Posts Tagged ‘techniques’

Image result for yes but improv gameRecently my team played a loose version of the “Yes, But” improv game at the beginning of a retrospective (retro) as an icebreaker. I say loose, because we played it in a round (rather than in pairs) and did two rounds. I started each round with the same statement: “I think we should have snacks at Retro” (this is something that often comes up – tongue-in-cheek – during retro conversations).

For round one, the next person in line always had to respond starting with “Yes, but”. At the end of the round (we were seated in a circle), I asked the group to silently pay attention to how they felt and what they experienced during the exercise.

For round two, the next person in line had to respond starting with “Yes, and…”. At the end of the second round I asked some questions about how the team experienced both rounds:

  • How did the first round feel?
  • How did the second round feel?
  • What made a round difficult?
  • What did or could you do to make a round easier?
  • What does this mean for how we respond to each other as a team?

Interestingly (and unexpectedly), my team struggled more with the “Yes, and” round than the “Yes, but” round. To the extent that one team member couldn’t even think of something to say for the “Yes, and” round! At first I was a little stumped, but as we discussed further we realised that:

  1. As a team, we found it more natural to poke holes in ideas rather than add to ideas we didn’t completely agree with.
  2. When we didn’t agree completely with a statement, we got “stuck” and couldn’t think (easily) of a way to add to the statement.

As an example for point 2, above, one person responded to the statement with: “Yes, and we will need to do exercise”. The person following them really struggled to respond (because they don’t like exercise) and didn’t really come up with anything convincing. As a group, after some thought, we eventually realised that “Yes, and it can be optional” would have been a perfectly valid response. However, as a group, it took us a while to get there. So it definitely wasn’t something that came naturally to us.

For me, these were quite cool insights, and probably good for a team to be aware of, particularly when we’re struggling with new problems or trying to find creative solutions.

Have you tried similar games? What did you learn or experience? How has it helped your team?


6hatsThis is my take on using “Six Thinking Hats” to reflect on a period of time. You could use a light version for a retro – or the full version to review something longer like the stage of a project or a release. It’s usually most effective after some milestone event and where the learnings can be applied going forward. There is still value in doing it at the end of a project, but what you get out of it for future teams may not be as valuable as you won’t always know what will be applicable.


In order to save time in the session, you do need to do a fair bit of preparation. Try and collect as many facts about the time period as you possibly can before the session. Facts are anything backed by data and some common “facts” one might include are:
– Team changes (people joining/leaving)
– Events (e.g. release dates)
– Sprint information (velocity; commitment; actuals; sprint goal; etc.)
– Changes in process
– Special workshops or meetings
– Any data provided by metrics

I’ve found the most effective way to use the facts in the session (and the rest of my post assumes you have done this) is to map them onto a really large timeline. I typically use a sequence of flip chart pages that can be laid out so that attendees can literally “walk the line”. I’ve stuck them up on long walls or laid them out on a row of tables and even used the floor where I needed to.

It is also useful (for the reflectors in the team) to send out a description of the hats in advance and ask them to think about each one before the session.

Before you start your workshop, you have to set up the room (also see the tips at the end of this post):

  1. Lay out your timeline
  2. Ensure there is space for people to easily walk along it
  3. Have various stationary points along the timeline with pens and stickies
  4. Don’t forget to have a whiteboard or some other space for grouping the ideas


Besides your “timeline” of Facts, you will also need:

  • Small pieces of paper that people can write appreciations on
  • Pens
  • Stickies: one colour per hat
  • *Optional* Snacks

For the different hats, I usually use the following colours

  • Facts: N/A (people write directly on the timeline)
  • Instincts: Red
  • Discernment: Blue
  • Positives: Yellow
  • Ideas: Green


The process I follow is largely based on this one and, as they mention, I have found that the order is fairly important.

For an average team, I time-box each section to about 10 minutes. Breaks need to be at least 5 minutes, but could vary depending on the time of the day (e.g. you may need a lunch break). If you are going to use the data in the session to come up with actions and improvements, then your time-box for that part will depend on what technique you plan on using. Obviously these may need to be adjusted based on the size of the group, but as most of the steps are self-paced, one advantage of this workshop is that it works quite well with larger groups.

Round 1: Facts

Have the attendees “walk the line” from the beginning to the end. This is a walk down memory lane and also a chance to fill in any blanks and ensure everyone agrees that the facts are correct. There are no stickies for this step – if people want to add or change anything they do that by writing directly onto the timeline (at the right point in time, of course). Remember to remind everyone that they should only be adding facts.

Round 2: Instincts

“Gut Feel”

Hand out your “instinct” stickies. Remind every one of the definition of an “instinct”. I sometimes skip this round because people struggle to differentiate between “instincts” and “positives/negatives”.

Appreciations and Break

Give everyone a chance to write appreciations (these will be shared later – either at the end of the session or afterwards). It’s also a good point to have a short break.

Round 3: Discernment

“Devil’s Advocate”

Make sure you’ve collected the “instinct” stickies and that the next colour of stickies is available. Remind everyone what the definition of “discernment” is. Everyone repeats their walk of the timeline, this time adding stickies to the timeline for things that didn’t go well or were disappointments.

Cool off

Have another break (in case things got emotional). Have people write more appreciations.

Round 4: Positives

“Keep doing this”

This is the last walk of the timeline. Again, remind people of the definition of “positives” and ensure there are only “positive” stickies lying around for people to use. They walk the timeline one final time and add stickies for things that went well.

Lastly: Ideas

“If I did it again”

There are various ways to capture and categorise ideas. The intention of this round is that attendees use the timeline to stimulate their thinking of how they could have done things better. Or how they would do things differently if they had to do it again. This is  sometimes also described as “green fields” thinking.

And then (now or later)…

If you were using this technique for a retrospective, you would ideally get actions from the information as part of your session. If the session was to reflect on a project, perhaps the data would be grouped into things like “Good ways to kick off” and shared with other teams. I’m quite a fan of the quadrant method of grouping similar stickies to find topics to address (see photos below for examples from a retrospective I did). What you do next all depends on the ultimate purpose of your session.



  • Only let the attendees have access to the writing materials relevant for the round i.e. gather up the stickies from the previous round and “change colours” for the next round.
  • Have a number of “stationary points” – so that people can grab stickies and pens as soon as they have a thought.
  • Related to the above, have an excess of stationary and pens so people don’t have to wait for each other.
  • When preparing your timeline, try use pictures/symbols/colours to create visual patterns and cues for repeat facts e.g. document your sprint information in the same colour and layout for every sprint on the timeline or have a bug symbol where you have added statistics around bugs.
  • Don’t forget to share the appreciations! Especially if you’ve decided not to do so in the session.

I have applied this technique a couple of times and used the output for various things:

  1. We’ve used it to gather data for a team which was unfortunately not very transparent and then used that data to paint a “real picture” for external stakeholders.
  2. We’ve used it in retrospectives to identify improvements to team / process / products.
  3. We’ve used it at the end of a project to create guidelines and lessons learned for future projects and teams.


Have you used this technique before? What worked or did not work for you? Where might this approach be useful?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAPSAAAAJGQ2MTIzYzU1LWM0MjItNDJjZS1iYWM2LWYxZDVmNzJmY2M4ZQ.jpgI may have mentioned it before, but at the beginning of the year I went on wonderful facilitation training which led to some positive work-related changes plus a long list of ideas and possible actions for me to try. Some I haven’t got round to (yet) while others I have been actively working on. Here are some of my thoughts on the latter.

(Side note: the format is the format we were asked to use when making our list – and I quite like it.)

I will use question agendas and review these before and during the session so that there is buy-in and we’re talking about what the group feels we need to talk about

I have been using questions agendas quite actively and have found one additional benefit is that they help formalise my own thinking around outcomes and flows for the sessions, particularly workshops.

One thing I have learned is – when running through the agenda – particularly for longer workshops – don’t just read down the list. Try and tie the parts together (like a story) so that the room gets a sense of the journey we’re taking. Also keep an eye out for nodding heads (a good sign).

So far…

  • I’ve had one session where the team members actually kept each other on track with each step by referring back to where we were in the agenda (I tend to pair the agenda with a task board to show when we’re busy with a topic or done).
  • In another session, the group went off on a technical tangent, and then brought themselves back to review whether they were actually answering the questions they were meant to.
  • In a third session, the group actually added an item to the agenda (admittedly, the item was “we find out what the cake tastes like” 😉 )

I will spend more time thinking about WIIFM so that I can try create excitement for a session

(WIIFM = What’s In It For Me)

I could probably focus a little more on this one, particularly using the information to help make sessions more exciting. Since the training, I’ve tried to be more explicit about ensuring I understand all aspects of a meeting (Purpose, Outcomes & Deliverables, WIIFM, and Roles and Responsibilities), particularly when the session is for someone else. We do tend to spend more time on the Purpose and Outcomes & Deliverables. I could probably still do more here…

I will assume yes and ask the follow-up questions so that the team is involved in the conversation and it’s not all about me

I’ve found this technique so useful that I wrote a blog post about it.

I will be more aware of where I am standing so that I leverage physical location as a chicken

I’ve tried this with mixed feelings about its success with my one team during stand-up (the idea being that if you don’t have work on the board, you stand OUTSIDE the inner circle). It’s been more interesting on the other team because soon after I joined they started doing distributed/remote stand-ups, so physical location is not something one can really experiment with. It certainly is very powerful, and I’m currently part of a coaching program where I’m trying to increase my awareness of how I use my body to communicate, particularly when stressed, so perhaps there’s still something to be explored with this one.

In total, I had about twelve ideas on my list that I wanted to try. As you can see, I’ve only really worked with a couple so far. Probably time to try one or two more and see what I learn 🙂

What have you tried recently to try improve how you facilitate sessions or interact with your teams? How did it go?

top-30-open-ended-questions-570x375I’ve always been aware that open-ended questions are good. They allow someone to answer from their perspective and context rather than being constrained to the limitations imposed by your yes/no options. They also allow someone to challenge an assumption or idea (“How do I look in this dress?”) in a way that is potentially less confrontational (“Does this dress make me look fat?”).

All that said, even after some training in “better questions”, I often find myself regressing back to the good old yes/no in conversations – usually without even being aware of it. That is, until I went on some awesome Agile Facilitation training recently where we learnt a really useful trick:
1. Assume the answer to your question is “yes” (Do we have anything to share with the other teams?)
2. Ask the follow-up question (What will we be sharing with the other teams?)

Ta-da: easy peasy open-ended question! And, if you’re worried about the fact that the answer to your yes/no question may actually be no, if you think about it “no one” or “nothing” are both valid responses to an open-ended question.

I still ask yes/no questions. I am trying very hard not to (especially when facilitating). This trick seems to have helped me become better at self-correcting and gives me an easy way to figure what I can ask instead.

This trick has helped me immensely. Give it a try. Let me know what you discover.

#SGZA 2016: “Just Right”

Posted: November 17, 2016 in Agile, Team
Tags: , , , ,

I recently attended the regional Scrum Gathering for 2016 in Cape Town. This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

Danie Roux gave an entertaining opening keynote which started off with a re-telling of the well-known fairy tale: Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We also touched on the adventures of Cinderella (and her glass slipper) and the Hunchback of Notre Dame during the talk. Danie challenged us to consider the modern versions of the fairy tales (Shu) against the logic they contained (Ha – or huh?) and their actual origins in history (Ri). Besides some fascinating facts about the origins of some fairy tales, other take-outs from his talk were:

  1. Perspective matters.
  2. Roles are meaningless on their own – they need to be considered in the context of a relationship.
  3. A cadence is a pause. Pauses between notes create music.
  4. The three hardest things to get a team to do are: (1) Talk (2) Talk to each other; and (3) Talk to each other about work.
  5. The definition of ScrumBut: (ScrumBut)(Reason)(Workaround)
    1. Translation: When we say Scrum But we usually go “this is what Scrum would recommend”, “but this is why it won’t work for us”, “so this is what we’ll do instead”
    2. Perhaps we should try for Scrum And?

Finally, he told us the story of his friend and the glass Sable antelope… As a reminder that when we give someone a gift, we cannot be upset with what they do with it (even if they destroy it), regardless of what we invested in getting it for them.

Some references from the talk:

Anything in there that you found interesting?

This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

Some of the slots were really short, which meant speakers couldn’t really go into a lot of detail. These are sketch-notes from some of the shorter talks.

Popcorn Flow

agileafrica.JPG  popcornflow

Find out more:



Leader Transformation


The full title of this case study was “Leader Transformation – a side effect of an agile transition”.

Key take-outs for me:

  • Different parties have different motives and often change driven from the top is feared or regarded as a ‘fad’ to ‘survive’.
  • Beware early successes- sometimes they create a false sense of confidence which leads to running before one can properly walk
  • Start from where you are

Mob Programming Case Study


An interesting talk on the before and after effects of having a team practice mob programming. Some of my key take-outs for if you want to try it:

  • Start by following the rules and then inspect and adapt.
  • There are some things where mob programming doesn’t work very well, e.g. doing research, where learning is not an outcome of the work, and problems that are still very large.
  • You need to mob program with a cross-functional team with all the perspectives (problem knowledge, testing expertise, developers, UX, etc.).
  • You also need to create time for team members to do things on their own i.e. not all of their day is spent with the ‘mob’. This “alone time” could be spent on things that aren’t suited to mob programming and/or other creative initiatives.


This is a post in a series on the talks that I attended at my first ever Agile Africa Conference in Johannesburg. All posts are based on the sketch-notes that I took in the sessions. 

I’m not sure if you recall our first experiment with self-selection? Imagine my surprise when I realised that our keynote speaker on the topic, Sandy Mamoli, was the very same person who had been part of the team that created the material we’d used for our own self-selection attempts. As we’d also run a second less successful experiment, I was quite interested to hear a little more “from the horse’s mouth”, so to speak.


There were some key points shared by Sandy that helped me understand a little more why our second attempt had not succeeded from an expected outcome perspective, but had, in fact, succeeded from a feedback perspective.

  1. Purpose is important. Squads form around a strong purpose that they can buy into.
  2. Self-selection will always fail if management selection is going to be done afterwards to ‘tweak’ the outcomes. (Her solution: make the blueprints for the new squads very visible everywhere as soon as possible after the session.)
  3. She shared a story where squads would not form around a particular vision or goal and usually where that happened there were deeper issues at the root which needed to be resolved before a team would be successful.
  4. Self-selection should NOT directly or explicitly impact reporting lines.

So, upon reflection, after comparing our first and second experiment and adding in some of the tips from Sandy, these were my conclusions:

  • Self-selection should happen independently of reporting lines
    • The first time we did it, there was no impact on reporting lines; the second time we did it, reporting lines were impacted by which squad you moved into.
  • Try keep “people owners” as observers not players
    • There was a subtle form of “Liar Liar” in our second attempt as every time there was a significant shift in numbers to one or other ‘cost center’ then the managers (who were also the Product Owners) had a quick chat about how to re-balance things. In our first experiment, everyone remained in the same “cost center”.
  • Ensure the Product Owners are well prepared in terms of their vision
    • The second time we ran self-selection, one Product Owner had a very clear and mature view of what the squad would be achieving; whereas the other Product Owner was new to the space and hadn’t really had time to formulate their thinking and strategy properly.

Sandy also advised the following:

  • Where squads have fully formed after a couple of rounds, move forward with those squads (regardless of the state of the others).
  • Where squads aren’t fully formed because there just aren’t enough people, have the squad members identify what ‘imaginary friends’ they need to ‘hire’ to form a full squad.
  • Where squads haven’t formed for less obvious reasons and/or people refuse to participate in the process (and choose no-squad), revert to traditional management selection for those people and root cause the reasons for the resistance.

This keynote was very valuable to me as it shifted my perspective of our second attempt from being a failure to being a great source of useful feedback about the state of a particular space. Have you tried self-selection? What was the outcome? What did you learn?