Kaizen Games: Identifying and Managing Waste in Agile Teams

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means ‘continuous improvement’. Creating a culture of continuous improvement is one of the cornerstones of becoming an agile, lean-thinking organization.

It is generally accepted that the first step towards creating a truly lean organization is to identify and manage waste. I prefer to say ‘manage’ rather than ‘eliminate’ because you may choose to live with some waste in your organization, because the cost of completely eliminating it would be prohibitive, at least right now. Discussion of waste can be an emotive topic, so we need techniques that allow for a positive and constructive discussion, while also unearthing some of the deep issues that prevent teams and organizations from reaching their potential.

We can use serious games to identify and manage waste in a constructive and positive way. Games also help to engage people as part of an overall continuous improvement effort.

Workshops for Playing Games

I run workshops based on these techniques. I ran a variation of these workshops at the Agile India 2012 conference in Bengaluru, India this weekend (February 2012). Feedback for the session was very positive, and people were very engaged in the session, so thanks again to all who came along. We had over 100 people in the workshop, which felt a bit daunting at first, but turned out great. There was a lot of energy in the room.

The slides from the Agile India 2012 workshop are here:

The workshop generally runs in three parts. In the first part, we talk about some basic concepts and why it is important to look at waste in teams and organizations. In this part, I talk about the eight wastes of product development, influenced largely by the work of the Poppendiecks, Liker, Womack & Jones, etc.

Depending on the number of workshop participants, we usually split into smaller groups of 6-8 people.

The second part is an exercise to identify waste. I like to use the Speedboat Game for this. Although traditionally used as a means of understanding what customers do not like about our products, I have found it to be a very effective tool over the years for understanding what is not working well within a team or an organization.

The third part is an exercise to manage waste. I present a number of tools, including Value Stream Mapping, Value Network Mapping, A3 Problem Solving Reports, and a Waste Matrix. Each has a different purpose and are presented as complimentary tools in a tool set, rather than mutually exclusive options. Participants then choose a tool, and we play a game to take one or more of the wastes from Part 1, and show how the tool can be used to manage the waste(s).

Post-Game analysis is an important part of the session, giving people a chance to reflect and learn from each other.

Summary

Agile development aims to make the process of software development more effective and efficient for teams. However, agile product teams operate within a broad and complex system, and the scope of what the team can control is often limited by constraints imposed by the system, hence adopting a systems perspective is useful. Waste can and does occur in agile teams. Sometimes that waste is within the control of the team to manage; sometimes the broader system of which the team is part causes the waste. Using serious games provides a productive and constructive way of dealing with what can otherwise be an emotive topic. Used alone or with more traditional lean tools such as Value Network Maps, 5 Whys and A3 Reports, the combination of multiple games can engage stakeholders and contribute to a Kaizen effort in the organization. Serious games can be just as effective in creating a continuous improvement culture, and creating a more lean thinking organization, as they have been in product marketing. The Speedboat game in particular is very useful for generating large amounts of practical data about the wastes that are holding back a team. It is critical to follow up on the wastes identified using Speedboat. Turning the creation of A3 reports and Waste Matrices into collaborative activities helps with that.

Try it out with your team. Have fun fighting waste!

What We Did at The ALE2011 Retrospective

Olaf and I were chatting on the first morning of the first ever ALE conference when he suggested I facilitate the retrospective at the end of the conference. Facilitating a session with 200+ very smart and very vocal people, many of whom are expert retrospective facilitators, and all of whom would have high expectations, was a pretty scary thought. But also a great opportunity to have some fun and do something that would be an experience I would not forget.

Preparation

In Open Space sessions, hallway discussions, the bar and other forums, I tried to talk with as many people as possible about how they felt about the ALE Network and what comes next. At least three of the Open Space sessions focused on improving the ALE Network. Ivana Gancheva hosted a session on improving the network, and making the conference better. Vasco Duarte and Eelco Rustenburg both had sessions related to getting managers more involved in the community, and in agile and lean generally. I had some discussions with all of them, and with Jurgen Appelo and Olaf Lewitz about their goals. We all agreed that the retrospective should focus on the ALE Network, not just the conference. We also wanted to come out of it with some concrete milestones and actions.

Exercises

Opening Activities

Rain Dance

I wanted to open with something that would be memorable, a little unusual and also fun. The Rain Dance is a game I learned many years ago at a Pattern Writing workshop, and have used it in a few workshops since. I had never used it in such a large group, but, if it worked out, I thought it could be a lot of fun. This game is used in many different settings. It is a traditional Native American game used to teach children (fortunately I was with a bunch of people who enjoy games!) about rhythms, art and culture. It has been applied to many different settings including workshops for improvisation, music, software patterns and other group settings.

The idea is to simulate the sound of a thunderstorm, creating the sounds of rain that build up to a thunderstorm, and then calms down again as the storm passes. The effect can be quite powerful.

To start, everyone stands in a large circle. With 200+ people the circle took up the entire circumference of the large conference room. One by one, everyone performs the following actions:

  1. Rub your hands together.
  2. Tap two fingers of your right hand against the palm of your left hand.
  3. Snap your fingers on both hands.
  4. Clap your thighs.
  5. Stamp your feet.

These actions are performed in a circle, starting with the facilitator (me!), and moving to the left, going around the circle one by one. The next action is introduced when everyone in the circle is performing the first. Participants keep the previous action going until the new one reaches them around the circle. You then repeat the 5 steps in reverse order. This gives the effect of the storm building gradually, reaching a thunderous climax, and then declining gradually.

The Rain Dance was recorded on video so if it turns out OK and we get permission, I’ll try to post it or link to it when it becomes available.

Project History

We wanted to focus the retrospective on the ALE Network itself, not just the ALE2011 conference. The conference is an important milestone – an intersection in the continuing story of the ALE Network. We thought it would be a good idea to bring everyone up to speed with the history and origins of ALE before looking at how to take it forward. Jurgen talked about the history of ALE, from early discussions and ideas, to discussions at Play4Agile, starting the LinkedIn group, the gathering at XP2011 in Madrid, and up to the present day.

Data Gathering Activities

I used two main exercises for data gathering: Speedboat and Starfish. I split the 200 or so participants into 8 groups. All groups got to take part in both exercises.

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Speedboat

Speedboat is a game from Luke Hohmann‘s Innovation Games. It is a great way to understand what your customers don’t like about your product. I often use it in other settings too, e.g., at retrospectives to help teams or organizations understand what about the way they are working is holding them back.

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

The speedboat acts as a metaphor for your product or organization. In this case, the speedboat acted as a metaphor for the ALE Network. We wanted to understand what was holding us back from achieving some of the targets we had set ourselves earlier in the year, including in Madrid.

A Group Playing the Speedboat Game at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Speedboat Game

Starfish

The Starfish is a retrospective technique I learned from Nick Oostvogels and Pat Kua at XP2011. You can read Nick’s Blog post about it. It was great that Nick was at ALE2011 and participated in the retrospective. I’m always looking for new techniques that will help add a different dimension to retrospectives, or help teams break out of a rut of using the same techniques over and over again. I love the Starfish exercise, and have used it several times since XP2011. I have used it in Sprint and Release retrospectives with teams, and also in workshops with managers, Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and program managers.

For ALE2011 I wanted to use it get data about

  1. What we’re doing as a community that’s working well
  2. Things we need to do more of
  3. Things we need to do less of
  4. Things we should stop doing
  5. Things we should try
A Group Using the Starfish Exercise at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Starfish Exercise

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Data Analysis

Each group had 30 seconds to present the output of their Speedboat exercise. 30 seconds might not sound like a lot, but it does force you to be concise. I asked that subsequent groups to not just repeat what previous groups had already contributed. We started with group 1 and went through to group 8.

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

After group 8 presented their Speedboat output, I asked them to present their Starfish output – focusing mainly on things to keep, things to do more of and things to try. We did the same with all of the other groups, ending back at group 1.

Reporting Back to the Wider Group at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Reporting Back

By now we had heard from each of the groups about some of the major obstacles holding us back as a community, some of the things that were working well, things we want to do more of, and some new things to try. It was time to turn this into something concrete we could act on.

Creating a Plan

Remember the Future

Remember the Future is a great technique for creating a vision of what you want to achieve. However, instead of thinking about it in terms of what you want to do or what you will do, you move your thinking forward to a point in time that comes after the time period you are considering, and look back at what you actually did. The difference in perspective is remarkable.

The time horizon we considered was the coming 12 months. What is it we want to have achieved when we look back after 12 months? So, we looked to a point in time 13 months out and talked about what we achieved.

We created the timeline on one wall of the conference room, with milestones at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months. There are different ways to get the data  you want for this exercise. In the interests of time I asked everyone to act as one group, write their item on a Post It note, step forward and describe it to the group, and then place it at the appropriate milestone on the time line.

Remembering the Future at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Remember the Future

People were then asked to put their name or Twitter ID on a Post It if they wanted to contribute to achieving that goal. If you weren’t there, or you forgot to add your name, don’t worry. You’ll have an opportunity to sign up to lead or contribute in an area in the next week or so when the output gets published.

Roadmap for future ALE Conferences

We wanted to create a roadmap for the next three years of conference locations. However, the conference attendees are a subset of the ALE Network. We wanted to make sure that as many people as possible from the ALE community had a chance to provide input on the location. What we decided to try wast this: create a shortlist at the conference and then use the LinkedIn group to decide the final locations.

The only constraint on location, same as for ALE2011, is that it must be a reasonably central European location (which unfortunately rules out Galway) that is relatively easily accessible from a majority of ALE Network countries.

Creating a Shortlist for a Roadmap of Future Conferences at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Conference Roadmap Shortlist

I’ll publish the shortlist over on the LinkedIn group. Let’s see how the voting goes.

Closing Remarks

Jurgen closed the retrospective, and encouraged everyone there to sign the ALE Network book that he started in Madrid.

Thanks

First, a big thank you to Olaf Lewitz for encouraging me to facilitate the retrospective and for trusting me with the responsibility. Thanks to all of you who were there and who contributed so enthusiastically. And finally, thanks for the kind feedback on Twitter and elsewhere. It was an honor to facilitate the first ALE Unconference retrospective.

Next Steps

I need to transcribe all the wonderful data produced by the ALE2011 participants. I’ll publish that in a separate post, either here or on the ALE Network site.

Call for Help

I’ll be looking for some help with the transcription. I want to make sure I don’t become a bottleneck for getting the retrospective output published. There are about 20 photographs that capture the core output of the Starfish and Speedboat. Each photo captures lots of Post It notes. We need to transcribe the text in these photos. It would be cool if we could Crowdsource the transcription. If a few people take one photo each we’ll get it done pretty quickly. Let me know if you’re willing to help out and I’ll send you a JPEG.

Happy Memories of the ALE2011 Spouse and Kids Program

I was having lunch with Jurgen, Olaf and others at XP2011 in Madrid earlier this year. The details for what would become the first ALE conference would start to be worked out later that week. Jurgen asked me if I had any thoughts about what we could do that would be a little different. I thought it would be good to find a way to include spouses and children in the conference program – not just bring them to wherever city the conference was going to be in, but actually integrate them into the conference.

The Spouses and Kids Program

Monika KoniecznyOlga Woronowicz and Christiane Lewitz took on the job of leading the Spouse and Kids Program and did a great job organizing the program. Mornings were filled with games and other activities in the conference hotel. There was a trip organized for each day after lunch. On Wednesday, there was a visit to Berlin Zoo. On Thursday, it was the Berlin Communications Museum. On Friday they had a dinosaur tour at the Natural History Museum.

Post-It Art

Last week I wrote about Post-It Wars, and how we tried it out at work. I had the chance to hang out with families of other conference attendees (and my own family) at ALE2011, so I got them all to play too. We started off in the room that was reserved for families. The kids had a great time. After some negotiation, they quickly agreed on the music, picking out the Beatles and Bob Marley. Music blaring, they got to work. It was amazing to watch as a group of kids who had never met until a few hours earlier came together to create pictures using Post It Notes.

ALE2011 Kids Making Post It Art

ALE2011 Kids Making Post It Art

While the other conference attendees were in one of the sessions, we broke out into the coffee break area (bringing music with us) and used the windows there too (top left). The parents got in on the action too, and had fun with it. I got some pictures of the work-in-progress from outside the hotel (top right), and their work attracted the attention of some passers by (bottom center).

ALE2011 Post-It Art Collage 1

ALE2011 Kids Make Post-It Art

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Spongebob

ALE2011 Kids Making Apple Logo

ALE2011 Kids Making Apple Logo

The hotel windows provided a great canvas to work from, and fortunately the hotel staff were very understanding 🙂 Here is what their work looked like from outside the hotel:

ALE2011 Kids Make Post-It Art

Afterwards, we went outside to admire their great art work. Never one to pass up on some fun, Mike came too 🙂

The ALE2011 Post-It Wars Team

The ALE2011 Post-It Wars Team

Some of the kids put their new skills to good use at Thursday night’s dinner.

Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge is a fun game that I often play with teams. You can play it with friends and family too. At ALE2011 I played it with the ALE families. This time they picked Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2, Bon Jovi and the Beatles. Rock’n’Roll!

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

ALE2011 Families Play the Marshmallow Challenge

Other Games and Activities

Oana Jancu, whose kids were also there, taught everyone ‘Where Are Your Keys?“, an amazing game for learning new skills, particularly new languages. The kids used the game to learn some Portuguese, French, and Irish. Monika played lots of games, arts and crafts activities.  Christiane spent all day Wednesday and Friday with the families. She taught them origami and brought them to the Zoo and Natural History Museum.

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour -The Elephants at Berlin Zoo

Learning About Elephants at Berlin Zoo

That’s an elephant’s tooth the tour guide is holding.

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour - Watching the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Watching the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

ALE2011 Spouse and Kids: Zoo Tour - Feeding the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Feeding the Monkeys at Berlin Zoo

Why Include Spouse and Children in a Conference?

There are at least three big reasons why I think its important to include a Spouse and Kids Program in the conference:

  1. Some of us attend a lot of conferences. That’s a lot of time away from home and family. Being able to bring them with us and hang out during and around the conference is a good thing. Even if you go to only one conference, it’s still nice to be able to bring your spouse and kids. Of course you can bring your family on any trip; the difference with ALE2011 is they were an integrated part of the conference. I like that my wife and children could meet some of the people I have come to know and consider friends. It’s fantastic that my kids can have the opportunity to make friends with other kids from around the world. Vasco tweeted that it made his quality of life better; I concur.
  2. It gives our families a chance to see what we do at conferences. It can be hard sometimes to explain to our families what we do for a living. This gives them some insights.
  3. It is an opportunity to inspire kids to consider a career in our industry. Many countries are struggling to find people with the right skills to fill job vacancies, and there is a growing shortage of children (particularly girls) taking science, maths and engineering courses in school and university. This is a real crisis for our profession. Attending a fun conference can leave them with positive feelings and memories. If they can see that what we do can be a fun and rewarding path, and spread the word to their friends, that can only be a good thing for the future of our industry.
ALE2011 Kids Post-It Art Team with Ice Cream

ALE2011 Kids Post-It Art Team with Ice Cream

Looking Ahead

It was a great pleasure to meet and spend time with the families of Oana, Vasco, Kurt, Andrea and others. I hope this is a tradition we can continue at ALE conferences, and maybe even extend to some other conferences. Based on feedback so far, including the retrospective output, it seems to have been a positive experience overall. Let’s see how we can make it even better for next time.

Post-It Wars Day 2: Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?

Yesterday I wrote about how I discovered the fascinating world of Post-It Wars. Today I enlisted some willing and enthusiastic program managers and an engineer and we made this:

Post-It Wars - Spongebob - Inside

He looks like this from outside the building:

Post-It Wars - Spongebob - Outside

The owner of this office had left early for a long weekend break. He’ll be back on Tuesday 🙂

Post-It Wars - Pacman

We got the inspiration for these ones from this Web site. I think the next challenge is to start creating some new designs. This one in Paris, for example, sets a pretty high bar:

Assassins Creed in Post-It Notes

What does this have to do with software development?

It’s amazing what a group of intrinsically motivated people can do when they get together, find a sense of purpose and are given the opportunity to unleash their creativity and talent. Maybe there’s a lesson there for how we build products?

ALE2011, here we come!

There’s been a great uptake today of people interested and willing to play in Berlin next week at the ALE2011 Conference. It’s going to be fun!

Post-It Wars: Bring It On!

Today I entered the world of Post-It Wars. I have a feeling life is going to be somehow different from now on. In a good way.

Work Should be Fun!

We had come to the end of a long day of planning and product strategy. A very productive day, but exhausting for everyone. John, one of the development managers, said “Let’s try something fun for 10 minutes”. He showed us an online article in the Guardian about something very cool happening in France. Some office workers there have started to create window art with Post-It Notes. They look amazing. We had to try it.

We only had a few minutes, so we quickly settled on one to try out. Here it is, our very first entry into Post-It Wars. The start of something big, I suspect.

Agile Teams - Post It Wars - Darth Vader

Come to the Dark Side - We Have Colorful Post-Its!

I took some pictures form the outside on my way home:

Post-It Wars - View from the Outside

Post-It Wars - View from the Outside

I showed the photos to my kids when I got home. They loved it. They want to come in at the weekend and make one.

Anyone for Post-It Wars at ALE2011?

This would be a great activity for next week’s ALE Conference too. We’ve got a special program for spouses and children, so whole families could take part. We could have each country build one. We could have everyone build one huge one. Check out these amazing ones from France. I’m excited. Bring lots of Post-Its!

Take up the Challenge

The gauntlet is down. I’m going to try to start a competition between our agile teams at work. Let’s see who can come up with the best Post-It art. I see a lot of potential in this as an activity during retrospectives, project kick-offs, or generally just to have some fun. Try it out at work with your teams. I can’t wait to see your pictures.

The Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge is a game for learning about innovation, creativity, teams, collaboration, as well as the value of early prototyping and incremental delivery. Part of the real power of the game is in helping people to identify the hidden assumptions that every project has, and to recognize the value in diversity of team membership.

I came across the Marshmallow Challenge last year, but I didn’t get a chance to play it until I attended the Play4Agile Conference in Germany earlier this year, where Michael Sahota facilitated a great session one night in the hotel bar (which was full of conference attendees, all taking part). Since then I’ve run the Marshmallow Challenge several times.

Running the Marshmallow Challenge Game

Materials

For each team, you need

  • 20 sticks of spaghetti
  • 1 meter of tape
  • 1 meter of string
  • 1 marshmallow
  • 1 large envelope (optional)

You will also need one measuring tape.

I use my iPod and speakers to provide a soundtrack while the game is in play.

Preparation

Just to add to the mystery I like to prepare in advance the envelopes containing the spaghetti sticks and string, and hand out the envelopes before explaining what the game is.

Playing the Game

  • Hand out the envelopes to each team. I ask them to wait until everyone has one before opening them.
  • Explain the objective of building a tower.
  • Explain the rules.
  • I often hold back the marshmallow until this point. Up until now they know they have to build a tower. Adding a light, fluffy marshmallow is no big deal, right?
  • Everybody starts building their towers at the same time.
  • I like to play music during the game play, something upbeat to add to the atmosphere. I have a few playlists created that are approximately 18 minutes long.
  • Repeat the rules out loud a few times during the session. People will ask for clarification anyway.
  • Draw attention to teams that are doing particularly well (or poorly) – create a little friendly competition.
  • The winner is the team that has the tallest free-standing structure at the end of the 18 minutes. So, if, for example, a team decides to stop building after 10 minutes, their tower must still be standing at the end of the game.

There are more detailed instructions over on the Marshmallow Challenge home page.

Review and Wrap up

The review is where the reflection happens. Think of it as a retrospective of sorts.

Where to use it

I’ve used this at project kick-offs, at the start of release planning sessions, in retrospectives. You can use it in just about any situation where you have a group of people who want to gain insights into working together.

In this picture, I am running a Marshmallow Challenge with 50+ people at the kick-off for a new project.

The Marshmallow Challenge with 50+ People

The winner that day was an impressive 34.5 inches.

The Winning Marshmallow Tower

Here is a TED Talk video by Tim Wujec describing the Marshmallow Challenge:

Bringing Your Work Home With You

I’ve played the Marshmallow Challenge at home too. My kids were with me when I was shopping for supplies, so of course they wanted to know that the marshmallows were for. When I told them they were for a game, they wanted to play too. We had a full house that night, as their cousins were visiting too, so we had enough for three teams, slightly bending the rules on numbers. They were quick to catch on to the value of early prototyping and working as a team. It was a lot of fun – one of the better ways to bring your work home with you.

References

Beyond Transition: Establishing An Agile Office

Agile transition takes time; it is not a discrete event. When transitioning to agility it is important to put in place structures that will ensure that agile survives long after the initial transition period. One way to create such a structure is to establish an Agile Office (and I’m not referring to furniture or desk layout). However, an Agile Office is not the same thing as an Agile PMO (more on that another time).

We established an Agile Office in our Business Unit in September 2010. Our Agile Office is responsible for the organization’s ongoing agile adoption and continuous improvement through agile practices and lean thinking. We accomplish this through direct engagement with the organization’s senior leadership, management, and product teams.

Agile Office at Agile 2011

I will be talking about the concept of an Agile Office, and our experiences, at this year’s Agile 2011 conference in Salt Lake City. My talk (Wednesday August 10th at 10:00 am) is part of the Insights Stage and describes the experiences of Cisco’s Unified Communications Business Unit in establishing an Agile Office. I’ll describe the history behind establishing the Agile Office, the governance model, where it fits in the organization structure, engagement model, primary activities, challenges faced, and the stakeholders with whom we operate.

There is an accompanying paper too, that will be published as part of the conference proceedings. I was very fortunate to have Johanna Rothman as my shepherd for the paper. Working with her, and benefitting from her guidance, was a fantastic experience for which I am extremely grateful.

If you’re in Salt Lake City, come along and say hello. I’d love to share experiences and discuss how other organizations are dealing with the challenges of sustaining agility and leanness after the initial transition period. What support structures are you putting in place?

 

 

Nanny McPhee’s Advice for Agile Coaches and ScrumMasters

Nanny McPheeNanny McPhee, though never working as an agile coach or ScrumMaster, knows a thing or two about organization dynamics. New to this particular group, she brings a wealth of experience and a toolbox of techniques and practices. She has a sponsor; someone that invited her in, who sees the need for her presence and who wants the overall group to improve – for their own sakes as well as for the long-term well-being of the broader group and their wide community of stakeholders. Not all the people involved either agree they need to improve, or want to improve. The status quo suits them just fine, and not everyone welcomes her, or her ideas.

She has a very apt quote from the first movie:

There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is.

Nanny McPhee faces an uphill battle, but is undaunted. Her experience helps her to understand the situation, and identify ways to help individuals and, with time, the entire group. Eventually she helps the group to reach a point where they can carry on without her, building on the foundation she helped them to lay. Part of her engagement with the group is to recognize when they no longer need her, and can continue to make improvements themselves.

Although I had seen this family movie when it first came out, it was Olaf Lewitz who pointed out the relevance of the quote to me at a coaching workshop on a Friday afternoon in Trondheim, on the last day of XP2010. Since then I noticed that Lyssa Adkins used the quote too in Chapter 4 of her excellent book, ‘Coaching Agile Teams’.

Who knows what’s next for Nanny McPhee and her reach in the agile community? Maybe a keynote or invited talk at Agile 2011 or XP 2011?

Looking forward to Agile Coach Camp Norway 2011

It is important to take time out every now and then, away from the demands of the day job, to focus on developing your skills. Agile Coach Camps provide a great opportunity for practicing agile coaches to come together to share experiences, ideas and insights. In January 2011 Norway is hosting an Agile Coach Camp for the first time. This is an event for people involved in coaching, training, mentoring and leading agile organizations. The Web site has a list of people who are organizing and attending the event. I registered earlier today, and I’m very much looking forward to attending.

Event structure

The event structure will have two main parts – an agile coach dojo and an Open Space. The Agile Coaches Dojo concept was developed by Rachel Davies, and I first came across it at Agile 2010. Open Space is a powerful approach to hosting conferences and other events without a predefined agenda. I have both hosted and attended numerous Open Space events and really enjoy them.

Position Paper

As is common now with unconferences and Open Spaces, people must submit a position paper to register. For Agile Coach Camp Norway, the position paper consists of four questions:

  1. What is your superpower?
  2. What’s your experience coaching teams towards being agile?
  3. What do you plan to learn/explore at this conference?
  4. How do you plan to contribute?

The set of position papers give a nice overview of who is attending and what they are interested in.

My Agile Coach Camp Position Paper

The conference Web site has the position papers for everyone attending. Here are my answers to the four questions.

What is your superpower?

I am good at seeing the otherwise invisible connections between things.

What’s your experience coaching teams towards being agile?

I have been working with agile methods (first XP, then Crystal, Scrum and others; more recently Kanban and Lean) since 1998/1999. In that time I have introduced agile to lots of teams and multiple companies. I currently work for Cisco as an internal coach, working with multiple teams and organizations.

What do you plan to learn/explore at this conference?

I am open to learning new techniques, practices and ideas that will help me on my journey of becoming a better coach. Specific topics that currently interest me, and I that I would like to explore, include:

  1. Coaching organizations – creating the right environment so our agile teams can thrive; helping the entire organization to become more agile;
  2. Stakeholder engagement and agile coaching – how to effectively engage with broad communities of stakeholders
  3. Coaching from a distance – working with distributed and dispersed teams;
  4. Creating coaching circles, coaching dojos and other learning environments within an organization

How do you plan to contribute?

I plan to propose a session from the ones I listed above, and fully participate in as many other sessions as possible. Also happy to help in any other way that’s needed.

G.R.O.W.ing S.M.A.R.T. Agile Teams

The GROW model, developed by John Whitmore, is a framework for coaching individuals, groups, teams, and organizations. The acronym stands for Goals, Reality, Options, Will.

Understanding the framework

Goals

Goals provide specific objectives that benefit the individuals, groups, teams, or organizations. Knowing how to work with clients to create achievable goals is critical.

Applying the S.M.A.R.T. acronym can help guide the creation of goals. Goals should be:

  • Specific – agree a well-defined, unambiguous action or event.
  • Measurable – agree how the outcome of achieving the goal will be measured.
  • Attainable – ensure the goal is realistic and achievable.
  • Relevant – ensure the goal relates to the situation.
  • Time-bound – agree a realistic, practical time by which the goal will be achieved.

Reality

It is important to understand the current reality of where the individual, group, team, or organization is at. Understand their starting point and their context.

Options

There will usually be more than one way of moving from the current reality to the desired goal(s). The coach helps guide the client in deciding which options to select.

Will

People need to be motivated to achieve their goals. Ideally this motivation is intrinsic; coming form within the person themselves. Sometime the coach needs to work to help people see and overcome obstacles that stand in the way of achieving their goals.

GROW SMART with Agile

There are many ways to employ the G.R.O.W. and S.M.A.R.T. techniques when working with agile teams and organizations. For example, the output of an end-of-iteration retrospective can be prioritized and actioned so that the team can make concrete, measurable improvements. Take the top 3 (for example) items from the retrospective output, and create goals that are S.M.A.R.T. Use the G.R.O.W. model as a guide to achieving these goals.

Turn the top 3 items into Goals. Some goals may take longer to achieve, but end-of-iteration reviews and retrospectives should be used to track progress. As a ScrumMaster or Coach, work with the team to understand the top 3 Specific issues in more detail. Understand the root causes of the issues, including why and how these have become issues for the team, i.e., how these issues have become part of the team’s Reality. Understand their context. Define Options for achieving the goal. Agree how the team will Measure the success of these goals. If the team agrees that these goals are Attainable then allocate time and owners in the coming iteration to address them. Make sure the goals are Relevant to the team and their work. A healthy agile team is already motivated to achieve their goals. A retrospective yields goals that the team has felt strongly enough about to raise, discuss, prioritize, and seek to address. The Will to achieve the goal is there. As a Coach or ScrumMaster, if the will is not there you need to help the team understand why that is, and either help them to find the motivation or help them by removing obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. Iteration boundaries provide a natural Time-box to track progress towards achieving goals.

This is just one example of how we can apply G.R.O.W. and S.M.A.R.T. with agile teams.

References

Jean Paul Cortes. “How to Use the G.R.O.W. Coaching Model for Getting Things Done”.

Doran, George T. “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.” Management Review, Nov 1981, Volume 70 Issue 11.

Mike Morrison / RapidBI team. “History of SMART Objectives“.

 

Retrospective Prime Directive

An effective retrospective requires a safe space in which the team can honestly and openly communicate. This communication generally involves exploring a period in their recent shared history, e.g., at the end of a Sprint, release, or project, or at a time when the team has run into a problem where it needs to come together to find a solution.

The Prime Directive

The Retrospective Prime Directive comes from Norm Kerth’s bookProject Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews‘. My slightly modified borrowing is this:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

At the end of a project [or iteration or after a period of experience] everyone knows so much more. Naturally we will discover decisions and actions we wish we could do over. This is wisdom to be celebrated, not judgement used to embarrass.

The Directive reminds people that, to be successful and to make the most of our time together, we need to be open and honest, but also respectful. We are together to find ways to improve, or to discover solutions to problems, not to find scape-goats or lay blame. Whatever we discover will make us stronger as a team.

Sometimes emotions will run high. As retrospective facilitators we need to make sure that everyone sticks to the prime directive.

Make it visible

At the start of a retrospective I like to remind people of the Retrospective Prime Directive as part of the opening rituals. I also like to make the Directive visible, either by showing a slide, or, even better, by making it a poster in the team’s work area. That way, we can refer back to it as needed during the retrospective, and it is there as a reminder after the retrospective has ended. This is especially useful for retrospectives that last for a day or two.

Retrospective Prime Directive

5 Books for Agile Coaches

There is a growing body of knowledge on agile coaching, and some of the tools required to be an effective agile coach. These books are a great starting point for anyone interested in understanding what an agile coach is, how to become an agile coach, or generally how to be more effective as a coach or ScrumMaster.

These books assume knowledge and experience with agile, and are not an introduction to agile.

I list them here in the order in which I read them. If you are an agile coach, ScrumMaster, or someone interested in helping teams and organizations achieve higher performance, then these are essential reading.

Book - Agile RetrospectivesBook - Agile CoachingBook - Collaboration ExplainedBook - Project RetrospectivesBook - Coaching Agile Teams

Two of the books are specifically about retrospectives. Retrospectives are an essential tool in our box as coaches, and developing skills with a variety of retrospective techniques is important.