Striving for Excellence in an Agile environment

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Doing Retrospectives and following the ‘inspect and adapt’ mechanism is one of the most important and effective tools and outcome of being Agile, following Agile rules or doing Scrum.
What kind of Retrospectives do you know? Most people think of Sprint Retrospectives, Kaizen or Lessons Learned after doing or finishing a Project or in a medical context.
I want to concentrate on Retrospectives in an Agile environment, especially doing a Sprint Retrospective in Scrum. I think this is the most familiar kind of Retrospectives in an Agile context. It help Teams to improve constantly on their performance and behaviour.

But how do ScrumMasters and ProductOwners or even Agile Coaches improve their work and behaviour?

It make sense to ask for Feedback after every Meeting. This is a kind of short-termed improvement what really make sense. In addition, I recommend to do Retrospectives for ScrumMasters and ProductOwners on a regular base. You do Retrospectives with your Team after each Sprint what give Teams the Chance to look back, inspect and adapt – the core mechanism of change to strive for excellence.

If you are a ScrumMaster or ProductOwner, or even an Agile Coach, you should use the same machanism for your own improvement and striving for excellence. You don’t have to do that after each Sprint. But you can do a Retrospective regular on a three-month period. All what you need is a Facilitator so that you can participate the Retrospective by your own. You can ask a ScrumMaster of another Team to run such a Retrospective. The core Topic should be something like ‘how to improve the skills of our ScrumMaster/ProductOwner/Coach’ or something similar according to your experiences of the last quarter.

This does not only give you the possiblity to particpate a Retrospective by your own. It is a great chance to receive Feedback from your Team or other invited Stakeholders on a differnt level than getting Feedback for facilitating just a meeting! It is the chance for yourself to look back, inspect and adapt and improve your personal work, skills, behaviour and MindSet!

Agile Bowling

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Time: 80 minutes for 5 participants

Requirements: sticky notes, IndexCards and felt-pens

Preperation

Agile Bowling - preperationPrepare a space for every single participant. You can use FlipCharts or use a dedicated wall-space:

Agile Bowling SetUp

Be sure you have enough Sticky Notes available and Markers or felt-pens as well.

Start the Game

Ask Participants ‘Regarding the last Sprint, what would I like to change in the next Sprint?’ Create 20 Ideas/Topics within a strict TimeBox of 5 minutes. Use one StickyNote for each Idea/Topic (5 min)

Agile Bowling - create topicsWhy 20 Topics at least? This sounds challenging. The reason for this challenge is quite simple – Participants need to do a real Brainstorming and be creative. If you want to be creative and collect as much Ideas as possible you’re not allowed to judge on an Idea as it come up. If you start to judge your Ideas during creating Ideas you kill Creativity! Write down everything as it pop up in your mind!

Let Participants do this in silence!

By forcing yourself to come up with 20 Ideas/Topics in a short TimeBox, you put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and weak. The first third will be the same old Ideas. The second third will be more interesting and the last third will show more insights, curiosity and complexity. (Cracking Creativity by Michael Michalko)

After this ‘Blue Sky thinking’ regarding change, give Participants a TimeBox of 3 minutes to prioritize their Ideas. (3 min)

Let Participants write down their 3-Top-Ideas, having the highest Value, on IndexCards – each Idea on one Card. (2 min)

Start Bowling

Ask a volunteer to start the Agile Bowling. The Volunteer read aloud her Idea/Topic with the highest value and let her give a short comment on that – TimeBox (1 min)

Now, give all other Participants a TimeBox of 3 minutes to create at least 10 effects – question: ‘If we change this Idea, what effects will have that to our Team?’

Write down every effect on one single StickyNote! (3 min)

During this TimeBox, let the Volunteer post her Idea/Topic on the Wall. Make sure their is enough space for the upcoming StickyNotes!

Agile Bowling step 1Now, let Participants post their StickyNotes with the effects below the posted IndexCard. When all effects are posted, let them read aloud the effects and let them remove all duplicates!

Make a dot-voting on the effects, every Participant has 3 dots. Let them dot-vote on the effect with the highest value for the Team.

Write down the count of all effects on an extra StickyNote and post it under all the other StickyNotes. Below the count, post the effect with the most dots, as this is the effect with the highest value for the Team. (6 min)

Agile Bowling step 2Now, repeat this Agile Bowling with every Participant. Make sure that every Participant has a unique Idea/Topic – that’s the reason why People choosed 3 top-ideas with the highest value!

After finishing Agile Bowling with all Participants, you can calculate the score. For calculating a score for a Participant, multiply the count of effects with the count of dots on the effect with the highest value.

The Participant with the top-score wins a bar of chocolate.Agile Bowling step 3

Winning a bar of chocolate is just for fun – it has nothing to do with the overall outcome!!!

At the end, ask every Participant to take their effect-StickyNote with the highest value for the Team and let them make this effect happen in the upcoming sprint.

Agile Bowling step 4

Debriefing

Make a debriefing of this Retrospective and let Participants give you Feedback on the exercise.

Participants may feel exhausted, as it is really challenging to be creative.

As I did this Retrospective with a Team in Germany, the points on the following picture are in german. Read the translation below!

Agile Bowling Debriefing

  • strung out
  • exhausted
  • creative
  • productive
  • inspired
  • happy
  • motivated
  • guilty conscience about using so much StickyNotes

The Feedback of the Team was awesome. There was just one negative point as some People had a guilty conscience about using so much StickyNotes!

Variations

You can use Agile Bowling also as Empiric Experience, just modify the questions! In addition, you can play more than just one round of Agile Bowling, depending how much time is available!

Agile Tennis

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Time: 70 minutes for 6 People

Requirements: HourGlasses, sticky notes and felt-pens

Agile Tennis SetUp

Introduction

Based on the concept of Tennis, I created Agile Tennis for creative problem solving and usage in Retrospectives and Team Meetings

Agile Tennis draw

The Purpose of this Empirical Experience exercise is to create discussions among Participantsin a ping-pong style for grasping different perspectives for challenging situations which need to be handled. In addition it trains TeamWork.

Constellations

Depending on the count of Participants you can do single Agile Tennis or an Agile Tennis Tournament.
For a Single Match you need 3 People – TennisPlayer A, TennisPlayer B and one Referee.
If you have 5 Participants, you can create Tennis Teams playing a ‘double’ – Team A (TennisPlayer 1 & TennisPlayer 2), Team B (TennisPlayer 3 & TennisPlayer 4) and one Referee.

See the following Picture for Constellations:

Agile Tennis Constellations

  • the min. of Participants is 3 People
  • Having 4 Ppl, you have the Set of 3 plus one Observer
  • Having 5 Ppl, you can play a ‘Double’ as shown in the Picture
  • Having 6 Ppl, you can play the ‘Double’ with one Observer or twice the 3-constellation
  • Having 7 Ppl, you can create one regular 3- and one 4-constellation (3plus1 Observer)
  • Having 8 Ppl, you can create one 3- and one 5-constellation

Preperation

First, give all Participants some IndexCards and a TimeBox of 5 minutes to create as much as possible ‘Problems’, ‘Challenges’, or ‘Situations’ they are/were confronted with. Let them wright them down in keywords. Let them do this in silence so that every individual collects her own ‘library’ of ‘ProblemCards’

Let Player A and Player B, resp. Team A and Team B, sit on a table facing each other. The Referee is sitting at the table too.

The Referee has a basket with little ‘motivators’ – some sweets -as she gives each Player who wins a Point one ‘KinderSchokoBon’, representing that Point.

Referee

The Referee has also two different colour of StickyNotes available, a pen and a hour glass for 30 Seconds – you can also use a watch, but it’s even better when every Participant is able to see as time goes by.

Start Wimbledon

Start the first Game – you play two Sets of 5 Minutes each.
In the first Set, Player A (resp. Team A) serves first, in the second Set, Player B (resp Team B) serves at the beginning.

To Serve means to state one(!) Problem/Challenge/Situation. The Referee writes down that Topic on a red StickyNote. Players have exactly 30 Seconds to state their topic. After the Serve of a Team, the second Team has now 30 Seconds to state a possible Solution for the Serve of the first Team!
The Referee writes down the possible Solution on a green StickyNote. Now it’s the first Team’s turn again and they have to state why they can’t do or accpet the Solution of the other Team. The Referee writes down the Refusal again on a red StickyNote and afterwards it’s again the turn of the second Team which needs to state a possible Solution for the Refusal, Referee writes down and son on…

Rules

In worst Case, the whole Set, ‘5 Minutes’, every Player – or Team – try to win the Set and states a Problem, Solution, Refusal, Solution, Refusal, Solution and so on until the Time is over. That’s exactly the point where the rules need to be applied.
There are just 3 simple rules:

Agile Tennis Rules

  • The Statements should be ‘spontaneously’, despite the Preperation of the Individual-List in the beginning
  • The Statements should be ‘OpenMinded’ and People should OpenMinded during the Game, let the flow flow!
  • All Participants go for ‘FairPlay’ (Statements – must be realistic and should be accpeted when appropriate)

The Referee has the last word – if she decides to score a Team or Player then it is as it is – could be discussed after the Game, not during!
The Referee controls the HourGlass, when 30 Seconds are over she turns it or has to decide if a Team / Player scores.

When does a Player / Team score?

  • If a Team / Player wasn’t able to state within 30 Seconds, the other Team / Player scores
  • If a Team / Player accepts that a Solution is appropriate, the other Team / Player scores
  • If a Team / Player accepts that she don’t has a Solution for a Problem/Challenge/Situation, the other Team / Player scores

The Referee can and should decide if one Team / Player need to accept the Statement of the other Team / Player
When one Team / Player scores within the Set, she has now to Serve and continue by stating a new Problem/Challenge/Situation.
The Referee distributes the Sweets when a Team / Player scores.

After the first Set of 5 Minutes, the second Team starts the next Set by Serving a Problem/Challenge/Situation. The Facilitator keeps this TimeBox of 5 Minutes and is the overall responsible as there might be more than just one Team Playing Agile Tennis at a Meeting, maybe you’re doing an Agile Tennis Tournament…!

Visualizing the Outcome

For visualizing the Outcome of this exercise, create a ScoreBoard, as known from regular Tennis, or create something similar which fits you.

Agile Tennis - visualizing the outcome

Debriefing

At the end of the Meeting you make a debriefing with all Participants

  • How do you feel?
  • How did you felt during the ‘Tennis-Discussion’?
  • How did you felt when Referee decides to score the other Player / Team?
  • Did you felt as a TeamPlayer?
  • What shall we do with the outcome?

Agile Wall Street

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Time: 60 minutes for 5 people

Requirements: a stopwatch, sticky notes and flip-chart paper

Agile Wall Street preperation

Introduction

This Game is inspired by the ‘Give- and Take Matrix’ mentioned in the book ‘Game Storming’ and was initially inspired by techniques used in engineering, chemistry and design.
Agile Wall Street works for TeamBuilding, motivation, diagnostic of flow and energizing your Team.

I adapted it a little bit to my requirements and it can be used for TeamBuilding, Motivation in Teams and also for Retrospectives. I just call it ‘Agile Wall Street’. It is a diagnostic tool and helps players explore value flows through the Team or a Group.

Agile Wall Street Agenda

Creating the Matrix

Create a Matrix as shown in the following Picture. Make sure you have the same count of rows and columns – one row and one column for each Participant.

Let every Participant write down her Name on a large StickyNote, two times and put them on the Matrix as shown. Make sure to post the Names vertical and horizontal in the same order!

Agile Wall Street - the Matrix

Write down the personal Motivation

Now, ask all Participants to write down their Motivation of beeing in the current Team on a large StickyNote, take a new colour for that.

Let Participants post their Motivation-Note along the diagonal, where every Individual intersect with themselves.
In addition, call the vertical ‘Give’ and the horizontal ‘Take’.

Agile Wall Street - the Matrix - motivation

Open the Agile Wall Street

Give Participants a short moment to choose the first TeamColleague they want to start with. Each Participant can start with any other TeamColleague she would like to start.

Ask the Participants to write down a short statement about the Person they have choosen regarding the question: ‘what could I contribute to this Person, how could I support her or what could I offer to her?’

Give a Timebox of 5 minutes!

After finishing for the first TeamMember, ask the Participants to continue with the next TeamColleague, answering the same question on a StickyNote. Again provide a TimeBox of 5 minutes. Let Participants repeat until everybody has an personal offer for all other TeamMembers.

Let Participants put their StickNote-offers on the Matrix, everybody puts her notes in a horizontal row at the intersection according to the names:

Agile Wall Street - the full Matrix

The Stock Exchange

When the Matrix is completed ask Participants to have a seat.

Now you start to facilitate the ‘Wall Street’ offers. Start with the first TeamMember from the horizontal. This Person should listen carefully what her TeamColleagues want to offer, without commenting. Ask all other Participants, one after another, what they want to offer to this Person and let them shortly explain what they have written down.

After all offers are explained to a Person, ask her how she feels right now. Probably this Person will have a smile on her face and just feels good.

Repeat this until all TeamMembers have introduced and explained what they would like to offer to their TeamColleagues.

After this exercise the whole Team will be enrgized and TeamMembers will follow up to the offers they received self organized. If the Team agrees you can put the Matrix somewhere in the Team room.

Agile Speed Dating

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Time: 70 minutes for 6 participants

Requirements: IndexCards, felt-pens and a flip-chart

First, all Participants need a Topic they would like to improve or a Problem which need to be solved, their personal improvement Topic for this Retrospective.

Give Participants 5 Minutes to write down up to 5 KeyWords/Sentences on an IndexCard which helps them describing their Topic they want to improve or Problem to be solved. (5 min)

Afterwards you ask Participants to flip the IndexCard and give them again 5 Minutes to draw a Picture, a Metaphor, for their Topic which helps them describing their Topic in a best way. No prizes for Artwork and nobody else will see their Picture, it’s just a reminder for themselves. (5 min)

Start the amazing Speed Dating

Agile Speed Dating exerciseAfter this first exercise, which takes about 10 Minutes, you have all Participants in the right flow and mood for a discussion about their Topic. You have activated both sides of their brain, the left side for rational thinking by writing down the 5 KeyWords/Sentences. And the right side of their brain, the creative part, by drawing a Picture. This is the best starting Point for what is coming next.

Let Participants pair and give them a strict TimeBox. Every Pair has exactly 10 Minutes. First 5 Minutes to discuss the Topic of Person A and finding possible Solutions or Improvements – write them down on your IndexCard – if needed take a new Card.

After 5 Minutes the Pairs change, what means that now Person B will discuss her Topic and write down possible Solutions or Improvements.

After 10 Minutes you build new Pairs and start the exercise again, first Person has 5 Minutes and Person B has 5 Minutes as well. Build new Pairs and repeat until every Participant has talken exactly once to all other Participants!

Debriefing

Agile Speed Dating Debriefing

  • how does it felt, how do you feel right now?
  • what was different?
  • what outcome have you created?
  • can we improve this Process?

Action Planning

Agile Speed Dating - Action Planning

After the Debriefing we start the Action Planning. Every Participant should have at least one IndexCard with possible Solutions or Improvements for her personal Topic.

Ask every Participant to choose just one Action she would like to adress in the next Sprint, choose the most powerful Action and write them down on a FlipChart – Topic, Responsible and due Date.

Variations

If you have an odd count of Participants just invite another Stakeholder or a TeamMember of a different Team. This Person has no own Topic to discuss but can contribute, comment and add Value from a complete neutral point of view!

Instead of doing Speed Dating with pairs you can also ‘pair’ with three people if you have some more participants. In that case you can call the exercise ‘Agile Swinger Dating’… lol

Draw the Problem / Draw the Challenge

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Time: 90 minutes

Requirements: IndexCards, felt-pens, tape, sticky notes and a flip-chart

Create a loose atmosphere

Every Retrospective I start with a short warm up game to create a loose atmosphere and interconnect left and right half of the brain. Today I did ‘Finger Tag’ from Erich Ziegler’s ‘das australische Schwebholz’. (5 min)

Start the Retrospective ‘Draw the Problem’

Let participants sit around a table and give everybody a large IndexCard and a felt-pen.

Ask the participants to think about a problem or challenge which occoured during the sprint and they are still puzzled about. What problem would you like to solve today?

Ask them to find their personal topic and write it down. In addition, everybody should create a list of 5 items which helps them to describe the problem.  (5 min)

Now, ask the participants to flip over the index card and let them draw a picture – a metaphor – of the problem which helps them to describe their topic to the team. It’s not about drawing an artwork or creating a very beautiful picture. The drawing simply should help explaining the problem. (have different coloured felt-pens available) (5 min)

Teams draw their ChallengeAsk everybody to post their index card on the wall with the picture at the front and name them.

Let participants stand in a semi circle around the picture wall. Every peer has now max 3 minutes to describe her problem-metaphor to the team and create a common understanding what it is about. Questions from the team are allowed. (15 – 21 min)

After creating a common understanding for every problem, ask the team to sit down again and have sticky notes available. Everybody should write down one possible solution or action item on a sticky note for every single problem. (5 min)

draw the picture - StoryBoardLet them post their solutions around the index cards and again stand in a smie circle around the ‘problem wall’.

Now, every indexs card owner read aloud the solutions given by the team and let the initiator of the solution explain if necessary.

Let them discuss the solutions and create concrete action items which the facilitator writes down on a flip chart.

This takes the most time as the team need to decide what needs to be done to solve each problem. (35 – 45 min)

Write down every Action Item, referred to a teammember with a due date.

action items Matrix

Wrap up the retrospective and ask if everybody is fine with the outcome. Ask for feedback.

Take over the Action Items to the process Backlog of the Team.

Idea by Gamestorming ‘Draw the Problem’ which I adapted to my purpose of having a Sprint Retrospective

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