I always wanted to come up with the collection of my favorite” Teaming Up” Retrospectives, those that allow to build up steel-strong teams, increase connection bandwidth between team members and increase motivation on teamwork. So here is it…
Check in before you start…
To start building up a team you need to cultivate Trust among team members. This is foundation you have to establish, otherwise open talk is impossible. One of the best way to check in for Teaming up retrospectives is to offer one of those statements to the team and ask each team member to reflect on Teamwork clearly with the statement like “What is in that for us?” or “How do you understand that?” or “Why you think this is important for us as a team?”
Here are some examples of statements you can use to ask these questions:
1. 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.
2. At the end of an iteration 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 or de-motivate.
3. Team is a partnership of unique people who bring out the very best in each other, and who know that even though they are wonderful as individuals, they are even better together.
- Coming together is a beginning;
- Keeping together is progress;
- Working together is success.
Then I would suggest to move to one of the following exercises …
Exercise 1: My Personal Poster (shorten the distance between us)!
When: with new team / getting to know each other, helping to build up personal connections.
Heads up: may be touchy-feely to some team members (especially shy ones). Make sure people do not feel uncomfortable “revealing” their personal.
Script: We are going to get to know ourselves better! Opening yourself creates relationships!
Please fill in the following template and prepare poster of your life and share it with the colleagues
- My Name
- 3-4 facts on my personal
- Decisive (crucial) events in my life up to know that influenced who I am most:
- (Could draw timeline of your life with some important data you are willing to share)
- What do I do in my spare time (hobbies, activities)
- What are my personal strengths?
- What are my personal weaknesses (might be tough one)?
- What has been a source of pleasure for me today?
- What kind of secret about myself am I willing to reveal to you?
As soon as poster is ready team members take turn to tell their “Stories” followed by team questions. Aim is to learn as much as possible about team member to understand his/her past and what makes him/her acting in a certain way.
Exercise 2: Cool/Uncool Team member (to share what we want / want to avoid)
When: when you sense team starts having some issues with the “norms” or unspoken “rules” (with the aim to have
Heads up: Make sure it is not turned into personal “blaming” session.
Script: We are going to develop ongoing guide for desired and undesired team behavior .
Please imagine two hypothetical team members (no real persons and names are allowed):
- Cool guy, team member of my dream
- Uncool guy, team member I would not like to work with😦
Describe what each of those hypothetical characters does, how behaves one treat/behavior pattern per sticky note that are important for you. Mark positive ones with (+) and negative ones with (-). Prepare to share and discuss with colleagues.
Exercise 3: Team Matrix (to share openly how do we feel and want to change)
When: there is need to share how does each team member feels him/herself in a team and about teamwork.
Heads up: create safe environment! Make sure no accusation happen.
Script: Please prepare your answers for the following questions (one per sticky note):
- How do I feel myself in the team?
- How I would like to change it?
- How I would like that person X changes certain behavior (how do I feel)?
- If X changes that what do I offer in return?
- How I am ready to help my team?
RULE: no accusations expressed as wishes!
Write those questions on the whiteboard on the left while put team members names on the top, to form matrix. Offer each team member to fill his column, explaining his position followed up by an open discussion.
Exercise 4: Brilliant moments (to learn from our positive past)
When: when there is need for a team to appreciate their positive past and learn from their great moments.
Heads up: n/a
Script: We are going to examine what moments of the past we would like to repeat and how make them influence our team positively and stronger!
Split team in pairs and ask them to interview each other. Prepare interview template and hand over (see below). Ask interviewer to fill it during Interview. First ask to execute only part 1:
- Your brilliant moment: ask to describe certain situation when something really worked in recent past, that team member considers as achievement.
- Why was this moment so brilliant? What was so special on this brilliant moment for her/him?
- What else?
Then ask pairs to switch roles and redo Part 1 for other team member.
Afterwards ask each of interviewers to write down what they have learned about their pair also filling Part 2:
- Because of what you have just said, it appears to me that you are someone who is / has / can….
Then again ask to share findings with pair and think together to answer part 3:
- If these strengths would play a larger role in your work life, what would you notice?
- What else?
- What little things could their colleagues might notice?
- Some small actions that she/he might try in the next days?
Then let everyone tell the story of team member they have interviewed to entire group. Then let open discussion, sharing findings and decisions.
Exercise 5: Our Personal Communication Style (to learn how we are communicating)
When: with new team / getting to know each other, helping to learn their similarities / differences in communication style.
Heads up: n/a
Script: We are going to experience how we like to communicate and in what way it is better to approach certain team
Brainwriting exercise: My communication style (underline what is more relevant to you)
- Do I prefer read or listen?
- Am I fan of short statements or do I prefer long reports?
- Do I want long meetings every month or prefer short meetings more often?
- Do I like to know entire story, every single bit, or do I want to know just the headline (big picture)?
- Is it sufficient someone says something to me once or do I have to be reminded several times until I notice?
Brainwriting exercise: colleagues communication style (underline what is more relevant to your colleague)
NOTE: split in pairs or consider colleague sitting left/right to you
- Does my colleague prefer read or listen?
- Is she/he I fan of short statements or prefers long reports?
- Does he/she want long meetings every month or prefers short meetings more often?
- Does she/he like to know entire story, every single bit, or wants to know just the headline (big picture)?
- Is it sufficient someone says something to me once or do I have to be reminded several times until I notice?
- Is my colleague totally focused on his work and therefore unapproachable or he is someone who is more team oriented and more pleasant and social?
The exercise is to guess which team member prefers what and learn from those diverse preferences.
Exercise 6: appreciation game (to flourish energy of team members)
When: to help team show appreciation to each other and provide constructive feedback
Script: We are going to thank each other for certain things.
Create half circle of chairs. Place another chair on the other side facing the rest. Ask team for trust and respect, honesty and attention.
To start, ask one person to volunteer to be in the ‘Main Chair’. Other members take turns, to say things they liked about the ‘Main Chair’ person help to the team. Following statement might be used:
- “You really helped team when.. and when..” ( 2 statements) followed by
- “What would be great to have more is….”( 1 statement)
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power
Some may think Scrum Master is an easy job to do and is just about facilitation. That is so wrong. It is very important for Scrum Master to master himself , and many challenging situations:) And here are some “traps” scrum master may fall in I would like to show some ways out.
So, here is collection of my favorite tips for Scrum Masters …
Fight an attempt to take sides. This is hard if you consider opinion close to yours, also not always easy to resist personal favors.
Ask yourself what is more important now: to get tactical issue solved (and please your ego) or enable team in solving it, have artificial harmony or heavy storming that uncovers real issues to solve.
Mind also talking affirmative words, like “yes”, “ok”, rather use neutral: “thanks”…This is very important when managing conflicts and taking 1 on 2 persons involved in conflict and navigate them.
Keep the balance!
Storming is unavoidable part of any team development. What you need to keep in mind that team will try to involve you in storming with them. Team members will dump all their problems on you. Often some will talk to you when they are supposed to talk to the team when they are sad, mad, frustrated. They will also try to get you on “their side”. These are indication they want you in the storming and appealing to you as to judge and expect you to take certain position (their side).
Do not let yourself be involved in that. Reflect responsibility gently to the team. Stay patient, turn emotions off. Team should feel you are with them, available and supporting, use “we”, never “you”, but position yourself as not part of storming team, so they seek solutions among themselves and storm together.
Definitely! As Scrum Master you have not right to freak around! You are the one that shall stay calm and do not “reflect” when everything / everyone else around does. Mastering does not only ends in what you say and do, but also how. Include body language, facial expression, tone and most importantly thoughts.
Some team members may behave the way so that their intentions are not clear to you (or the other team members). They also may not look ok to you. Any assumption is false here! You simply do not know their insights. Or at least this statement is very useful to be stated periodically. Therefore always assume that you do not know them.
Ask for clarity, ask directly , find comfortable time and place, do it 1 on 1. Practicing active listening will also help: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_listening
Do not stop conflicts, navigate them. This means, stay neutral, stay calm, understand intentions and most importantly make sides involved to understand each other’s intentions, increase trust and help to reduce negative impact on team.
I always try to make conflicting side open up about how do they feel. Important here is to start conversation with “I” and not “You” since statements starting with “you” quite often sound “blamish”.
There are situation when team in involved in heavy debates and cannot come to an agreement. You as facilitator shall help them to come to a solution, but beware of trap of compromise in order to get common agreement.
Common agreement is something crafted of the opinions of the team, that may be very diverse. Do not start engineer something on top of the parts, consisting of opinions of team members. Because:
- They may be not compatible
- It is not their but your ideas that glue them (so do not expect much enthusiasm and energy)
Make sure agreements are truly owned by the team, it is better to state there is no agreement rather then one designed under your influence, for the sake of having one. Be patient and rather let team do it!
There will be times when your mind will attempt to drift away from here and now. This might happen if you start thinking about what to do next, or why certain thing did happen. Drop it! Stay present with the team and what is currently happening and what is the most important problem they are trying to solve, to be able to facilitate their collaboration efficiently.
Master Powerful Questions
You need to be able to challenge. The trick for servant leader is to challenge the team the way it is not closes opportunities and focuses mindset on thinking how to achieve certain things instead of narrowing them down. Here comes the power of open questions, those that start with magic words like “What”, “How”, “Who”, “Why” and “Why not”.
Also consider silence and one of the most powerful one. Do not try to fill it. Let there be uncomfortable silence. Let there be many opportunities. Here is when team thinking starts…
Here are some very nice inspiring and useful questions I would reccomend
Last but not least one.
The more negative things you will witness the more positivity you should give to the team. This not about being “happy”, this is about enabling team via believing in their capability, empowering with trust and leading by example.
Turn mistakes of others into inspiring and powerful conversation to help them to learn. When it is getting hard, close your eyes and remember positive moment when team performed well. Remind those. Encourage team and yourself. And do not drag mistakes team and you did in the past with you. Leave them!
Stay rich for your capacity for positivity, garden your mind and team spirit!
As in Mathematics, so in Natural Philosophy, the Investigation of difficult Things by the Method of Analysis, ought ever to precede the Method of Composition. This Analysis consists in making Experiments and Observations, and in drawing general Conclusions from them by Induction, and admitting of no Objections against the Conclusions, but such as are taken from Experiments, or other certain Truths.
For Hypotheses are not to be regarded in experimental Philosophy.
— Sir Isaac Newton
I would like to bring life tested approach of retrospective practice focused on Quality – ceremony to focus on elimination of defects by understanding core issues and addressing required preventive actions, leading to less time spent on fixing those and gaining more time spent building features. Let us call them bugs (negative features that make software functioning not as expected).
As any Retrospective…
it has it’s 5 steps and here is how those are mapped to practical actions:
- Set the stage – focus on reviewing bugs resolved during period (e.g. past iteration);
- Gather data – prepare in advance extract of bugs;
- Generate insights – gathered during retrospective as soon as team passes bugs one by one;
- Decide what to do – preventive action agreed and written, having assignee (es);
- Close – short summary of the reviewed bugs;
What helps to make it efficient:
- Agreement on scope: what bugs are to be reviewed (production, staging, development, what severities, etc…)?
- Right people in: depending on scope and nature you may need to have not only development team members but also release coordinating operations engineers, product managers, etc.;
- In multi-team environment you may need to involve only some team members of every participant team, given who had participated and/or who is best addressing, lead engineers, etc.;
- Prepare in advance (e.g. take iteration, release, etc.. extract of all bug resolved, pre-sorted/pre-groupped by severity, …);
- Have mandatory field when resolving bug with your bug-tracker (e.g. Jira) that must contain technical reason for the bug + projected preventive action to be reviewed further by retrospective. Having this is very valuable as decreases time spent on “gather data” and provides more “space” for “generate insights”;
- Keep it short: 60 minutes is usually enough/sufficient if everything is properly prepared in advance and practice is regular;
Inductive approach (during retrospective):
As team is passing from most to less severe production bugs, they review each and make sure technical reasons are understood and proper preventive action(s) agreed. Then team decides who will own the preventive actions (given team setup this may be teams or individuals). In obvious cases like: bug was not detected by automated and/or unit tests when it should have been, bug is simply stays opened until action is in place (as it is best practice to have those as bug “definition of fixed”).
As soon as bug is discussed team analyses possible patterns for the reasons of the bug by writing down short summary of the bug’s origin.
And moves on with the next bug, etc…
Since approach is inductive: moving from the specific to the general here interesting findings emerge from reality and most “aha-s” and bigger problems become visible.
Here are real-life examples of bugs “patterns”:
- “release misconfigs”
- “old legacy codes”
- “hardware issues”
- “story misunderstandings”
- “quick = dirty fixes”
- “3rd party misconfigs”
- “localization issues”
Of course it is good to prevent same bugs popping up again by addressing required preventive action(s) but is not just enough if you want to address the core issue.
The inductive approach here will allow team to focus on systematic problems and start effectively eliminating bugs by coming from particular life-cases, reality (reasons) to more “patternized” reasons and risks of having future bugs of the same nature/origin.
As an example Quality Retrospective may have also outcomes / actions like those:
- 3 compatibility issues / define list of supported browsers (+agree not to support the others, thus do not file bugs;
- 3 old legacy code issues / address with your architect (team), consider reworking;
- 3 misunderstandings / address with your product team how those occurred and refine story writing, grooming to avoid/reduce possible misunderstandings in the future.
- 2 design issues / agree to address design issues incrementally (stop demanding their fixes as bugs, …);
- 2 release miscofigurations / review release notes collection and approval mechanisms, reduce human factor;
- 2 translation issues / address with your product team how those shall be handled;
Team may decide to address them from having biggest impact or from more severe issues or more systematic, but at this level they will be fixing the root cause rather than just a symptom (particular bug).
Advice to facilitators: manage time in the way to avoid burning all of it reviewing all bugs (you may not be able and/or it may be not even needed), rather focus on most important ones + detect “patterns” as early as you can.
How to address preventive actions and follow up
As in any retrospective, I’ve seen two approaches working here depending on the efforts:
- in next sprint task approach – action owner plans a task (or time, depending on action nature) in the next sprint. Usually works when effort is quite small;
- “top story” approach – for “bigger actions” plan a story of top priority in the subsequent sprint;
Consequently follow up is done either at the sprint review or on the next retrospective.
Some “Side findings”:
- You will figure out that some bugs are not actually mistakes as from the coding perspective rather than “logical gaps” in user flows;
- Some bugs are unavoidable and you may not need to prevent them (e.g. the risk of having them is acceptable from business perspective or preventive actions are too expensive compared to the consequences, …);
- Some “Invalids”, “Cannot reproduces”, “Duplicates”, “Won’t fix-es” and “Works for me-s” causing development team distraction and eating up time – at some extent this is still unavoidable but keep an eye on if you have increasing numbers of those;
- Some do not fit into any pattern (just exceptions);
Good luck inducting quality in
Plans are useless but planning is indispensable.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
What goes up must come down. This is true of aircraft in flight. Bringing an aircraft back to the ground safely is the primary concern, but it also is necessary that the return to the ground occur at the intended landing point. The descent from flight altitude must be started well before the intended landing point is reached, and the rate at which the aircraft descends must be calculated, so that the aircraft reaches ground level just as it reaches the desired landing point. This controlled drop in altitude is called the descent rate.
Let us use these tips to learn how we can apply it for Agile development team.
The analogy here is very close…
Imagine team is a crew and airplane is the sprint, while burndown chart (CI, established NFRs, …) are navigation tools that allow to land sprint properly, with all passengers (stories) safe, at right airport (release) and on time (sprint review meeting).
So the crew must take into consideration many factors as altitude, distance to destination, aircraft descent velocity, weather conditions, fuel consumption, etc..
One of the key factors that allow to have successful landing of aircraft is choosing the correct descending point. You for sure remember that at some point you see “fasten your seat-belts” sign on and flight attendants start asking you to follow the “landing rules”. This happens not right before airplane lands but some time in advance…
Similarly Agile team must consider many factors to get things done on time with required quality baked in (number of stories in progress, time left finishing development, regression testing left, meeting agreed non-functional requirements, preparing for the demo, etc. ). And shall start finishing things in advance to guarantee proper “landing”.
How much in advance?
It heavily depends on variety of factors: team maturity and confidence, extent team can rely on automated testing (and extent product is covered with automated functional testing), need to check for non-functional requirements, all kind of risks, etc…
Sprint (Flight) Plan and Descent Point
I will bring real life example.
In a picture below team had planned sprint in the way to start checking product on development environment in advance (while possibly working on integration defects), then deploy it on staging environment the last day of the sprint to make required final performance/load tests, confirm release/deployment plan and test application closest possible to the real life conditions:
Part of this plan presumed that in case all is OK, free team members will focus on less priority bugs, increase unit tests coverage, prepare for upcoming sprint, focus on past retrospective action items and do other valuable things. While plan changed of course, reflecting changing reality leading team inspecting and adapting accordingly and team moved descent point according to the joint decision.
But there is still difference…
While airplane landing is an example of waterfall project with QA (hardening) phase in the end (landing), it’s still differs from Agile. The more you do Agile right the more your team is mature, your product is safe, having more quality in and things are more automated. The more you apply engineering practices and earlier you start integrating and testing things (continuously), the later you can start “landing” and the more passengers you’re capable to take (stories) and the shorter your “flight” will be (you will “Deliver Faster”).
Team members attending mode
Usual team stand-up to align on daily progress. Yesterday-today-impediments questions applied to each team member.
But there is a second scenario that also works …
Work Items attending mode
When this is useful: imagine more than one Agile team is working on the same product/running same sprint and need to be aligned.
For this particular case I apply model to serve as peer management tool (for Scrum of Scrums aka SoS) with work items “attending”, where the yesterday-today-impediments questions is still used but will be from the perspective of the work item, rather than the person.
To run this one efficiently here is what I do:
- I prepare list of aspects of product, teams have to address in common (e.g. regression bugs, functional tests, integration tests, unit tests, non-functional requirements and anything else teams consider as important);
- I list them on the whiteboard beforehand (we have pre-agreed order of addressing those);
- I invite max 2 team members per team to SoS to avoid long talks (one is also an option, however I’ve found 2 is optimal since in case particular team would need to make an on-going decision, another peer will help). Those guys are to talk for a team and report back to their teams whatever decisions were made, statuses changed, etc. in SoS;
- Then I go through the list during SoS one by one (as if not teams attending, but “topics” and ask if each team has to align their peers on specific topic or has any related questions clarifying in which state topic is in presently);
- I ask to share stories states not by default, but only in case there are questions or things that affect peer team(s) or causing dependency;
- Then I ask if teams has anything else to discuss (and if that is technical, leave them alone);
- Last but not least I ask if they have any impediments or may/are causing impediments to other team(s);
- And of course I time-box to 15 minutes as max;
Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.
Many of us doing Agile do not understand that it is primarily business mindset, rather than just another methodology to deliver software. Balance and sustainability of constructive conflict (key driver of any prosperous business) is the secret sauce to implement Agile successfully.
Let me explain it from practical business perspective. I will drift away from IT and software now…
Imagine you’re running business delivering…. car repair services to your customers.
It is your interest to deliver services fast and having quality in, so that you retain your customers and attract more (as it’s known that satisfied customer may bring 1 or 2 others, while dissatisfied one may stop other 8 coming to you). On one hand the more services you deliver, the more money you get, so you will push for more. But if you start pushing harder than your team is capable of, your service quality will start to suffer and this will obviously cause problems with your customers.
So you will try to get as much as possible given your conditions, while keeping quality in.
Now let us look at it from your customers perspective…
They want to have their car repaired cheap, fast with quality in. When you say your’re busy this week and cannot take their car, they will consider someone else’s services, rather then agree waiting that log (reality of market competition);
So, there is conflict of interests and mismatch between demand and offer.
It drives 2 things:
- Your business development (we need to improve our service to deliver faster/more/cheaper);
- Your customer’s expectations (maybe these repairs are not doable that fast/that much/that cheap);
Two consequences out of that:
- When there is no demand, why should you care to do more/faster/cheaper?
- When there is no chance to change your customers expectations either you’re doing poor job or your customer won’t likely get any better services with reasonable price anywhere else (task for your client managers to drive customer’s expectations).
So mismatch of those two creates conflict of interests that drives change.
The art is to understand to what extent you’re capable to improve things at your business given your current circumstances, while managing your customers expectations in the way to have control over gap between your offer and your customer’s demand.
Controlling this implies another important thing: ability to recognize challenge that you will fail taking (you should constructively resist) and challenge you’re able to overcome (and should take) to improve and continue managing “the gap”.
If you do not understand this you will end up bad. Either you will not be able to deliver quality in to your customers or you will be “beaten” by your competitors. In both cases you will end up being out of business😦.
Now let’s come back from cars to software and Agile
Customer is Product Owner (PO), while your business is your development team. The more you think business-wise and consider your team a business the better your team will be satisfying your PO.
So it is as easy as managing just 2 things:
- Your PO’s expectations;
- You development (quality and predictability);
Agile is just business common-sense mindset, nothing else! So to implement it right start from considering that you run a business in a highly competitive market with goal to satisfy your customer.
And mind that there is difference between pleasing and satisfying your customer, so argue, stand for your point, do not let compromise quality, do never over-commit, protect your ability to deliver, manage expectations, and … satisfy. If you do not follow these simple business rules and will focus on just pleasing your customer (or PO) just as in business you will end up not being able to manage what you’re responsible for – QUALITY.
Many Agile coaches have their own list of top failure modes. My favorite one is Mike Cohn’s: “How To Fail With Agile: Twenty Tips to Help You Avoid Success“.
But I also want to publish my winning list of things that impact teams and undermine their trust in business and Agile (combined from experience gained observing different teams at different times, so no particular team is meant here ).
So tips are written from the Product Owner perspective:
1. Argue in front of team at Sprint Planning. Let them see you were not capable to decide what you want to build them. Moreover, involve them into arguing. This will demonstrate how your (PO) team misses integrity;
2. Demonstrate that being on time does not matter: interrupt meetings with calls, side talks and questions. Leave the room occasionally and be late regularly. Doing this will make it almost impossible to demand on-time delivery from the team;
3. Continuously fail to deliver INVEST stories and integrity in sprint goal/product backlog. Let stories w/o details thought through, so that team feels you had not invest enough time to prepare them. This will also make it easier for team to fail delivering outcome of that stories to you, will make things more ambiguous, so that no one will understand where is failure or what was wrong and will never learn from it, so that improvement will not be feasible;
4. Ignore team signals on complex stories (the ones that are above ~13 story-points, the ones that are risky, big, and usually need to be analyzed and split into smaller chunks in advance). Just let big stories that have big doubts, leading to easier underestimations, over-commitments, sprint failures, causing less team confidence, further under-commitments and wastes of all kinds;
5. Present deadlines ignoring reality “I do not care how you do it, it MUST be done”. With this “masculine” management style you can always push things forward as Agile teams just delivery chain, so they must obey and no matter what they think and capable of;
6. Never share the Product Vision and mid-long term roadmap with the team (just keep it secret);
7. Ignore technical debt (just concentrate on #5);
8. Bombard team with in-sprint questions and “Can you do it now please?” tasks. Explain them that SCRUM is good but now we need to be more “FLEXIBLE”. Moreover, assign tasks to team members without talking to entire team. Demonstrate that you were not been able to plan things for an iteration, this will ruin team trust that they are working on most valuable things and completely undermine their ability to deliver;
9. Never groom your backlog just leave it to the sprint planning meeting when it is already too late. This will lead to long and stressful discussions as you will have to do it mid-planning,will drain team energy, lead further to fatigue, wrong estimations, poor planning and sprint failure;
10. Always try to find something that team did wrong to pin point and focus on blaming. This is proper way to avoid Kaizen and let team protect themself by “storytelling”;