Facilitating Great Sprint Retrospectives

Photo by AlienGraffiti

Photo by AlienGraffiti

Last month's DFW Scrum user group meeting was on Overcoming the fear of Sprint Retrospective.  I love retrospectives, so I was excited that the group was going to talk about them for an entire night.  Here's why the topic was suggested:

Sprint Retrospective is by far the most underutilized and under appreciated meeting. Team members dread to go these meetings. Every Scrum Master has his own technique on how he overcame this and still there is always room to grow. Can we request a retro meeting please? Where we can share some thoughts on how different Scrum Masters of our group handle it & has seen success? :)  Thanks

I agree that retrospectives are probably the most powerful and most underutilized ceremonies in scrum.  And I think it's because most people don't know how to facilitate them well.  Excellent retrospective facilitators know how to instill trust for openness and sharing, inspire creativity and brainstorming to generate new ideas, read the room to pick up on what’s not being said, handle conflict in a positive manner, maintain the timebox, and guide group decision-making.  How do you learn to do all of that?  Below is a lunch and learn presentation that outlines the format of retrospectives with some tips and tricks:

Great retrospectives don't just happen--they are the result of good planning and facilitation.  Thankfully following scrum means a facilitator gets an opportunity to practice his skills each sprint!

The Differences Between a Community of Practice and a Center of Excellence

Photo by Celestine Chua

Photo by Celestine Chua

If you are working in an organization, you might be thinking about how to share practices across agile teams.  Agile teams inspect and adapt over time, using retrospectives in particular to change their behaviors and practices with the goal of improving.  A team improving is great, and it would be awesome for that team to share what they’ve learned so that others can benefit.  To encourage good practices across teams, organizations often establish centers of excellence or communities of practice.  I recommend creating communities of practice, but what's the difference?

Communities of practice are groups of people with similar interests who share experiences with a common goal of improving.  People talk to one another and learn from each other.  All levels of expertise are welcomed, and all experiences can provide learning.  A community of practice can work together to solve a problem and adopt a common solution if the community agrees to do so.

In contrast, a center of excellence implies that a smaller group recommends (or even requires) certain practices or templates be used.  The leaders of the center of excellence have authority.  Experience sharing may not be welcomed if it is not aligned with the leaders’ views.  There is a sense that excellence comes from applying the same behaviors and practices across teams.  Maybe a center of excellence is a good starting point for an organization, but communities of practice hold more possibility for learning and applying of practices.

Am I saying that a community of practice is better than a center of excellence?  In my opinion, yes.  There’s goodness in sharing experiences and ideas as peers that comes from being part of a community.  The safety of community allows for deeper sharing and exploring of ideas.  Communities of practice support adult learning and promote ownership of ideas—what’s not to love about that? 

"Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I learn." --Benjamin Franklin

The differences between a center of excellence and a community of practice in your organization might not be as black and white as I describe them, but many organizations that I’ve seen are more comfortable creating centers of excellence than communities of practice.  Leaders feel assurance that only the best practices will be spread through centers of excellence.  Self-organizing communities are unpredictable and rely on some experimentation to encourage learning.  And that's precisely where the goodness lives.   Go ahead: embrace community.

Upcoming Speaking Events

Photo by Harmon

Photo by Harmon

I'm excited to share that there are quite a few agile events coming up in Texas where I will be speaking!  I continue to be amazed at the strength of the agile community, and I look forward to meeting new people and seeing old faces.

  • Dallas Agile Leadership Network - July 29, 2014 - I will be co-presenting with Ty Crockett on Creating Strong and Passionate Communities of Practice
  • 8th Annual UTDallas Project Management Symposium - August 14-15, 2014 - I will be co-presenting two topics with Cherie SilasBeyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach and Motivating People through the Language of Appreciation
  • AgileDotNext in Houston, TX - August 22, 2014 - I will be co-presenting two topics: Beyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach with Cherie Silas and Creating Strong and Passionate Communities of Practice with Ty Crockett
  • PMI Professional Development Day in Fort Worth, TX - September 12, 2013 - I will be co-presenting Motivating People through the Language of Appreciation with Cherie Silas
  • Houston TechFest - September 13, 2014 - I will be co-presenting two topics with Cherie Silas: Change Your Questions Change Your World and Beyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach

What upcoming events are you excited about?

Should you always hold teams sacred?

Photo by sophiadphotography

Photo by sophiadphotography

When an organization adopts agile, there is typically a shift to forming cross-functional and self-organizing teams.  Create persistent teams.  Bring the work the team.  It takes time to reach high performance, so don’t disrupt the team.  Hold the team sacred because team members will learn, grow, and challenge one another in the safety that the team provides.

But what about teams that have been together for a long time and are not actively learning, growing, or challenging one another?  That are not striving for high performance?  The ones that are mired in destructive conflict?  What do you do when complacency has set in?

I vote for disruption.

Change the work and what success looks like.  Change the people.  Change the environment.  Change processes or communication to the team.  Don’t change everything, but please change something!

Agile is about teams that are striving for high performance. For excellence.  What does that look like?  I like Lyssa Adkins’s high performance tree metaphor:

How do your teams rate?  Are they striving for high performance or ripe for disruption?

What Studying Literature Taught Me About Agile Coaching

Photo by Tim Geers

Photo by Tim Geers

I studied English in college.  Many people wonder what someone does with an English degree, and I never gave it much thought since I was also studying computer science and math.  English was my ”frivolous” degree.  The one that fed my creative, side.  As an agile coach, I find that my English degree is enhancing the work that I do in the software development world.

Studying English meant reading a wide variety of literature, picking it apart, and exploring connections.  Discussing and writing about a work on its own and connecting it to larger themes.  Understanding characters’ motivations.  Learning how to convey ideas concisely and clearly as well as how to develop rich stories that evoke a reaction.  You develop abilities to analyze word choices, examine rhetorical devices, and ask questions about the author’s intentions.  Curiosity is encouraged.

As an agile coach, I read individuals, teams, and organizations to understand motivations and how things work.  I explore connections between people and larger themes like behavior, governance, and culture.  Teaching practices so they are clearly understood and applied; sharing my experiences through mentoring in a way that enhances comprehension and creates an emotional connection.  Coaching also involves articulating what’s going on in the moment, asking powerful questions to evoke new thinking, reframing a problem or situation to encourage positive action, and using metaphors to explore abstract concepts and feelings.  Studying English committed me to becoming a lifelong learner—a valuable quality in agile coaches.

How did your education contribute to where you are today?

Where to Look During the Daily Scrum

Photo by Adrian Scottow

Photo by Adrian Scottow

I was talking to a developer friend of mine recently, and I realized something about the Daily Scrum: agile coaches and team members look at different things during the event. 

My friend mentioned that he makes eye contact with team members, particularly new ones, as they give their updates to boost their confidence and encourage them.  Of course team members look at one another during the Daily Scrum!  The Development Team is sharing information and planning its work for the day, and making eye contact with your peers shows that you’re engaged and interested in them.  It seemed so obvious as he said it.

As an agile coach, I observe the Daily Scrum and note how information is being shared within the team; I pay attention to the body language of the team members and the level of information being provided. Is there something not being said?  Are team members engaged? Does the team understand how they will complete the sprint goal?

Since I am not on the Development Team, I generally do not speak during the Daily Scrum. If a team member looks at me while giving his update, I look at the ground. By looking at the ground, I gently encourage that team member to look somewhere else–hopefully at his fellow team members.  This works well in stopping team members from looking at me during the Daily Scrum, but it does not teach them where they should look or how to behave during the event!

According to the Scrum Guide, “the Daily Scrum is a 15-minute time-boxed event for the Development Team to synchronize activities and create a plan for the next 24 hours” and “the Scrum Master ensures that the Development Team has the meeting, but the Development Team is responsible for conducting the Daily Scrum.”  Agile coaches might teach the Development Team how to conduct the Daily Scrum, and the teaching generally happens outside of the event itself.  Development Team members teach one another how to behave in the Daily Scrum during the event

So Development Team members, please look at your teammates during the Daily Scrum.  It is your opportunity to teach one another how to use the Daily Scrum well.

Mid-Year Check-In: Are You Achieving Your Resolutions?

Photo by Palomaleca

Photo by Palomaleca

Inspired by another blog, I decided I could benefit from a mid-year check-in.  Back in January, I chose a one-word resolution for 2014: astonishing.  My intent was to amplify the goodness of 2013, learn more, laugh more, live more, give back more, and make a bigger impact in 2014. 

In the spirit of a retrospective, let’s move on to gather data.  What have you achieved towards your goal or resolution over the last 6 months?

My “astonishing” first half of 2014:

  • Learn more:  Registering for CTI’s classes was a bold step for me, and I’ve learned so much about myself and about coaching as a result.  That knowledge and the opportunity to assist ACI’s 3-day Coaching Agile Teams gave me greater understanding and appreciation of what coaching can do for agile transformations.
  • Laugh more: There have been a number of changes going on at my client’s organization, which means many people have become increasingly stressed.  I have been talking to people more one-on-one and using my gift-giving appreciation language to lighten the mood, provide reassurance, and share a laugh.  Plus Star Wars-, Winnie the Pooh-, and super hero-themed gifts are fun.
  • Live more: After I was promoted to principal consultant, I held a dinner to appreciate the people who helped me achieve the promotion.  It was a lovely evening with delicious food and good company.
  • Give back more: I mixed my fraternity world with my professional world: one of my Improving Enterprises colleagues gave a great presentation to the Texas A&M chapter of Theta Tau Fraternity that was well received.  I see similarities between the two organizations’ values, and I’m happy I was able to connect them to one another.
  • Make a bigger impact: I co-presented at the Dallas PMI Agile CoP, Keep Austin Agile, and Scrum Gathering New Orleans; taught a PMI-ACP prep class (our first class offered evenings and weekends); and made my first Open Space offering at Agile Coach Camp Canada.

Looking over your achievements, what insights do you notice?  Unsurprisingly, coaching plays a large role in my accomplishments, but I’m also recognizing a theme of connecting to and appreciating people.

Are you making progress on your 2014 resolutions? Share your accomplishments in the comments.

Adventurous Learning: cute/pink shoelaces/delighted

Photo by 55Laney69

Photo by 55Laney69

There’s an activity in the beginning of ACI’s Coaching Agile Teams class called Explain/Explore where each person writes a one or two words on an index card that describes his core being.  You explain your phrase to someone else in the class and continue to mingle in this fashion for a few minutes.  As an assistant, I found myself “playing in” during the activity, and I wrote down a word that others have used to describe me.  It’s a quality that is true for me but I often hide it.  

Since I joined the activity a little late, I didn’t get much chance to explain my word—it quickly passed into others’ hands as we were told to swap cards.  The card I received in return was “adventurous.”  What?  I’m not a rock climber or a skydiver or anything like that.  I gave it some thought and found where it is true: I am an adventurous learner.

Normally when I throw myself into learning, I read books and blogs and anything I can get my hands on.  Then I think and think and think about what I’ve read and what it means.  I might talk about it briefly with close friends.  The learning becomes part of my toolbox, and I use it when I need it.  I imagine it’s boring for those on the outside looking in, but it feels vigorous to me. 

At my last CTI class, the instructors asked for a volunteer to be a client in a coaching demo.  I raised my hand slowly.  Then I realized no one else was volunteering.  I was about to have my process coached in front of the class—what was I thinking??  We had seen a demo of process coaching once before, and we all remembered its intensity.  Clients can become messy in process coaching.  Emotional highs and lows were explored in no more than 15 minutes.

I went to the front of the room and sat down.  I listened, I looked, I trusted. Think feel trust talk look listen trust talk feel trust talk.  I spoke the hidden quality.  It was throughout the coaching.  It was in me.  I said that I couldn’t tell who smiled first—him or me.  He called it the Co-Active.

I had put myself out there in a big way for the sake of learning, and it created an incredibly safe environment for the rest of the class.  I struggled as I practiced the new skills, and I kept trying.  Slowly I improved.  Learning to be a better coach has been much more like learning to swing dance than learning agile or scrum.  I think that’s why I like it so much.

DFW Scrum user group - 2nd location added!

Photo by David Joyce

Photo by David Joyce

BIG NEWS! The DFW Scrum leadership team has focused our efforts to be an organization by the people, for the people, and of the people. Over the last two years, we have had various requests for remote MeetUps (simulcast, etc...) and actual satellite locations. Given that North Dallas may not be convenient for everyone and we have not been able to secure our quarterly location in Irving, we have decided to try adding a second location.

Starting with our July 15 MeetUp, DFW Scrum will now be held at two different locations across the DFW Metroplex. Our first satellite location will be in Southlake at the Sabre Headquarters-Solana (3150 Sabre Drive Room: A1-157 Southlake, TX). We have added a new member to our leadership team, Chris Palmer, to facilitate the 2nd location and are thrilled to have him onboard. Right now, the locations will likely hold different topics that suit the needs of the audiences in the locations. When we have large events (Agile Manifesto authors or industry thought leading speakers), we will work to simulcast the meeting so both locations can participate.

For now, when you look on our site however, you will notice two MeetUps occurring on the same date. We will try to keep the meetings to our 3rd Tuesday of each month and at our regular times of 6:30PM-8:30PM to afford better planning. Please be sure you look at the title of the MeetUp as the location will be the first piece of information in the title (i.e. DALLAS or SOUTHLAKE). We hope this helps those who are not always able to attend in Dallas participate in the agile community.  Our goal is to help you do better today than you were doing yesterday. 

Thank you for showing up

Photo by Terrie Schweitzer

Photo by Terrie Schweitzer

This week I found myself telling someone, “thank you for showing up," and while it made perfect sense in my head, it didn’t come out quite right. The person and those nearby didn’t know that I’ve been practicing being present.  Staying in level 2 and 3 listening with individuals and teams.  Ignoring electronics during meetings.  Thinking about what I need to do and be before I attend meetings.  Working on self-management and care.  Trying to discover “Allison” and let the masks down more.

Showing up is a BIG DEAL!

In the workplace, it’s become harder to get people’s time, let alone their attention.  Commitments are becoming weaker or missing entirely because there’s so much to do.  Emotions run higher than normal because of the stress.  Meetings are less effective because key people are not present.  Folks are reactive rather than proactive.  Dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

Ok, maybe not the last part.  Organizations are complex, and the pace of business is super-fast.  It is all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work, and we need more steadfast individuals to remind us to slow down.  The only way to go fast is to go well.

So I sincerely meant thank you for showing up, for being present, for making good on a committed action and letting people see you as a leader and a person.  That’s no easy feat.

What would it say about your character and values if you put aside all distractions to be present with someone for an hour today?  

Show up. 

We need you.