Archive for the ‘Retrospective’ Category

It’s not a secret I am a big fan of retrospectives. A big fan as I think it’s the regular standing still that helps a person/team/company improve.
I’m actually convinced it is better to start unprepared and stand still every 2 weeks, then to take weeks or even months to prepare. With retrospectives, we react to reality, not plan what we foresee.

Over the years I have helped a lot of teams & companies by facilitating retrospectives for them.  For  some companies it’s a yearly proces, for others, a one time event and luckily for most a recurring event.

From time to time, you see teams that are fed up with a weekly retrospectives.
– nothing ever changes !!
– why are we the only ones that have to change?
– we never get time to implement the idea’s we have!!
etc etc

My experience as a coach is that most of these remarks are wrong. yet I also know that from the teams perspective, they are correct.

As much I like to challenge teams, I also listen to them.
(Not really a contradiction as I have to listen to challenge them )

one of my favorite retrospectives to deal with this, is a work retrospective.


Set the stage:
Any activity to set the stage can work here. These days Check-in is my favorite

Gather Data:

Let everyone in the team write down one or two action that they think should be solved and only take about an hour.

These tasks should not be know bugs that we should solve, yet really improvements that can help the team.

>> 5 minutes for this

People present one post it in a round robin way.  When we did the whole table, we start again with the first. You stop after 2 round or when no one has any post it’s left.

>> Time depends on the size of the group

Select a partner + a task:

Every work is done in pairs. As this is an ultra short timebox, this is very hard. As I want the best quality, we do pairprogramming.

Some people prefer to select a partner and find a task together. Some people prefer selecting a task and then a partner. I’m very flexible on this, the timebox is already hard.

Just do it:

People get 1 hour to do what they want.
I encourage them to work in small steps.
Whatever they do, they need to check in after 1 hour or throw it away.

A mini demo:
We come back to the team and we show what we have done.
>> max 5 minutes per pair

In most teams there are people who hate this. In lots of cases these are also the people that complain most that they never get the time to do anything.
I ignore them in this exercise. The rules are the same for everyone.
(That’s why I use lots of different retrospective formats.)

Usually there are about the half of the teams that have been able to do something useful. And when this happens, everyone in the team is teached it’s possible. (They might not be ready for it, yet people in their team have delivered something useful in one hour.)
And this is not me convincing them, their team has done it.

I once had a team complaining for 3 months that the homepage of their website was unstable because of unstable web-services  In 1 hour, 1 pair had identified +60 calls to web-services and they had fixed 40 of them. The updated was life in the hour. The next day, one of the developers, took the time to fix the other 20. We won that extra hour back in the same week, as our testers lost less time.

Every time there is a pair that is not ready by the demo. They keep working while their colleagues are demoing. I make it very clear that they won’t be able to demo. That usually stops them from working. I do this as they now pay attention to their team mates that were able to split in smaller tasks.
Almost every time I have a very good personal coaching chat with one of these developers about that.

Sometimes there is also a pair cheating and they show something they have been working on secretly. I don’t say anything about that. At least the secret project is now out. 😉

Remember, it’s not a competition. It’s about solving a problem.
In a normal retrospective, we also limit the number of things we aim for.
Here we use a set based design.
We go for multiple idea’s and we are happy when we achieve one or two.
(And yes sometimes every pair succeeds.)



Here are the slides of my ALE2012 Presentation about all the online collaboration projects I started.
Unfortunatly on the slide I only have pictures of 68 people. somehow I did not find out how to create a picture of 146 people in google picassa.
The presentation was originally called: “What I learned from Who is agile”, but when the ALE2012 organisation to talk for 1 hour instead of 30 minutes, I started thinking about more projects then just the book creation.

Brenda was suggested by Jean Tabaka. Here is what Jean has to say about Brenda.

I was fortunate enough to meet Brenda at Agile Beijing 2 years ago. During that time in Beijing, we had an opportunity to do some coaching and community building work together. Immediately, I knew I had met an incredible Agile force. Brenda has a passion around Agile that is sure to move not just teams and organizations but entire communities. I am so glad Brenda is a part of the “Who Is agile” book. You may not know her now. I hope some day you will. We are lucky that when we look at Brenda we see “Agile” creating a space in China and the global community.

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

I’ve been through tough swimming trainings in my childhood. I had to leave home at 6AM before all the neighbors got up. The coach was harsh, so that we could get better records. No matter how tired I was, there’s no escape for the next day. This experience influenced my character quite a lot. You need to be a strong kid to go through those years. What happens now is that I have a super strong heart beneath my smile that could not be knocked down easily.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?

Being in IT is a coincidence. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, giving kids the best guidance in their early life. Being a trainer is one step closer. Maybe it will be my choice for my a next job.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

My biggest challenge is my looks. Very often, customers judge me from my young`looks. It’s still a good thing that getting used to being judged and sticking to what I can do makes me more mature.

What drives you?

I always believe that I was born to achieve something that I’ve not yet known. This belief drives me to follow my intuition to do the right thing and to do the thing right.

What is your biggest achievement?

Once I met a client on the subway. At that time the coaching period was already finished. But we still talked about Agile and software. I was so glad to know that even though the coaches were gone, the team still liked the Agile ways of working and was still improving by themselves. At that moment I felt a great sense of achievement because what I had been doing was really useful to people.

What is the last book you have read?

Making Software Just got the Chinese Version last week for which I was one of the translators.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

What does Agile mean to your personal life?

Continuous improvement, responding to change, etc. All the Agile values and principles apply to individuals. Actually, to be a good Agile Coach, you need to be agile yourself first.

Who do you think I should ask next?


Do you like these answers? Then check out our book where we will have 89 people answering these questions.

Last week Duarto Vasco tweeted the question: Best facilitation book for Agile Teams?

I’m not in favor of competive behavior, so I gave a list of agile facilitation books I know (I haven’t read all of them, but the ones I haven’t are on my reading backlog)

This evening I realized more people could be interested in this list, so here it is:

Time for another publication of “Who Is” answers. This time I chose Esther Derby.  Esther was proposed by Johanna Rothman & Don Gray

Esther has the wisdom of a 90 year old, with the body of a 16 year old. When I write it down, it feels more like an insult than a praise. But when you read her answers, you will see that she worked hard on both parts. Of course her goals were not based on 90 or 16 year old’s. But she had an end in mind when she began and more important, while she worked on herself.  I hope Esther forgives me for talking about her that way.

Esther was the first author I asked for help without knowing her. I no longer remember how she reacted, but I still ask strangers for help 😉
I once saw her doing a 1 (or was it 2) hour presentation with only 3 slides. One of which she had a formula on it and no words. The word presentation is actually wrong as it was more a dialog. Although the content was not new to me, the refreshing style helped me in forming my mind. Her Agile Retrospective book is one of the books I have bought dozen’s to give away.

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

My fore-bearers on my mother’s side came to this continent in the 1600s to escape religious persecution in Europe. I’m not sure what their beliefs were….there have been a number of changes in religious affiliation down the generations, all of them sincere.
This history makes me less inclined to hold onto One Truth–and not just where religion is concerned. Our belief systems always involve choices. Those choices play out on two levels. First, there’s the choice of a frame or belief system guides our life. Second, there are the choices that are shut off by our chosen frame and the choices that open up that frame.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?

I have no earthly idea. At university, I studied studio arts and art history. I figured out pretty quickly, though, that

  1. there weren’t many jobs in the field
  2. I wasn’t cut out for the sorts of jobs that were available.

So I thought about what I liked to do, and what I was good at: seeing patterns, solving problems, thinking logically. And I remembered the flow charting template my father gave me when I was 9 years old–perhaps it was all set in motion then.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

I have this little voice that sometimes asks “Who do you think you are, Sister, acting like something special?” On one hand, this voice can undercut my confidence–if I let it. On the other hand, it keeps me from turning into an egotistical fat head who believes all the praise quotes and press blurbs— and thinking I’m more special than anyone else.

What drives you ?

I don’t know if “drive” is the right word to describe what motivates me. Perhaps “What pulls me” is more accurate.
Many years ago, I spent some time thinking about the life I wanted for myself. Then I set about creating it.

My endeavor is to stay on course with that vision, and think about the choices that will get me there. Those choices are the guide star.

Let me give you an example. One of the choices I made was to maintain fitness and flexibility. Now, I don’t always want to go to the gym at 7:30 in the morning. It’s easy to choose the newspaper and another cup of coffee over the gym. But rather than get hung up on the secondary choice (go to the gym), I focus on the primary choice, maintaining fitness. Once you make a few primary choices, the secondary choices are pretty easy. When the primary choices are clear, both my conscious and unconscious minds are tuned into them.

I check back on my choices from time to time, and my picture of the life I want to live. I may make some adjustments, either in my vision or in my primary choices. But for the most part, I’m living the life I want, and most of the time I’m insanely happy (though since I’m extremely introverted, it might not show).

What is your biggest achievement?

Oh, that voice is is telling me I’m not so special and that if I did it, it must not be a big deal! Shaddup!

Let’s see.

I unlocked the golden handcuffs at a big corporation, walked away from a pile of options that were two years out from vesting and started my own business. I’ve co-authored two books. I’ve written over 100 articles. I learned how to ski at age 38. I’ve got a great life and I’m happy.

What is the last book you have read?

More than I have kept my books, my books have kept me.

I’m currently reading Building Trust by Solomon and Flores (business), Lonesome Dove (pleasure, got sucked in by the mini-series while visiting the in-laws last week), The Bush Tragedy (civic participation), and listening to The Culture Code (while running).

I the last month or so, I read Leadership and Self-Deception, Beyond Budgeting, Cutting for Stone, and The Political Mind.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

“What brings you happiness when you work with others?”

Ah, interesting question. I don’t always like getting on a plane to go to work, but I do like the people I’m with once I arrive. I enjoy helping people see different options that will help them operate more effectively in their lives, on their teams, and within their organizations. I really get a kick out of helping someone see their organization as a system and discover a whole new range of explanations and possibilities. I find that when I’m not happy at work, it’s usually about how I am choosing to frame something….

Who do you think I should ask next?

George Dinwiddie. He brings a unique set of skills, intelligence, curiosity, kindness, and playfulness to his work.
Rashina Hoda, who has done some really interesting research on self-organizing teams (her PhD work on self-organizing teams is available online).
Jukka Lindstrom, who has boundless curiosity about how people and organizations tick.

About 2 months ago I started my “Who Is” serie. The idea was to ask a a bunch of diverse people some questions and publish one set of answer every week.

The first mail I send out, I did not got any answer for a few days. I was not sure if it was a good idea or not, so I send the questions out to a few more people. Then I thought it is almost holiday. I will be gone for a few weeks, and I wants to be sure I can schedule answers while I am gone. (And I don’t want to take the risk that I don’t get any answers for the rest of the holiday period.) So I started to send out my questions to some more people.

When people replied, I started looking at the last answer (who should I ask next) and send out questions to these people. When people told me, I need some time to think about these people I asked hem, could you already give me new name(s).

I published the first set of answers from Lisa Crispin 10 days before my holiday. During my holiday I started to get lots and lots of answers. I needed a tool to keep track of who I invited and who accepted. I created a spreadsheet to write down all the names of people I invited. When I started to record them, I quickly realized I had already invited lots of people.

By the time my holiday was over, I had 76 people invited, 52 people had said yes (2 said no) and + 30 had written an answer. I started to add a publication date to my spreadsheet.

Somewhere along the way I had decided that I would schedule answers “in a first answer, first published” order. I communicated that to the next people I invited. (I did not do that to the first people I invited.)

When I received a new set of answers, I read the answers (I just love what people are doing with the questions.) Then I thank the person for his time (as I know that answering these questions takes a lot of time for most people.) And I tell them when their answers will be scheduled. More and more I started to feel guilty, as I had to tell people in July that they would be published in October, November etc…

Last week I received an answer from a person I admire a lot. I invited her before my holiday. I had told that person it was ok to answer after my holiday as I already had answers for the next weeks. I forgot to tell her about my “first come first serve policy”. By the time she answered, I had people scheduled until February 2012. I told her, the probably publication date. She was mad. Really mad. She had spend part of her holidays writing the answers, rewriting it a few times. The result was one of the most touching answers I received, very personal. She was mad because she found my release schedule ridiculous for an agile coach. She was right.

Lets look at this project:

  • I had a weekly release schedule.
  • A large project backlog of people (76)
  • A velocity of one

I realized I treated my project backlog all the same way: from the moment a name got added to my backlog I started to work on it: that is I send an e-mail asking that person to start working on it. In my defense I had an almost unlimited team for working on the backlog (one person a story feels unlimited for me.)

Start to see some links with agile projects? Wait it get’s better.

Not only did I have an unlimited team, they also started to deliver very fast. (That’s is why I now have 39 answers.)

I said I had a velocity of one, but I have 39 answers in a couple of weeks, shouldn’t my velocity be 39/nr of weeks? Aha great question mr Watson. To answer this question we have to look at my definition of done. When is a story done? It’s done when it is delivered to the customer. When is it delivered to my customer. Well the customers of this blog are my readers, yes I ‘m talking about you. The stories are delivered when they are published on my blog.  Aha that shows a a glitch in my explanation. I don’t have an unlimited team. I actually have a bottleneck. Remember TOC, there always is a bottleneck. Find it. And eliminate… Oh wait I am the bottleneck.

I’m publishing only once a week. That is a choice I made. Publishing more would be lot of work for me. Mmm when I coach teams I tell them, when it’s hard do it more often. Ok maybe I should publish more often. So I asked my agile friends on twitter (and in person)

Turns out that my customers liked my publishing limit and actually asked me to keep it.

Ok. That is a dead end. What else can I do to solve this problem?

Let’s see what is the problem again? The time between the receiving of the answers and the publication is too big.

Let’s have a visual look at the work:

Todo Asked Said yes Answered Published Total
46 24 13 30 9 117

I wrote this table as in Kanban. Every column represents the Work In Progress.

(Except that I added the total at the end)

Aha Visual Management helps again. Clearly the biggest block is in publishing.(Tell me something I did not know.) I already know that publishing faster is not an option.

Ok so now you are doing Kanban, so what would David Anderson do? He would limit the work in progress.

I can’t stop people from saying yes.

I can’t stop people from being added to the TODO list (really I can’t because it is part of how the answer that I expect people to give.)

The only place where I can limit the work in progress is Stop asking people to answer questions. (For clarity I did not write: ask people to stop answering questions.)

As you can see I have already 46 more stories ready on my backlog (they are ready when I have a name and an e-mail adres.)

For all the people that have answered the questions, I’m sorry the time between your answers and my publication is so long. This was in no way my intention to disrespect the work you did to answer the questions.

If I already asked you, and you haven’t answered, what should you do?

Today (2011/08/18) I have a publishing schedule until 2012/04/10. This means I ‘m not urgently waiting on your answers.

You can answer at your own pace, write the answers when you have time.(I do keep my scheduling based on first come first served.)

A big thank you for the person being mad at me at pushing me to blog about it.

(You know who you are)


The next person in our “Who is” series is Rachel Davies. Not the actrice Rachel Davies but the agile coach Rachel Davies. I met her at XPday Benelux 2004. I followed lots of  her sessions since. The session that I remember most is her Keeping the furniture police at bay. So much I invited her and Emmanuel Gaillot to do a Retrospective workshops for If you like any of my ideas on Retrospectives, thank Rachel. You can do so by buying her book. (Ok I’m exaggerating, I learned a lot from Agile Retrospectives as well.

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

Even though I have spent most of my career working as a programmer, my degree is in Philosophy. Through studying Philosophy, I learned not to become too attached to ideas, to question assumptions and practice shifting perspectives to reach a deeper understanding. This practice is useful when trying to understand the underlying beliefs that people hold and not to let those differences get in the way of working with them.

Another aspect of my life is that I come from a family of keen gardeners. As a child I learned to identify all sorts of wild flowers when we went for walks. I find plants of all kinds very beautiful and love to watch them change and grow through the seasons. I particularly love old trees because I like to reflect on how things life has changed as they have grown up around us. I also like to seek out ancient stone circles because I like to think about how people walked and lived in the same places hundreds of years ago.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?

I’m not really sure. When I finished university I realised that there was not a very obvious career path for someone with a degree in Philosophy. I applied for all sorts of jobs with no luck. I decided to study software engineering and was really excited with how creative it is.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

My biggest challenge is not too take on too many things to work on, especially volunteering for conference organising roles. This year I have been a chair of XP2011 conference in Spain, helping Manav Mehan with UK Agile Coaches Gathering and also Open Jam at Agile2011 I have a passion about getting people together to share experiences and conferences are a great way to energise people and encourage change. Even though, conference organising may seem a diversion from my client work, sometimes it puts me in touch with new people to work with. I often get free registration but this doesn’t really compensate for all the hours spent on emails and skype calls. I think the real benefit is working with a team of other volunteers to create a special experience that will boost people’s energy around Agile development. When I chaired Agile2008 in Toronto, I really felt like a Product Owner shaping something new.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

I think you might ask how much time I spend coaching these days. The answer is not much. It’s been about six months since I coached a team. I am puzzling over this because I do enjoy coaching teams and would like that to be a bigger proportion of what I do. It seems that the role of agile coach has now become more ubiquitous and in the UK is now something that companies source through job agencies. The number of years experience required seems to be less and perhaps people think I might be too expensive because I am a book author not actually the case 🙂 I am enjoying running workshop style training courses for coaches who want to improve their skills in coaching teams – the next one will be 25 August.

What drives you ?

I hate to see people asked to do pointless things in the name of process. I love to see a people collaborate to build a better product. I am driven to help people work more effectively together.

What is your biggest achievement?

In the realm of work, this has to be writing “Agile Coaching” book with Liz Sedley . I am so pleased to hear from people that they found it easy to read and picked up useful ideas. The team at Pragmatic Bookshelf provides great support for new authors so it’s a great place to get started and they’re always looking for new authors

What is the last book you have read?

A book called Psychiatric Tales

Who should be the next person to answer these questions?

Steve Freeman.








In every book about teamwork, software management, etc you will read the same, great teams have a shared vision.
My idea of a shared vision is different from what you will find in most books. These books talk about creating a shared vision statement. For me a shared vision is a state, not a statement.

Yes creating a statement together is one way of creating such a shared vision state. I’m afraid that people reading about such a workshop, only think about the visual result (the statement) and try to be efficient and come up with a statement themselves.
No matter how smart you are, no matter if you found the best shared vision statement, you wasted all your time and probably made the life of the team member a lot more miserable. Although I’m not a big footbal expert, my nicest example of a shared vision state is when one player runs along the line with the ball and then passes to the other side, without looking, knowing his colleague is there.

The visions statement of such a team could be as simple as “we will win as much as possible” or even “have fun all the way”. Does this mean the statement does not matter at all? Once a shared vision statement is created it’s most important work is done.
Now it is used to remind the team of the state of shared vision.
While I’m working, I’m completely in a flow going in one direction, and that might not be in the direction of the team. When we have a shared vision statement. This statement will remind me about the vision space I shared with my colleagues.
Getting teams in that space called shared vision is one of the most powerfull ways a coach can help a team.

Jim and Michele McCarthy think a shared vision is so important that they spend 4 days from their 5 days Teamwork Bootcamp on it.  As unbelieveble as its sound, they have found a predictable way to bring teams in a state of shared vision. (Everytime I participated in a bootcamp I saw working. Ok, that is exagerated, everytime except one, and I also know why it did not work that one time.)

Although I think it is the best way. It’s not the only way. You also have Lyssa’s journey lines or the Strategic Play creating a Vision with lego.


Agile Practises that support a Shared Vision:

Books & Articles to read

Books recommended by others:

Related to “Just do it” is this theme. The title is a quote from Grace Murray Hopper one of the amazing IT women (I added a book about her in the booklist at the end.)

A special case of perfectionism is people waiting for permission . Complaining that their bosses take to long to take decisions, or that they are moron’s that don’t take the right decision. Complaining does not help your situation.
Agilists are professionals. Professionals take decisions for their work.

Most perfectionists look for some kind of recognition. For some of them that locks them from starting anything without permission.
In reality most chefs are very happy when people come with solutions instead of problems.
Even happier when they execute things and report on the progress.

Some managers have not enough experience with this kind of behavior. Maybe you are a manager and this idea makes you afraid. What will people think of me as a manager when my people take decisions?
Will they consider me as a good manager?
Hold this thought for a while.
Let’s first focus what this could mean for your time.
– A lot less boring meetings
– A lot more time to do all the things that you are supposed to do. And you know do in the evening.
– You will finally have time to help your boss be successful.

⇒ Imagine you can focus on helping and making your boss successful.

Now go back to that thought you had before.
How will she think of such a manager?
Right, she will want more managers like you!

Do you see a pattern?
A perfectionist boss, creates perfectionist teams.
This is called team==product.

Agile Techniques Supporting “Ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission”:

  • Retrospectives
  • Self-Organization
  • Refactoring
  • Visual Management
  • Small Iterations
  • Continuous Integration
  • Unit Tests
  • TDD
  • BDD


Just as there was a risk with “yes we can”, long term vision might block people block from starting. I call this the perfectionist syndrome. People rather do nothing than doing something wrong.
Well, in reality never taking any decision is worse than taking a wrong decision sometime.
The cure for this syndrome is “Just Do IT” A lot of books about starting your own business (see the biography), tell you the same thing: better start.

Just start doing something,as whatever you do now, it will be wrong anyway!
Ok that might feel bad. Stick with me for a second. If you take for granted that you will be wrong whatever happens, you will feel better if actually, what you do is wrong. (In the sense that, you did expect it to go wrong anyway. )

And if, by fortune, you are right, it will be a bonus and you have all every reason to have started !

The benefit of starting before you think you know what to do, is that your customer will discover what he wants by you showing him what you’ve got. (And you will discover it at the same time.)
yes, just like you, I want my customer to know what she wants before I start. Unfortunatly customers never do. When I show her what I have done. She looks at it, sees something she does not like and then tells me what she needs. Then I make a new version and we start over. After a few versions, we together create something my customer really likes. (This is true even if I am the customer.)

A lot of agilists, react to BDUF, which is the best know part of perfectionism. That is the old model perfectionism, the “Active perfectionism”.
In agile teams I see the same idea popping up: “ I can’t start with a scrum-board as I don’t have the right material/software etc…
The right answer is “Yes you can. Just DO IT.”

Just look at your todo list, GTD cards, backlog, what is blocking you from starting? Really? Are you sure it’s not resistance?
In Do the Work, Steven Pressfield goes over the different reasons of resistance.  Are your blockers really blockers or only resistance?

Look at your list again. Forget what block you and just DO IT.


Agile Techniques that support Just Do it

  • Continuous Integration
  • Refactoring
  • Unit testing
  • Daily Standup’s


Games that teach “Just Do IT”:

Thanks to Jurgen & Oana for reviewing this post.