Questions, like most tools, can be used correctly or incorrectly.  A hammer used on a nail or on a screw is still a hammer; however, in most circumstances, we would debate the effectiveness of the hammer when used to insert a screw.  Questions are no different than our proverbial hammer.  Used well they can generate information or shape behavior; used incorrectly they can generate misinformation and friction. When questions are used for coaching and mentoring there are a number of poor practices that should be avoided: (more…)

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What is on your to-do list?

I was recently standing in a line waiting to get on an airplane and overhead a child talking with an adult.  The part of the conversation I heard began, “When I grow up I want to be. . .” Whether the child knew it or not, he was espousing a goal based on his vision of the future. In the run-up to the New Year, it is important to remember the benefits of goal setting. Setting goals is important for deciding what you want to achieve in a specific period, whether a day, month, quarter, year or lifetime. Goal setting provides value by forcing a degree of introspection, acting as a filter to separate the important from the irrelevant and as a guide to channel behavior.

Introspection is the act of calmly reviewing one’s thoughts, sorting through the clutter of day-to-day living. Techniques like retrospectives are a structured approach to introspection at a group and personal level. Meditation is also a valuable technique for individual introspection. The act of stepping back and thinking about the future is an excellent first step in the process of goal setting by providing the quiet space to consider what has been accomplished and to consider aspirations. You need to first agree upon a vision of the future to pursue so that you can set  goals to help to achieve that vision.
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Happy Thanksgiving

Empathy is defined as understanding what another person is experiencing from their frame of reference. Translating that definition into action requires more than just an understanding. People that are empathic exhibit four basic attributes.  A person being empathetic must: (more…)

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Don’t get distracted…

I am experimenting with a set of time and task management techniques that include personal Kanban, The Pomodoro Technique® and retrospectives. I use the term ‘experimenting’ advisedly. Getting stuff done requires a pallet of techniques to tackle the complexity of the day-to-day environment. Unfortunately, I have not found the perfect set of techniques that work in every circumstance. There are a number of hurdles that I have had to address during this current experiment. (more…)

A sailboat can be used as a metaphor in a retrospective.

A sailboat can be used as a metaphor in a retrospective.

Most Agile and lean frameworks are built on the idea what is accomplished can be verified by observation or experience. For example, working software is the proof for software development, enhancement or maintenance, rather than a status report or an updated project schedule. The software can be demonstrated, which connects the act of doing with actually delivering value, partially completing the loop in an empirical process. Retrospectives provide a path to incorporate what was learned while working into the next wave of planning and executing. While daily retrospectives provide a very tactical mechanism to ensure that that the right tasks are tackled on a daily basis, a less frequent and more in-depth mechanism is needed to identify and address broader and more strategic issues. Personal Scurmban leverages a weekly retrospective that bookends the weekly cycle that is started by the weekly planning process. (more…)

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Reflection is a central tenant of all Agile frameworks. Do a bit of planning, execute against that plan, then step back and reflect on what was done and how it can be done better. Reflection acts as both a capstone for a period of work and as an input into the next cycle. For example, in Scrum each sprint culminates with the team performing a retrospective so they can learn and improve. Retrospectives have the same power whether they are team based or done at a personal level. In personal Scrumban, performing a daily retrospective is useful to generating focus and then tuning that focus based on the day-to-day pressures and changes in direction.

Daily retrospectives are a quick reflection on the days activities and how they were performed. The goal of the daily retrospectives is continuous improvement at a very intimate level, focused on the day YOU just completed. The process can be a simple extension of classic listing retrospective techniques (answering the questions “what worked well” and “what did not work,” and then deciding on what can be done better). A second process for daily retrospectives that I often recommend (and the one I use) is to:

  1. Position yourself in front of your Scrumban board. Personal Scrumban boards come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from white boards marked with columns for backlog, doing and done with a few yellow sticky-notes to fairly sophisticated tools like Trello or LeanKit Kanban.
  2. Adjust any cards (or tasks) to ensure that the current state of progress is reflected. This step will ensure you have re-grounded yourself based on what was accomplished during the day and made sure the board is ready for the daily planning/stand-up session the next day (kill as many birds with one stone as possible).
  3. Reflect on what you accomplished during the day. Celebrate the successes, then ask yourself whether you learned anything from what you accomplished that could be generalized and leveraged in future tasks. Alternately, ask yourself what was one new thing you learned today. Make a list and watch it grow. These techniques support process improvement, but are also motivational.
  4. Reflect on what you committed to accomplish during the day and did not complete (if anything). The goal is not to re-plan at this point, but to determine what got in the way and what can be learned from the experience. Pick one of issues you identified that you will commit to working on fixing (and are within your ability to address) and add it to your backlog. Consider for performing more of a formal root cause analysis (Five Whys for example) for the items that continually find their way on list.
  5. Close your notebook or turn off you laptop and call it a day!

The process for daily retrospectives is fairly simple. I try to spend 15 minutes at the end of work every day performing a retrospective. More than once I have tempted to spend more than 15 minutes on the process, however when I do, I find that what I’m really doing is planning for the next day. If I have found a shortcoming to the daily retrospective it is that I try to perform the process as the last event of the day (hence step 5), which makes it easy to forget if I am tired or the day has extended into the wee hours of the morning. Frankly, those are exactly the days that a daily retrospective is needed the most.

Daily retrospectives provide a tool to make changes when they can have the most effect. By their nature, daily retrospectives are more focused than weekly- or team- or sprint-level retrospectives, but that focus makes them very valuable for affecting the day-to-day process of how your work is done. Adding daily retrospective to your personal Scrumban adds the power of an empirical process to your daily grind.

Retrospectives are reflective!

Retrospectives are reflective!

 

Retrospectives are the team’s chance to make their life better. Process of making the team’s life better may mean confronting hard truths and changing how work is done. Hard conversations require trust and safety. Trust and safety are attributes that are hard to generate remote, especially if team members have never met each other. Facilitation and techniques tailored to distributed teams are needed to get real value from retrospectives when the team is distributed.

  1. Bring team members together. Joint retrospectives will serve a number of purposes including building relationships and trust. The combination of deeper relationships and trust will help team members tackle harder conversations when team members are apart.
  2. Use collaboration tools. Many retrospective techniques generate lists and then ask participants to vote. Listing techniques work best when participants see what is being listed rather than trying to remember or reference any notes that have been taken. I have used free mind-mapping tools (such as FreeMind) and screen-sharing software to make sure everyone can see the “list.”
  3. Geographic distances can mask culture differences. The facilitator needs to make sure he or she is aware of cultural differences (some cultures find it harder to expose and discuss problems). Differences in culture should be shared with the team before the retrospective begins. Consider adding a few minutes before beginning retrospective to discuss cultural issues if your team has members in or from different counties or if there are glaring cultural differences. Note the same ideas can be used to address personality differences.
  4. Use more than one facilitator. Until team members get comfortable with each other consider having a second (or third) facilitator to support the retrospective. When using multiple facilitators ensure that the facilitators understand their roles and are synchronized on the agenda.
  5. Consider assigning pre-retrospective homework. Poll team members for comments and issues before the retrospective session. The issues and comments can be shared to seed discussions, provide focus or just break the ice.

All of these suggestions presume that the retrospective has stable tele/video communication tools and the meeting time has been negotiated. If participation due to attendance, first ask what the problem is and if the problem is that attending a retrospective in the middle of the night is hard then consider an alternate meeting time (share the time zone pain).

Retrospectives are critical to help teams grow and become more effective. Retrospectives in distributed teams are harder than in co-located teams. The answer to being harder should be to use these techniques or others to facilitate communication and interaction. The answer should never be to abandon retrospectives, leave remote members out of the meeting or to hold separate but equal retrospectives. Remember, one team and one retrospective but that only work well when members trust each other and feel safe to share their ideas for improvement.