connection before content – get the fire startet first

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‘Good morning all you supernumeraries’ said one of the participants of a team development workshop to his colleagues when he entered the room.

colored pigs

Their boss already told me upfront that this workshop will be challenging and that there are some problems with the relationships between the participants. That is one of the reasons why their boss thought, ok, we need an external facilitator for a team-intervention as the relationships in the team are highly crusted over. Every piece of work feels like a little war fight and communication, better not to mention communication – people in the team prefer to write eMails to each other while sitting just on the other side of a desk or shoot each other if they are angry as they have soft-air-guns (!?!) in the office…

the Challenge

I knew, the very first challenge w’d be creating a safe space for all participants – without such safe space, where people feel comfortable to state the painful and to talk about the home truth, I could skip the day and w’d end up in what some poeple would call – ‘just another wasted day’. During the briefing for the workshop I was informed that this team already tried several things out and one of the biggest problems was, that past activities concentrated on visualizing the problems and dysfunction in the team with the outcome of some action items. At the end, any appearing motivational energy fizzled out after a few days back at work. Does this sound familiar?

sail boat

Ok, challenge accepted, I just have one sinlge day to transform a highly dysfunctional team into something new, where dialogue is possible and the motivation to change something on the current situation should last longer than a few days. I am aware that I can’t change the complete world of a team that has dysfunctional grown over the past years in one single day, even I’m not able to change their behaviors for one day, but maybe for the duration of the workshop. So the only chance I’ve had is to create an impact, a tiny little thing that could be the starting point for making a huge difference.

When I started to think about the design of the workshop, I asked myself 2 simple questions – which I always ask myself when creating a workshop, training or even just a meeting:

  • Connection: how to connect participants related to their status quo?
  • Content: when participants leave the workshop, what has changed, what is different for them than it was in the beginning?

Connection

Visiting…

  • …a foreign city and asking the way.
  • …a conference where I know absolutely nobody in person, all I know is the theme for the conference and that there’re a lot of experts in the room – so as I.
  • …a grandmother and all others of the family for a family afternoon.
  • …a best friend to talk about the girl you’ve just met.
  • …a colleague to discuss the upcoming project.

In all of these situations, there are different kind of cennections in place, a different kind of a relationship. If you imagine you meet all these people/situations listed above, try to imagine for every single situation:

  • what kind of relationship is there?
  • how does this relationship influences the way I talk with the other person about the subject?
  • how would the talk be different, if I simply replace the existing relationship with one of the others?

perspective

You don’t need to have an outstanding power of imagination to grasp the fact that different kind of connections will have different kind of impacts to your behavior, and even to the behavior of yours opposite. It doesn’t matter what kind of topic I talk about with somebody else, the first and biggest impact on our communication is our connection! A second important impact on our connection and communication is the environment, but the impact of the environment to our communication is a different topic – and a different post…

Content

Did you know, there is a purpose why people have meetings? Yes, it’s true! I know, for some people this sounds very surprising as they discovered meetings in the past as a complete waste of time… But there’re meetings that are different, they very often feel like little workshops and without any surprise, successful workshops, meetings and trainings have something in common, not just the environment nor the connection, no, somebody had deep and powerful thoughts about the content, about the message being transferred, the one and only piece of knowledge that makes it possible for me to see more or less of my entire world totally different than I did before.

key

Content, like connection, is key. So, one of my most important part of work when designing and creating a new workshop or training is, to answer the question -‘ at the end of the workshop, participants will…?’

What is very interesting, recently I’ve learned that exactly this sentence is also the most important question for any public speaker when creating a new speech… I just realize what public speeches, meetings, trainings and workshops have in common…

WorkshopDesign

After evaluating all information which were available, I ended up with a design using tools and methods from LEGO® SeriousPlay and parts of the discovery-phase of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). My Agenda was to create an environment where people can overcome old habits and feel safe to try new ways of collaboration so that participants are able to create solutions in a way they never did before – with a complete new perspective and connection with each individual and the entire team, that was my mandate.

For discovering individuals, the team, it’s purpose and to create a team identity we used StrategicPlay® based on the tools and methods of LEGO® SeriousPlay. So, for the purpose of building a new connection across the entire team I choosed to use a very playful and safe environment to break the crusted over connections so that new and fresh ones can occur.

For working on the content – topics were around how the team works and behave together – I choosed the discovery phase of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). One of the core principals around AI is to concentrate – and put focus on great experiences and what people want to have more of in their life instead of concentrating on all the problems which are present and how to tackle them. As working on the content was up to the participants, I decided to choose the AI framework to create an environment where participants feel safe to share their thoughts.

You might think, phew, this won’t solve the problems they have. Sounds like another waste of time… I need to disagree! On a short term current problems won’t be solved, yes. What is much more interesting than tackling current problems is how to behave and how to avoid situations that leads to these problems – as most challenges that we call ‘problems’ have patterns in common, we start to learn a new culture, a new way how to deal with situations which are challenging, a complete new behavior! While we create a new kind of culture, we also start to deal differently with the current challenges. This norm

As we just had less than half a day left to start the content phase, I didn’t explained the whole AI approach. For time savings I just explained the challenges for an appreciative interview, what is the first part of our AI-approach.
After the interviews were held, we gathered in groups and I gave a short introduction in the upcoming process as it was about to choose a top story the groups wanted to work on and then to discover the situation of the interview, find out success factors and possible action items to get more of that in the current team.

team rafting

That was more or less the whole day!

Debriefing

At the end of the workshop we gathered in a circle of chairs, by the way there were 13 ProductOwners of an international IT company.

After a harvesting of the AI-discovery phase I closed the workshop and invited the participants to give a last comment, feedback or anything they would like to say and how they would like to continue.

Most of participants liked the complete new approach they discovered over the day and they had the feeling that this was a milestone in their development phase. Some were sceptic as they discovered in the past that after such a great workshop the motivation which occured during the team intervention disappeared a few days later when people were back at their daily work. This fear clearly was present. One participant stated clearly that he has didn’t like the morning while ‘playing’ with LEGO and that for him this was a complete waste of time. But the afternoon has made it up.

It made me happy when all participants committed to continue the team development work upcoming monday – the next appointment was in place, good.

I totally respect if somebody does not like something about the framework I deliver, even if the dependencies between the exercises are not clear in detail for everybody. Important for me is that at the end, the framework made a difference, created new possibilities and opened the bridge to new perspectives and communication.

Connection first? why?

Remember the beginning of the post when I gave the examples of visiting a situation. Do you remember how your behavior changed when imagining the different situation in different relationships? Most people discover that as more powerful the connection is , as deeper and more fruitful a conversation can go. You can challenge the content, never challenge the connection!

That is why it make sense to build a connection first before I start to talk about crucial topics. That does not mean that I have to feel love or lots of sympathy for everybody! What is important is that I respect everybody in the team, I need to understand them, how they behave in different challenging situations and what kind of connection we have together so that I’m able to adapt my behavior if necessary. If such a connection exists in a team and teammembers are committed to the same targets and environment, communicate open-minded and have the courage to let the leopard change his spot, a team will learn how to fly!

very little aviation

Epilog

Last week I’ve received a mail from one of the participants of the workshop of this post – about 7 weeks after the event. The Team has still some problems but something crucially has changed, they work together differently than the years before. They are more respectful with each other and still work on the outcome of the workshop – towards of what they want to have more of. It seems that the fire is still burning and that people in this team have discovered that nobody is a supernumeraries, our team is star!

Agile Coaches go nuts

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At the end of April 2012, I attended the first Agile Coach Camp in the Netherlands. Thanks by the way to the organizers for a great ACC in a very cozy hotel with a warm and nice atmosphere. I really enjoyed the time I’ve had with you, my dutch friends!

background

I was driving from cologne to the netherlands by car which was fully packed with LEGO® and I was totally excited to meet good friends and lots of new people. Frankly, I’ve expected a great conference as I know some of the organizers and know about their passion for agile and our community.

Beside having a really fantastic and great time with the awesome dutch agile community, I’ve made some very great experiences during that conference. In this first post I’ll write about some interesting experiences we’ve gained during one of my LEGO® sessions. In a second post about the Agile Coach Camp Nethlerands I’ll write about co-creation of the Ewan McGregor game – but this will follow a bit later…

my offer

During the Open Space marketplace I offered a StrategicPlay® session based on LEGO® SeriousPlay as well as the Scrum LEGO® airport. The Scrum simulation I offered for saturday evening, as an offtrack session starting at 09:00 pm – drinks are allowed.

accnl - marketplace

I’ve created the Scrum LEGO® airport about two years ago and ran it already on several conferences all over the world, at different companies and within trainings. So nothing special. Just one fact was differrent this time. All the times I’ve ran this Scrum simulation before, lots of the participants were newbies to agile with little to average experience with Scrum. Sure, there were also agile-grey-hairs which also gained lots of new insigths, and not all but most of the attendees I’d call newbies. This was the first time that I’d run it just with experienced Coaches, Agile Coaches and ScrumMasters. So I’v expected something different this time, not sure about what in special, just something different.

the set up

The first surprise happened when people entered the room for my session. As we were about 50 people at that conference, all attendees were already experienced agile practioners and I proposed the session for saturday evening, I’ve expected about 10 people max to come.

When we started, we were 27 participants, splitted up in 4 teams.

accnl - Scrum LEGO airport setup

We did 3 full sprints within a complete Scrum framework with 4 teams, 27 people and 22 requirements for a complete airport, 4 ScrumMasters, 4 ProductOwners and 19 developers. What do you think have they delivered after 3 sprints?

You’d expect a complete airport? Yes, I’ve expected the same!

delivery

What they delivered was an ambulance car. One single ‘lousy’ ambulance car made of LEGO! Ok, a Scrum simulation with LEGO might be a little bit different to your daily work of SoftwareDevelopment. There is just one but – all Agile values, principles, the Scrum framework and the whole agile mindset is not just focused on SoftwareDevelopment – you can apply it in nearly every – let’s say manufacturing and production process as well as to build an airport with LEGO!

Ok, it’s normal in the simulation that teams fail in the first sprint. This is a regular learning phase. But normally they learn with every single sprint as we do retrospectives and the customer is available for questions. So I’m used to see teams improving already after the first sprint as they start to communicate and to deliver.

what happened?

So, what happened with my dutch colleagues? They’ve made every single mistake you can make and most important, they didn’t communicated with the customer, they even didn’t talked between teams. So they were’nt able to find out the right priorities for the airport, did not adjust cross-team development and every team built what they liked most and thought is most valuable (in their opinion!).

accnl - Scrum LEGO airport swarming

And, no surprise, during the Scrum Reviews the teams tried to sell the customer (me) every single requirement they’ve built. Starting from a Helicopter which doesn’t fit on the Heli-pad they’ve built, an Airport Tower without any space for workers and which is as tall as an airplane and so on. And every single product they’ve built had a special value – unfortunately not for me as the customer, so I had to refuse all built requirements, sorry guys! =;-)

inspect & adapt

During the third (!) sprint the first team started to ask and talk to me as the customer. Hooray, they found out that security has the highest priority for me – so before any landing-field, building or whatever is build, security like ambulances, fire-trucks and police must be available on demand.

accnl - Scrum LEGO airport - review preparation

et voilà – after the third sprint, exactly this team was able to deliver an ambulance car and fulfilled all acceptance criteria. Surprise, surprise, it was accepted! By the way, this team was the only team that delivered something!

Agile Coaches go nuts

After 2 hours of playing with LEGO the discussions between participants reached a level I haven’t expected. For the rest of the evening, this session was the top topic at the bar and people talked about what happened and why the hell nobody of all the experienced Coaches did not practiced what they pray and coach on a daily basis?

Whatever the outcome of all these discussions was, I think everybody had their unique point of view and outcome. For me it was totally great to provide participants a great time, 2 hours of serious play with LEGO, lots of fun, learning and new insights which made them think. Wow, what an awesome conference, thanks everybody I’ve met there!!!

And, if you were one of the participants, please leave a comment and some of your insights…

Play4Agile – #p4a

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What is the most attractive, easiest way to promote learning, create valuable meeting outcomes, motivate and boost teams, raise commitment and just get the best out of every involved person? Right: through play!

Dr. Brian Sutton Smith – Professor Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania and leading proponent of play theory explained in his book ‘Ambiguity of Play’ that the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression!

Pat Kane, writer, musician, consultant, player, theorist and activist states in his book ‘the play ethic’ that play will be to the 21st century what work was to the industrial age – our dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value!

Play4AgileLogo

In May 2010, Olaf Lewitz did a StrategicPlay® session at Agile Coach Camp Germany. Inspired by this session Martin Heider had the idea to create an unconference concentrated solely on the topic of serious games for agile teams. Organizers for such an unconference were quickly found – it turned out that a lot of coaches had already discovered the value and fun of games played in a serious context, and used them regularly.

A first in-person meeting of organizers to create an unconference for serious games took place in summer 2010. For 2 exciting days we created our first joint vision for Play4Agile and started planning. Not surprisingly that these two days were tremendous fun, as we created our vision and planned using StrategicPlay® facilitation, powered by LEGO® SeriousPlay™!

play planet drawingAgile conferences and unconferences are popular meeting places where coaches, trainers, and all people interested in agile topics, learn from the experiences of like-minded people and exchange knowledge. Play4Agile sets itself apart from other agile un-/conferences in a couple of ways. Not just that participants are having fun and learning from each other by exchanging serious games for 3 days in a cozy hotel in the country. Also, every evening participants enjoy playing games in the bar. This is not a must, but each participant likes to do it! At the bar it’s ok to play games just for fun, without any serious context.

FLUXX at the BarThis whole mood of playing games together for 3 days leads to irrepressible spirits and gives the unconference the character of a magical, familial event.
Furthermore, there are no keynotes, no lectures, mostly interactive sessions and the OpenSpace is facilitated by participants on a daily rotation.

It’s not only a perfect place to learn how to practice and use serious games for agile teams, it’s also the perfect place to create new games, as all participants are passionate about testing and experimenting with new game ideas and prototypes! For example, Fearless Journey, Nobody’s Perfct, Towering Options and Lean Procrastination – the last reponsible moment game are all games invented at Play4Agile.
Moreover, we have lots of other activities like theatre games, learn how to design and make a game or how to create games to solve problems. The whole event transforms into a huge playground!

Open Space Marketplace

The Play4Agile unconference is completely based on Open Space technology and took place for the first time in February 2011 with the theme ‘Serious Games for Agile Teams’. In 2012 the motto was ‘High Playformance for Agile Teams’ and 70 participants from all over the world enjoyed this special unconference. As Play4Agile 2012 was already booked after nine hours, you should mark your calenders, because the date for Play4Agile 2013 is already fixed!

To put the Play4Agile spirit in a nutshell: Play, have fun & learn!
www.play4agile.org

2 great TED talks about the importance of play:

Stuart Brown’s TED talk – play is more than fun
Tim Brown’s TED talk – creativity and play

I’ve written this article for the ‘whoisagile’ project by Yves Hanoulle and it’s published in the 13th version of the ‘whoisagile’ book. Thanks to Deb and Martin for proofreading end editing!

Dragon Lady

The Agile Actor – Agile Stroytelling

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… or: how to bring more daily-fun in your daily Scrum!

In agile teams it’s usual to use storyboards for visualising your work and to create transparency about the progress and what’s happening. It doesn’t matter if you are using a storyboard as a Scrum team or if you visualise your work by using Kanban.

snoopyA lot of teams I met in the past worked also with avatars on their storyboard. Instead of having a name-tag on a magnet, you can use an avatar, a character from your favourite cartoon, movie or adventure. Just print out a picture of your avatar, cut it out and stick it on a magnet. Now you can use your avatar on the storyboard. Some teams put their avatars on the task they’
re currently working on. This leads to more transparency as you can directly see on the storyboard which teammember is working on which task.

The Agile Actor – Agile Storytelling

Some weeks ago I was searching for something new to bring more fun to the daily work. I was thinking about how to use the avatars more intensive? People love their avatars, they love the characters and stories around them. Thus, people have a special relationship to their character. They know their behaviour and their special skills. They know what perspectives their characters prefer.

How to use it, how to play:

Use your avatar-team during your daily stand-up. Ask each teammember to participate the daily-Scrum in the role of their character. Each teammember should give their status-update to the team from the individual perspective of their avatar.

Positive effects:

  • each teammember will learn and train the power of storytelling
  • fantasy will be stimulated which can lead to more creativity
  • more fun in your daily work
  • looking at your daily challenges from a different perspective can lead to new insights

In addition, you can ask your team if they want to extend this kind of role playing game. If your team is crazy enough you can ask your team to participate all Scrum meetings in the role of their characters.

For more diversity and to avoid wearisome repetition you can close each role playing game iteration (sprint) within your retrospective by asking all teammembers to find a new character they’d like to be and start the new sprint by printing out a new avatar and stick it on their magnet… be crazy, be creative and have fun…

Discover your inner Planet (at) Play4Agile 2012

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Play4Agile Logo

Last weekend, the Play4Agile 2012 took place at Seminarzentrum Rückersbach, a beautiful venue near Frankfurt. Our theme this year was ‘High Playformance for Agile Teams’ and as the first Play4Agile in 2011 it was a great success again. The event is reinvented itself and that makes the unique power – quote of Christine Neidhardt.

On the 2nd day of the Open Space event, Jenny Jepsen, Martin Heider and I did the session ‘Discover your inner Planet‘. The idea was to run a session with a technique from CoActive® Coaching combined with StrategicPlay® powered by LEGO® SeriousPlay™. Jenny, Martin and I are all StrategicPlay® Facilitators. Moreover, Martin and I are currently doing our vocational training for becoming a CoActive® Coach.

Play4Agile - discover your inner planet - towerWe designed the session during a lunch break and ran it in the afternoon with 20 participants. We started the session with skills building exercises. Skills building are exercises for becoming familiar with LEGO® and reaching a metaphorical flow.

Play4Agile - discover your inner planet - tower - storytelling

First, participants were asked to build a tower, share what’s special about their tower with all other participants, the storytelling, and then adapt the tower to an agile tower. Again, participants had to share what makes their tower agile with all other participants.

To reach the next metaphorical level, we then asked the participants to build a model which describes they’re passion about attending the Play4Agile Unconference.

Play4Agile - discover your inner planet - passion about p4a12 - 1Play4Agile - discover your inner planet - passion about p4a12

These two pictures are models which were built by participants, showing their passion for attending the Play4Agile Unconference 2012.

Again, each participant had to share their model through storytelling.

Now, everybody was in the right mood and flow to start their journey to their inner planet. This journey is a mental one and a technique from CoActive® Coaching, which is used as a tool for discovering individual fulfillment.

Play4Agile - discover your inner planet - journeyWe asked all participants to close their eyes and relax. We turned on some chilling out music and started the mental journey to the inner planet by telling an inspiring and visionary story for the mental journey. This took about 5 minutes.

At the end of this mental journey, we asked the participants ‘how does it feel to live on your inner planet’, open your eyes and build a model which describes this feeling.

You may ask youself now, hm, how can you build a feeling with LEGO® bricks. Indeed, this is challenging. But if you once have the chance to attend a StrategicPlay® session, you’ll discover how this works and I’m pretty sure you will be surprised and amazed!

Here is a picture of such a model which was build by one of the participants:

Play4Agile - discover your inner planet - how does your planet look like, how does it feelThis model was a rotating one, turning on it’s own axis!

As we just had 60 minutes for our session, we had to stop after this exercise. You can build up to this by start to extract individual guiding principals, fulfillment goals or start to discover your personal inner team which lives with you on your inner planet and guides you through life…

Creating a Vision for ALE – the ALEnetwork with StrategicPlay®

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ALE logoIn April this year, Olaf Lewitz asked me if I would like to facilitate an envisioning Session with xp madrid logoStrategicPlay® for the ALEnetwork at XP days in Madrid in May 2011. Primary, Olaf wanted to facilitate this Session by his own, but as Olaf is beside Jurgen Appelo one of the original Drivers for creating the ALEnetwork, several people asked Olaf to participate the envisioning Session and add his Ideas to a Vision for the Agile & Lean network Europe – the ALEnetwork. Thus he would not be able to facilitate it by his own. As Olaf knew, I’m also a Certified StrategicPlay® Facilitator and knew that I’m passionate about the techniques of LEGO SeriousPlay® he decided to ask me.

warm up exercises with StrategicPlayI was very delighted to be asked. Not only that I really love to facilitate Sessions using StrategicPlay®, it was a challenge for me. I was already experienced in facilitating, but what was special and new for me was to facilitate a Session for an audience of experienced Agile Coaches and Facilitators. Wow! I accepted without even procrastinating for a second.

storytelling for individual visionsStrategicPlay®, based on LEGO® SeriousPlay is a 3D visual thinking tool based on the power of hand-knowledge. It was the perfect tool for creating a vision for the ALEnetwork. About 40 Participants from 17 countrys all over europe attended the envisioning Session and every single person had some unique ideas to add for creating a pan-European open network for people passionate about Agile and Lean practice and thinking. All together, we created the vision for the ALEnetwork!

storytelling for individual visionsAfter some basic but necessary warm up exercises, I asked the participants to create their personal vision for a perfect Agile network.

building a shared Team modelA very important step by using StrategicPlay® is storytelling. As we started with several Teams, each participant has to share his personal vision with the Team.

After some additional steps, each Team was asked to build a shared vision. Afterwards, each Team had to do a storytolling for their shared vision and present it to the other Teams.

Team visionsAfter all Teams presented their individual model to all other participants, we started to build a shared model out of all Team models.

At the end we finished the session by having a shared model of all participants, the vision for the ALEnetwork.

Have a look at the following video, we taped the storytelling of our vision for ALE, a network for collaboration of Agile & Lean thinkers and activists across europe!

click the picture for the video on youtubespecial thanks to Ralph Miarka for co-facilitating the session

Scrum Simulation – the Scrum LEGO® Airport

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you’ll find the download link for the manual at the bottom of the page

The Idea of a Scrum Simulation with LEGO®

Scrum LEGO Airport at Global Scrum Gathering SeattleIn the beginning of the year 2011 I had the idea for a Scrum Simulation with LEGO®. A Scrum Simulation which needs to be scalable. Scalable for Teams with different stages of knowledge about Scrum. Useful for Beginners as well as Advanced. Usable as a Simulation for ‘easy’ Scrum as well as a Simulation for Scrum of Scrums. Feasible to run with 1 to x Teams. Interesting especially for Software Developers and technical Freaks. In addition, people should learn the Scrum Workflow, it’s Artefacts and Meetings by having a lot of fun.

the Airport Team ILEGO® is a plaything everybody knows, all around the world. As I’m a StrategicPlay® Facilitator, a creative Problem solving Solution with LEGO® based on LEGO® Serious Play, I know how to use LEGO® in a serious context with a joshing course.

ambulanceAn Airport is a complex enterprise system with lots of complex dependencies and lots of technical interfaces. Nearly everybody knows how an Airport works or rather the workflow starting by leaving the car at the parking lot, check in the luggage, receiving a boarding-card till having a seat in a plane. And when arriving at the destination, you want to have your luggage back at the baggage claim.

Hence the idea of a Scrum Simulation with LEGO® in a context of an airport seemed for me an interesting challenge to cover my demand of a scalable approach.

Scrum LEGO® Airport @ Scrum Safari, Cape Town, 2011

Thus I created the Scrum Simulation, Scrum LEGO®Airport with the following scalable stages:

—>

1,5h Appetizer – conference format

Prerequisites: some Scrum Basics

Participants: 5 to 50 ppl + n Observer

4h stand alone Economic Simulation with Focus on Scrum Basics

Prerequisites: no background required

Participants: 5 to 50 ppl + n Observer

8h Beginners combined with a basic Scrum Training

Prerequisites: no background required

Participants: 5 to 21 ppl

8h Advanced combined with a Team Visioning Session with StrategicPlay®

Prerequisites: experience with Scrum

Participants: 1 Team

What do People learn in the Scrum LEGO® Airport Simulation?

Team Story BoardPragmatic understanding that Scrum is about self-organizing Teams, Cooperation, Communication, Understanding, Respecting People, Teamwork, Creativity and Productivity.

Understanding the Scrum Workflow by building valuable products for the customer in each Sprint Sprint demowhich can be delivered after every iteration. Understand what needs to be build first so that the customer can start transporting people after the first sprint and add value from Sprint to Sprint so that the enterprise ‘Airport’ can grow constantly and the customer can grow her business.

I ran the Scrum LEGO® Airport at

different Company’s

Global Scrum Gathering Seattle, May 2011

Scrum Gathering South Africa, September 2011

Agile Prague, September 2011

Download the manual:  Manual the password for the file is vinylbaustein

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