Posted tagged ‘Lean Coffee’

Sprint Retrospective Techniques 2

April 21, 2013

A year ago I published a post on Sprint Retrospective Techniques that I employ to help my team to continuously improve. Since then I have tried out many other techniques to keep things fresh for the team. In this post I present three more simple techniques I have found to be especially effective.

Technique 1 – The Cool Wall

The Cool Wall is my favourite retrospective technique at the moment as it is not only very effective but also a lot of fun. I discovered it while browsing blog posts on the web looking for new retrospective techniques to try out.  I am a fan of the UK motoring show Top Gear and this technique is based on an occasional segment from the show, “The Cool Wall“.

In the show the presenters Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond decide how cool various cars are by placing pictures of them in various categories labelled: “Seriously Uncool”, “Uncool”, “Cool”, and “Sub Zero”. The show involves audience participation but ultimately the presenters (especially Clarkson) decide how cool each car is (usually overriding the audience).

For the retrospective version of The Cool Wall the cars are replaced by cards that represent positive practices or behaviours that the team engage in. For example, ‘Continuous Improvement’, ‘TDD’, ‘Listening to Customer Feedback’, etc.

The Scrum Master plays the part of the presenter while the team take on the role of the studio audience. For each card the Scrum Master asks the team:

“How cool are we at…<thing written on card>”

The better the team decides they are at the thing written on the card the cooler the category they agree to place it in. The Scrum Master then places the card on the board in the agreed “coolness category”. The most important difference between the retro technique and the TV show (and the reason it works as a retro technique as opposed to as entertainment) is that the audience/team decide on “coolness” not the presenter/Scrum Master.

The technique requires a little preparation. Beforehand the Scrum Master should prepare the behaviour/practice cards. The content should be topical to the particular team and their current circumstances. I also create small voting cards for each “coolness” category to allow the team to efficiently vote rather through the yelling and shouting that happens in the TV show. This also prevents the team from aligning themselves with the first vote that is shouted out.

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The next step is to draw the cool wall on a large whiteboard complete with the headings  “Seriously Uncool”, “Uncool”, “Cool”, and “Sub Zero”:

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The session proper can now begin. The Scrum Master produces each card in turn and asks the team how cool they think they are at what is written on it. The team use their voting cards to display their choice. If there are wildly differing opinions on “coolness” then discussion can ensue until some consensus is reached. At this point the Scrum Master places the card on the board in the appropriate “coolness” category and moves onto the next card. Just like in the show it is permissible to place a card between two categories where agreement cannot be reached. This voting and discussion process proceeds until all cards have been placed on the Cool wall:

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With all of the cards on the board it is time to move onto the next step. One card at a time the team discuss the things they are “Seriously Uncool” and “Uncool” at doing and identify corrective actions to improve their “coolness” at doing the thing on the card. I tend to write the key points of the discussion and any corrective actions onto the board as we go for future reference:

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Technique 2 – Lean Coffee

I have written about Lean Coffee before in reference to the  Lean Agile Glasgow meetups. Lean Coffee is a great technique for democratising meetings which is also suitable for retrospectives. The democracy comes from the team providing the topics and prioritising them for discussion.

While I allow an hour for most retrospective sessions I run I find that a Lean Coffee retrospective session requires up to two hours for a full discussion of the most important topics to take place. It is also the only type of retrospective that I run with the team sitting down as it does not require the use of a board.

The session follows this format:

  1. Everyone takes a few minutes to write up one or more stickies with topics they would like the team to discuss in the retrospective.
  2. Go through the stickies one by one with the author briefly explaining their question or topic (one minute should suffice for each).
  3. Everyone dot votes on the topics they most want to discuss. Each attendee gets three votes to spend – they can put multiple votes on any one topic and can vote for their own topics if they so wish.
  4. Personal Kanban is created with three columns: To DoIn ProgressDone. The In Progress column is WIP limited to 1. Stickies are used to create the headings (see picture below).
  5. All topics are placed under the To Do column in priority order according to the number of votes they have received.
  6. The top topic is moved from To Do to In Progress.
  7. 15 minute discussion ensues around the topic. A smart phone is handy to do the timing. If discussion around the topic dries up before the 15 minutes are up then progression to the next step comes early. Any corrective actions that are raised during the discussion should be noted down for agreement at the end of the session.
  8. The topic is moved to the Done column and the next To Do topic is moved to In Progress.
  9. Repeat from step 6 until the session time or topics are exhausted.
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Click to Enlarge

Technique 3 – Questions Retrospective

The final technique is the Questions Retrospective. The format involves posing a series of question to the team about how things have gone from their perspective. For example, here are some questions which I have gleaned from various sources and that I think make for a good generalised set:

  • What Worked Well?
  • What Should We Do Differently Next Time?
  • What Did We Learn?
  • What Don’t We Understand That Needs To Be Clarified for Future?
  • What Made You Mad?
  • What Made You Laugh?

You can target specific topics by introducing specific questions to address them, for example, to explore an event, good or bad, that has occurred in the preceding sprint.

Note that while this technique works well for sprint retrospectives I find it to be especially powerful for project retrospectives where a longer period of time is being considered. All of the pictures below were from a recent project retrospective I ran hence the sheer number of answers that were given.

In preparation for the session I send out the questions to the team in advance to encourage as much feedback as possible. In the case of a project retrospective I do this several weeks in advance. I also encourage the team to bring any answers they have pre-written on stickies so that ideas they have before the session are not lost and to speed the session up a bit.

Immediately before the session starts I write all of the questions onto a large white board:

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When the team members have all arrived the session can proceed:

  1. Explain the meaning of the questions to the team and provide any necessary clarifications so that everyone is on the same page
  2. Encourage the team to place stickies with their answers under each question
  3. Wait until everyone has posted all of their answers. Team members can post as many answers to each question as they like
  4. Go through each question one at a time
  5. Have the team group similar answers to the particular question together into common themes
  6. Discuss each grouping one at a time identifying and recording any corrective actions
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You Can Never Have Too Many Techniques

Keeping retrospectives engaging, and therefore effective, requires constant work on the part of the Scrum Master. Having a static set of techniques, however tried and tested they may be, is not enough and we have to keep innovating. I find I have to constantly seek out new techniques to accomplish this. Fortunately Agile practitioners are a generous bunch and new techniques are constantly being published on their blogs.

I have not been taken with every technique I have read about or gone on to try out and frequently make my own small adaptations to those I do use to increase their effectiveness for my team’s particular circumstances. This amounts to quite a lot of work but the rewards in the form of continuous improvement are worth it.

Perhaps in another year’s time we’ll see the publication of Sprint Retrospective Techniques 3.

Lean Coffee Glasgow

September 16, 2012

A few weeks ago an Agile minded colleague told me about a relatively new discussion forum that was running locally in Glasgow. They explained that like-minded Agile proponents were getting together regularly to exchange ideas. What was most interesting was that they were running their gatherings according to the rules of something I had never heard of before:  Lean Coffee. Intrigued I decided to go along to the next session.

In preparation I did some reading and found that Lean Coffee is a relatively new phenomenon which is, nonetheless, quite popular with Agile folks around the world. The format is designed to democratise meetings by preventing any one person from setting or controlling the agenda. The suggested venue is a coffee shop. However, this is Glasgow so the organisers here decided on a different setting: a pub. Great thought I – I get to learn about a new way of running meetings, have interesting discussions on Agile topics and I get to drink beer at the same time.

The next meeting was scheduled for a Wednesday evening at 7pm in a local hostelry called The Crystal Palace. Six people attended (a good number for this type of session as it turned out) and we were a varied bunch. Two, including myself, were new to the Lean Coffee concept and one of us was completely new to Agile. One of the old hands took the time to explain how the session would run to the newbies:

  1. Everyone takes a few minutes to write up one or more stickies with topics they would like the group to discuss.

    Click to enlarge

  2. Go through the stickies one by one with the author briefly explaining their question or topic.
  3. Everyone dot votes on the topics they most want to discuss. Each attendee gets three votes to spend – they can put multiple votes on any one topic and can vote for their own topics if they so wish.
  4. A Personal Kanban is created with three columns: To Do, Doing, Done. Stickies are used to create the headings (see picture).
  5. All topics are placed under the To Do column in priority order according to the number of votes they have received.
  6. The top topic is moved from To Do to Doing.
  7. A 15 minute discussion ensues around the topic. A smart phone is handy to do the timing. If discussion around the topic dries up before 15 minutes then progression to the next step comes early.
  8. The topic is moved to the Done column and the next To Do topic is moved to Doing.
  9. Repeat until the session time (two hours appears to be typical) or topics are exhausted.

The session ran as described and I found I rather liked the format. For a start it is a simple concept. This simplicity meant that the technique was easy to explain and quick to run with most of the time being spent in discussion rather than process.

Secondly the approach has an advantage over traditional meetings where the agenda is typically set by one person. Here all of the attendees decide on the agenda by suggesting topics and by voting for what they want to spend their time discussing. This give the attendees ownership over the agenda and ensures that everyone gets something relevant to them out of the session.

Importantly the attendees collectively  ensured that the session was a safe space where opinions were respected. There were no stupid questions and nobody lambasted anybody for what they had to say. There were disagreements to be sure but these were discussed in a grown-up manner rather than becoming heated arguments or slanging matches. Best of all there was no moderator to make this happen. The attendees moderated themselves.

The range of topics discussed over the course of the evening was varied. For example, there was an interesting conversation around the relative benefits of Stories and Use Cases, discussion around which sessions we were most looking forward to at the upcoming Lean Agile Scotland Conference, an explanation of what Kanban is for those of us who were new to it and discourse around what we were all reading.

I had an enjoyable evening and learned a lot over the course of the session. For example, I picked up two specific techniques which I have since applied to my own team. For the trivial expenditure of two hours and a few pints this was a bargain and I will certainly be attending future sessions. Although I will be referring to the sessions as Lean Lager from now on given the likely venue.

If you are in the area and have an interest in Agile then I would recommend that you come along. Lean Coffee/Lager is a friendly forum for exchanging ideas and networking and is open to all. For details of the next session see the Lean Agile Glasgow Meetup Page.