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.

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.

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.