig deeper with Expectation Mapping to understand what the team is expected to deliver to all those stakeholders. This will help you map the key system conditions. Use also visualization to understand how those other stakeholders interact among themselves and use Circles of Influence to understand what the team can affect on its own, and what they need help with.

About Dennis Wagner

Dennis is an Agile Coach with a lot of experience in the technical side of software development. Dennis has worked with teams in different industries, is thinking of writing a book about continuous delivery (bug him if you want to know more), and he loves, really loves his work.
You can connect with Dennis Wagner on LinkedIn and XING, and you can connect with Dennis Wagner on Twitter.

Marcus Hammarberg on visualizing work, and its impact on the system

When we introduce visualization methods in an already dysfunctional organization, there’s a tendency to see problems and point at the guilty parts. However, our dysfunctional processes are the result of the system conditions, not the people in the system. Marcus reminds us of that fact and asks us to hate the sin, not the sinner. He also shares a great tip to get started with visualizing the work in progress.

Marcus shared with us a discount code for all that purchase his book until October 14th, 2015. Don’t miss it, purchase the book at http://bit.ly/theKanbanBook, and use the code scrumkan.

About Marcus Hammarberg

Marcus is a Software / agile consultant from Sweden on IT-sabatical leave in Indonesia, working for the Salvation Army hospitals there. And yes, using techniques from agile in that work even in non-software environments.
One of those approaches he is using is Kanban, as Marcus is the author of the book Kanban in Action with Joakim Sundén, don’t forget to go to http://bit.ly/theKanbanBook, and get the book with the discount code scrumkan.
You can link with Marcus Hammarberg on LinkedIn, and connect with Marcus Hammarberg on twitter.

Sven Schnee on visual management as a key practice for systems thinkers

Visual management is a key practice for continuous improvement, in this episode Sven explains how he uses visual management practices to help detect, understand and ultimately solve system problems. This is an episode filled with valuable tips for systems thinkers that want to go beyond helping the Scrum team.

About Sven Schnee

Sven started his journey as a developer around the year 2000. He experienced many projects and felt the pain of how traditional approaches to software development failed.
A few years ago he discovered Agile and Lean, and he is not going back.
He is an Agile Coach and Founder of Oikosofy. He wants to bring agile ways of working to a variety of customers from small companies to big enterprises. One of his key strengths is helping teams evolve on their path to self-organization.
You can connect with Sven Schnee on twitter, and link with Sven Schnee on LinkedIn.
You can read Sven Schnee’s blog The Product Owner Toolbox.

Marc Löffler on the anti-pattern of micro-management

Marc explains the story of a team that was starting their Scrum adoption and allowed a project manager to use their tool, the Scrum board, as a tool for micro-management. From that a lot of anti-patterns emerge that Marc struggled with. We also discuss the use of tools for planning vs. using the same tools to generate collaboration and how to switch the focus from planning to collaboration.

About Marc Löffler

Marc’s passion is to help teams implementing agile frameworks like Scrum and XP and to transform our world of work. Marc loves to help teams, that are struggling with agile transitions, to overcome dysfunctional behaviour. He loves to generate new insights by approaching common problems from the other side and trying to deliberately make havoc of the process.
You can connect with Marc Löffler on Twitter, and link with Marc Löffler on LinkedIn.
He hosts a Blog in English and another blog in German.