All posts by Martin Aziz

An IT leader that helps organizations get to sustained delivery of business value through their technology products, projects and investments. My purpose is to help organizations transition to and sustain that shift to an Agile culture. It is grounded in the belief that an Agile culture will have the right practices, people and behaviors that will deliver sustained value. Martin Aziz currently works at LoyaltyOne as Director in IT focusing on Agile and Delivery practices.

The Retro Game

The Hunt for Better Retrospectives

The rumours had started to spread, retrospectives at our organization were flat, stale and stuck in a rut. The prevailing thought was that this was stalling the pace of continuous improvement across our teams. In truth, I wasn’t sure if this was at all true, it’s a complex problem that has many possible contributing factors. Here are just some possible alternative or co-contributing causes: how the teams are organized, the level of safety, mechanisms to deal with impediments across the organization, cultural issues, levels of autonomy and engagement, competence & ability and so on…

Despite this, it didn’t hurt to have a look for some inspiration on good retrospectives. I really liked Gitte Klitgaard’s talk called Retrospectives are Boring and Useless – Or are They? In particular the parts around preparing and establishing safety.

On the theme of safety, I thought we could try to go as far as having fun; we’d already had lots of success with the getKanban game (oh Carlos you devil!). Where it all tied together for me, was being inspired by the great question-based approach from cultureqs.com that I’d had a chance to preview at Spark.

If I could create a game with the right prepared questions, we could establish safety, the right dialogue and maybe even have some fun.

The Retro Game

This is a question-based game that I created that you could use to conduct your next retro for teams of up to 10 people. The rules of the game are fairly simple and you could play through a round or two in about 1 to 2 hours depending on team size and sprint duration. Prep time for the facilitator is about 2-4 hours.

theretrogame

Prepping to play the game

You, as facilitator, will need to prepare for 3 types of questions that are thought of ahead of time and printed (or written) on the back of card-stock paper cards.

One question per card. Each question type has its unique colour card. About 8 questions per category is more than enough to play this game.

The 3 types of questions are:

In the Moment – These are questions that are currently on the mind of the team. These could be generated by simply connecting with each team member ahead of time and asking, “if you could only talk about one or two things this retro, what would it be?” If for example they responded “I want to talk about keeping our momentum”, you could create a question like “what would it take to keep our momentum going?”

Pulse Check – These are questions that are focused on people and engagement. Sometimes you would see similar questions on employee satisfaction surveys. An example question in this category could be “What tools and resources do we need to continue to be successful?”

Dreams and Worries – This is a longer-term view of the goals of the team. If the team has had any type of Lift Off or chartering exercise in the past, these would be questions connected to any goals and potential risks that have been previously identified. For example if one of a team’s goal is to ship product updates every 2 weeks, a question could be “What should we do next to get closer to shipping every 2 weeks?”

On the face-up side of the card it should indicate the question type as well as have room to write down any insights and actions.

You will also need:

  • To print out the game board
  • To print out the rule card
  • Bring a 6-sided dice

Playing the Game

Players sit on the floor or at a table around the game board. The cards are in 3 piles, grouped by type, with the questions face down.

therules

  • The person with the furthest birthday goes first.
  • It is their turn and they get to roll the dice.
  • They then choose a card from the pile based on the dice roll. A roll of 1 through 3 is an “In the Moment” card, 4 is a “Pulse Check” and 5 to 6 “Dreams & Worries”
  • They then read the card question on the card out loud and then pass the card to the person on the right.
    • The person on your right is the scribe, they will capture notes in the Insight and Actions boxes of the card for this round.
  • Once they have read the question, they have a chance to think and then answer the question out loud to the group. Nobody else gets to talk.
  • Once they’ve answered the question, others can provide their thoughts on the subject.
  • After 3 minutes, you may wish to move on to the next round.
  • At the end of each round the person whose turn it was chooses the person who listened and contributed to the discussion best. That person is given the card to keep.
  • The person to the left is given the dice and goes next.

Winning the Game

  • The game ends at 10 minutes prior to the end of the meeting.
  • At the end of the game, the person with the most cards wins!
  • The winner gets the bragging rights (and certificate) indicating they are the retrospective champion!
  • You should spend the last 10 minutes reflecting on the experience and organizing on the action items identified.

Concepts at Play

players-playing

Context & Reflection – Preparation is key, particularly for the “In the Moment” section. The topics will be relevant and connect with what the team wants to talk about. Also when presented in the form of a question they will likely trigger reflection for all those present.

Sharing the Voice – Everyone gets a chance to speak and be heard without interruptions. The game element also incentivises quality participation.

Coverage of topic areas – The 3 question categories spread the coverage across multiple areas, not just the items in the moment. The probabilities are not however equal, for example there is a 50% chance of “In the Moment” being chosen in each turn.

Fun & Safety – The game element encourages play and friendlier exchanges. You are likely to have dialogue over debate.

Want to play the game?

I’d love to hear how this game worked out for you. I’ve included everything you need here to setup your own game. Let me know how it went and how it could be improved!

Resources:
Retro Game – Game Board
Retro Game – Rules
Retro Game – Card Template
Retro Game – Champion Certificate

Martin aziz

Martin Aziz
Blog
@martinaziz
LoyaltyOne

 

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Succeeding with your Agile Coach

 

I recently said goodbye to one of my organization’s Agile Coaches and I felt that I needed to take a pause and reflect to consider my next move. The engagement had gone well, in fact one of the best we’ve had, but not without its share of successes and failures. But the successes had clearly outpaced any failures, and so there was a lot of good I wanted to build on.

The departing coach was part of a 3rd generation of Agile Coaches that I had worked with in the 3 years since we had begun our company’s transformation to Agile. And while he was a great coach, so were his predecessors and yet they had had fewer successes.

On reflection, what had really happened is that we had changed as a company; we had learned how to better execute our engagements with an Agile Coach.

Deciding to hire an Agile Coach.

Deciding to hire an Agile Coach can be a big step. A couple of things need to have happened, you’ve recognized that you need some help or at least another perspective. And given that Agile Coaches are typically not very cheap, you have decided to invest in your Agile transformation, however big or small. You’re clearly taking it seriously.

However, through my experiences I noticed that things can get a little tricky once that decision has been made. Many organizations can fall into a trap of externalizing transformation responsibilities to the Agile Coach.

In essence thinking along the lines of “as long as I hire a good coach, they should be able to make our teams Agile” can take you into an engagement model that is not very Agile in the first place.

Much like how Scrum and other Agile Practices connect customers with teams and establishes shared risk, an organization’s relationship with their Agile Coaches need to be a working partnership.

Figure1

Positive Patterns for Coaching Engagements

So it’s important for you to setup the right engagement approach to get value out of your Agile Coach and this goes beyond the hard costs of their services, but also the high cost of failure with not having the right coaching in the right areas.

Here are 5 positive patterns for coaching engagements that I’ve observed:

1. Identify the Customer

Usually it is management who will hire a coach, and they may do so to help one or more teams with their Agile adoption needs. So in this scenario who is the customer? Is it the person that hired the coach or the teams (the coachees) who will be receiving the services? In some cases, the coachees aren’t clear why the coach is there, they haven’t asked for their services and in some cases may even feel threatened by their presence.

For this reason, if management is hiring coaches you need to recognize that there is a 3-pronged relationship that needs to be clearly established and maintained.

Figure2

With the customer in this case being someone in management, i.e. the person who hired the coach in the first place. The customer’s responsibility will be to not only identify the coachee but then work with the coach to establish and support that relationship.

2. Set the Mandate

Agile Coaches typically tend to be more effective when they have one or two specific mandates tied to an organization’s goals. Not only is the mandate important to establish why the coach is there, too many goals can significantly dilute the coach’s effectiveness. Put another way, Agile Coaches are not immune to exceeding their own Work in Progress limits.

The mandate establishes why the coach is there, and should be tied to some sort of organizational need. A good way of developing this is to articulate what is currently happening and the desired future state you want the coach to help with.

For example:

The teams on our new program are great at consistently delivering their features at the end of each sprint. However, we still experience significant delays merging and testing between teams in order for the program to ship a new release. We’d like to reduce that time significantly, hopefully by at least half.

Once the engagement is well underway you may find that the coach, through serendipity alone, is exposed to and gets involved with a wide variety of other areas. This is fine, but it’s best to just consider this to be a side show and not the main event. If other activities start to take on a life of their own, it’s probably a good time to go back to inspect and potentially adjust the mandate.

If you’re not sure how to establish or identify your Agile goals, this could be the first goal of any Agile coach you hire. In this scenario, the customer is also the coachee and the mandate is to get help establishing a mandate.

3. Hire the Coach that fits the need

Agile coaches are not a homogeneous group, with many degrees of specialty, perspective and experiences. Resist the desire to find a jack-of-all-trades, you’re as likely to find them as a unicorn.

Your now established mandate will be your biggest guide to what kind of coach you should be looking for. Is the need tied to technical practices, process engineering, team collaboration, executive buy-in, transforming your culture, etc?

The other part is connected with the identified coachee. Are the coachees team members, middle management or someone with a “C” in at the start of their title? Will mentoring be required or are you just here to teach something specific?

Using something like ACI’s Agile Coaching Competency Framework, would be a good model to match the competencies required of the perspective coach.

In my example earlier, in order for your team to get help with their merging & testing needs, you may have to look for a coach with the right skills within the Technical Mastery competence. And if you have technical leaders who are championing the change, potentially the ability to Mentor.

Figure3

4. Establish Feedback Loops

With the coach, customer and mandate clearly identified, you now need to be ready to devote your time to regularly connect and work with the coach. Formalizing some sort of cadence is necessary, if you leave it to ad hoc meetings you will typically not meet regularly enough and usually after some sort of failure has occurred.

The objective of these feedback loops is to tie together the communication lines between the 3 prongs established: the customer, the coach and the coachees. They should be framed in terms of reviewing progress against the goals established with the mandate. If the coachees ran any experiments or made any changes that were intended to get closer to the goals, this would be the time to reflect on them. If the coachees need something from the customer, this would be a good forum to review that need.

Figure4

Along with maintaining a cadence of communication, feedback loops if done regularly and consistently, could be used to replace deadlines, which in many cases are set simply a pressure mechanism to maintain urgency. So statements like “Merge & test time is to be reduced by half by Q2” now become “We need to reduce merge and test time by half and we will review our progress and adjust every 2 weeks.”

5. It doesn’t need to be Full Time

Resist the temptation to set the coach’s hours as a full-time embedded part of the organization or team. While you may want to have the coach spend a significant amount of time with you and your coachees when the engagement is starting, after this period you will likely get a lot more value from regular check-ins.

This could look like establishing some sort of rhythm with a coachee: reviewing challenges, then agreeing on changes and then coming back to review the results after sufficient time has passed.

This approach is more likely to keep the coach as a coach, and prevents the coach from becoming entangled in the delivery chain of the organization. The coach is there to help the coachees solve the problems, and not to become an active participant in their delivery.

Time to get to work

Bringing in an Agile Coach is an excellent and likely necessary part of unlocking your Agile transformation. However, a successful engagement with a coach will have you more connected and active with your transformation, not less. So consider these 5 positive coaching engagement patterns as I consider them moving into my 4th generation of Agile coaches. I expect it will be a lot of work, along with a steady stream of great results.

Martin aziz

Martin Aziz
Blog
@martinaziz
LoyaltyOne

 

 


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

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The Scrum Master and Product Owner as leadership partners

After a recent large organizational change that resulted in a number of new teams formed, a product owner (PO) approached me looking for some help. He said, “I don’t think my new Scrum Master is doing their job and I’m now carrying the entire team, do we have a job description we can look at?”

I can already imagine how a version of me from a previous life would have responded, “yes of course let’s look at the job description and see where the SM is falling short of their roles and responsibilities”. But as I considered my response, my first thought was that focusing our attention on roles and job descriptions was a doomed route to failure. Pouring our energy there would likely just extend the pain the PO, and likely SM, were going through.

Sure we have an SM job description in our organization, and it clearly documents how the SM provides service to the organization, team and PO. But reviewing this with the seasoned SM didn’t really make sense to me; they were very well aware of the content of the job description and what was expected of them.

At the same time that this was happening, another newly paired Scrum Master asked for my help regarding their PO. From their perspective the PO was “suffocating” the team. The PO was directing the team in many aspects of the sprint that they felt was stepping beyond their role. “I don’t think the PO knows their role, maybe you can help me get them some training?” was the SMs concluding comment.

Over the course of the next few weeks this scenario played out again through more POs and SMs sharing similar challenges. Surely this was not a sudden epidemic of previously performing individuals who now needed to be reminded of what their job was?

Recognizing the impact of change

A common pattern was emerging from all of this, change was occurring and each individual was relying on, and to some degree expecting, old patterns to continue to work with their new situation. Their old way of working in Scrum seemed to work very well; so it was everyone else around them that was not meeting expectations.

The core issue however was that change was not being fully confronted: the product was different, the team competencies were different, the stakeholders were different, the expectations were different and finally the team dynamic was different all the way down to the relationship between the SM and PO.

Scrum as a form of Change Management

I looked for the solution from Scrum itself, at its heart a method for teams to use to adapt to and thrive with change. Was there enough transparency, inspection and adaptation going on between the SMs and POs in these situations? I would argue, not enough.

A pattern was becoming clear: nobody was fully disclosing their challenges to the other, they hadn’t fully confronted and understood their new situation and hadn’t come up with new approaches that would improve things. Said another way, they hadn’t inspected their new circumstances sufficiently and transparently enough so that they could adapt their role to fit the new need.

One thing that many successful SMs and POs recognize is that they are both leaders dependent on each other, and for their teams to be successful they need to figure out how they will work together in partnership. It doesn’t matter whether the terms of that partnership gets hashed out over a few chats over coffee or through a facilitated chartering workshop. What matters is clarity around how you agree to work together as partners meeting some shared goal.

As an SM or PO, here are some sample questions whose answers you may wish to understand and align on:

  • Do we both understand and support the team’s mission and goals?
  • What are the product goals?
  • How can we best help the team achieve those goals?
  • Are there any conflicts between the team and product goals?
  • When our goals or methods are in conflict, how will we resolve them?
  • In what ways will I be supporting your success as an SM/PO?
  • How will we keep each other informed and engaged?
  • Should we have a peer/subordinate/other relationship?

So if you are an SM or PO, and it’s unclear to you on the answers to some of these questions, you may just want to tap your leadership partner on the shoulder and say “let’s talk”.

Dec17-368b

Martin Aziz
Blog
@martinaziz
LoyaltyOne

 

 


Affiliated Promotions:

Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective.

Please share!
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