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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…)

Boy looking at cake

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.

Almost all personal and team productivity frameworks have some sort of periodic review process that is matched to the planning cadence. For example, Scrum suggests that a team should hold a retrospective at the end of every sprint before beginning planning. Other examples include the weekly review in GTD (weekly planning cadence) and similar weekly review in the Franklin-Covey system. Were many of these frameworks roll directly from “retrospecting” into planning, I have found that holding my weekly retrospective on Friday at the end of work day is more effective than waiting until Sunday evening. I have found that holding my weekly retrospective on Friday afternoon/evening ensures that my memories are sharp and that less rationalization has occurred (note the weekly retrospective generally subsumes my daily retrospective on Friday – I like retrospectives, but I am not obsessed). Most of the classic listing types of retrospectives can be leveraged as a framework for the weekly retrospective. When I have had particularly long and trying weeks I have gone as far as drawing a sailboat and anchors in my notebook to generate a list of items either accelerating or decelerating progress during the week. Normally however I typically use a hybrid of the daily process, outlined below:

  1. Review the notes from the daily retrospectives. The notes from the daily retrospective provide a bit of grounding for considering the week. The list of accomplishments, misses and planned improvements provide a reminder of what actually happened to help defeat any possible currency bias (giving more importance to events that happened more recently).
  2. Open or position yourself in front of your Scrumban board. The board is the central tool to control the flow of work during the week.
  3. Adjust any cards (or tasks) to ensure that the current state of progress is reflected. As noted in Daily Retrospectives, this activity is another mechanism to provide grounding before any significant reflection.
  4. Reflect on what you accomplished during the day. Use this step to update the week-to-date accomplishments reviewed in step one.
  5. Reflect on what you committed to accomplish during the week and did not complete (if anything). I exclude anything that I have committed to accomplish over the weekend prior to Sunday’s planning session. While a daily retrospective is focused on identifying the tactical blockers and what can be learned from the experience, the weekly retrospective should take a broader view of what is causing commitment failures. For example, if during the week I had trouble completing my daily 30 minutes of audio editing session I may have to get up a few minutes earlier each day to make time to complete the commitment. On a weekly basis I could look at that issue and decide whether I had over committed or whether were better editing tools could be investigated to reduce the time I need. The weekly focus is generally more strategic and often generates inputs into the weekly planning session.
  6. Close your notebook or turn off you laptop and call it a day!

By stepping up a level from focusing on the events of a specific day, the weekly retrospective provides a platform for looking for system level problems and solutions. Many times solutions that might get you through a day don’t scale up forever (i.e. getting up earlier eventually is the wrong answer). Identifying and solving the bigger conundrums requires looking a week (or a group of weeks) as a whole and applying systems thinking. Weekly retrospectives close the loop begun with the weekly planning process.

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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.

Listen to the Software Process and Measurement Cast 282. In the SPaMCAST 282 we feature our interview with Ben Linders and Luis Gonçalves.  We discussed retrospectives and their great new book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives – A Toolbox of Retrospective Exercises. Retrospectives power the continuous improvement all projects and organizations need to deliver more value over time.

Luis Gonçalves is an Agile Coach, Co-Author, Speaker and a Blogger. He has been working in the software industry since 2003, being an Agile practitioner since 2007. Luis is the co-author of “Getting Value Out of Agile Retrospectives” and a co-founder of a MeetUp group in Munich called High Performing Teams.

He likes to write and share ideas with the world and this made him passionate blogger. You can follow his blog: http://lmsgoncalves.com. People can find Luis on twitter: @lgoncalves1979

Ben Linders is a Senior Consultant in Agile, Lean, Quality and Process Improvement, based in The Netherlands. Co-author of Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives. As an advisor, coach and trainer he helps organizations by deploying effective software development and management practices. He focuses on continuous improvement, collaboration and communication, and professional development, to deliver business value to customers. Ben is an active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer. He shares his experience in a bilingual blog (Dutch and English) and as an editor for Agile at InfoQ. You can find him on twitter: @BenLinders.

Get in touch with us anytime or leave a comment here on the blog. Help support the SPaMCAST by reviewing and rating it on iTunes. It helps people find the cast. Like us on Facebook while you’re at it.

Next week we will feature our essay on user stories.  A user story is a brief, simple requirement statement from the user perspective. User stories are narratives describing who is interacting with the application; how they are interacting with the application and the benefit they derive from that interaction.

Upcoming Events

ISMA 9

I will be attending the International Function Point Users Group conference and workshops in Madrid, Spain on March 27th with workshops on March 25th and 26th.

More information

QAIQuest 2014

I will be facilitating a ½ Day tutorial titled Make Integration and Acceptance Testing Truly Agile. The tutorial will wrestle with the flow of testing in Agile projects and will include lots of practical advice and exercises. Remember that Agile testing is not waterfall done quickly. I will also be around for the conference and look forward to meeting and talking with SPaMCAST readers and listeners.  More confernce information   ALSO I HAVE A DISCOUNT CODE…. Email me at spamcastinfo@gmail.com or call 440.668.5717 for the code.

StarEast

I will be speaking at the StarEast Conference May 4th – 9th in Orlando, Florida.  I will be presenting a talk titled, The Impact of Cognitive Biases on Test and Project Teams. Follow the link for more information on StarEast. ALSO I HAVE A DISCOUNT CODE…. Email me at spamcastinfo@gmail.com or call 440.668.5717 for the code.

I look forward to seeing all SPaMCAST readers and listeners at all of these great events!

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Mastering Software Project Management: Best Practices, Tools and Techniques co-authored by Murali Chematuri and myself and published by J. Ross Publishing. We have received unsolicited reviews like the following: “This book will prove that software projects should not be a tedious process, neither for you or your team.” Support SPaMCAST by buying the book here. Available in English and Chinese.