Retro

Agility is Everywhere by Kwasi Owusu-Asomaning

I have had this article written for a while and haven’t gone round to publishing it so I thought, better late than never. I have also not changed my language and thoughts from 2016 and I can see how I would have re-written this article differently but I'll leave this as is, as I track my own improvement and experience.

To compensate for how late this article is to publish, picture yourself sat in your cozy sofa at home on your tablet or PC and it is 7th of January 2016…Here goes.


It was early January 2016 and I was sat listening to a sermon on New Year resolutions. I realised how familiar it all sounded and it got me thinking. New Year resolutions, aren’t these essentially retrospective actions from the previous year? How we lived the year and how we could have done better to improve ourselves. This got me thinking; is Agility actually all around us? Is the mind-set of continuous delivery and improvement happening without people paying too much attention to it? I believe the answer is yes! This stuff we call Agility is everywhere! 

Take an example of doing the laundry. To me this is a tedious chore and so my tendency is to leave the laundry basket overflowing – this has now become my Product Backlog - un-prioritised, un-sorted (whites, darks, easy-bleed colours etc). One Saturday morning, after a verbal kicking from my significant half, I decide to prioritise and do my whites first because I need a shirt for Monday morning. Take this as my sprint backlog, I am committing to doing all that is necessary to have a white shirt fully laundered by Monday.

So I take the dirty clothes into the sprint – putting them into the washing machine, adding softener and all manner of soaps I trust will make my clothes clean and smell scrumptious. We can call this my sprint cycle of 2 hours and 30 minutes wash and tumble dry. Within this period there is the occasional check to see if washing is done or anything has gone wrong with the wash etc. Call this my stand-ups. When this cycle is finished, I have potentially wearable whites and have delivered on my commitments/forecasts to have them ready for Monday. I can then show off to my significant half that I have done the laundry and I haven’t turned all the whites into flamingo pink shirts – call that my sprint review and celebrating success. Closing the loop I will most likely be answering questions from my partner as to which soap I used? How much load did I put in? Couldn’t I have added more? Or did you really put all that load into the machine? And I would have agreed with her and learnt from it. Call that “The wife-retrospective ceremony”.

 Image reference

Image reference

Another illustration we can use is cooking. Take for example making a spaghetti Bolognese – call that your Product Vision. You wouldn’t put all your ingredients including the spaghetti into one bowl and expect a deliciously made meal now would you?

You’ll make the Bolognese sauce – Iteration 1. Taste it and add more salt and other tweaks to make it your own. Whilst doing that, hot water will be heating to make the spaghetti – Iteration 2. The water boils, you add spaghetti and allow to cook. Then drain the spaghetti from the water – Iteration 3.

It all comes together when you combine the sauce and the pasta to produce your Product Vision – in this case Spaghetti Bolognese. We can argue about my cooking skills later. This dictates some degree of Kanban to me; Visualise the work – spaghetti Bolognese as end goal with all ingredients laid out on work surface. Limit Work in progress – Bolognese sauce first, spaghetti next. Focus on Flow – depends on how hungry you are and how quick you want it ready. If you are like me, you probably have everything on high heat and burn it all. Finally, Continuous Improvement – tasting as you go along, adding seasoning to make it better, checking spaghetti to make it al dente if that is the customer’s requirement. There is an argument for having multiple hobs to cook items simultaneously but you get the drift.

 Image reference

Image reference

The point I am making is that Agility is everywhere and the different frameworks under the Agile umbrella are used in different environments and you choose it based on the value add that needs to be delivered.

Scrum is by far the most popular of the Agile frameworks and widely practised. Agile ideals are more of a common sense approach to the old 20th century methods of working that was non-collaborative and non-engaging. Nowadays we see a vast need for cognitive ability to produce anything innovative and of value to customers. One approach is to adopt Agile values and principles. I am a true believer in the Stacey Matrix and in knowing what framework to use for your domain and requirements.

As a coach and trainer, my aim is to continually serve my teams, individuals and organisations, teach, learn, lead by example and take pride in helping them reach their potential.

Agile accelerates product delivery, improves collaboration between teams and with customers (both internal and external) and employee motivation. It increases productivity because the team is engaged and involved sprint to sprint. There is a sense of purpose and being part of a bigger thing. Customers and organisations become confident of delivery. Agile concepts allow the team and the organization to respond effectively to customer and industry priority changes. The beauty of continuous improvement in an Agile environment is identifying opportunities to streamline work and reduce waste, ultimately delivering value to our customers faster without compromising quality.

Remember when you had a really liked someone special to you, flirted a lot, had wonderful times together, then you both agreed to call it a ‘relationship’. Most often when it begins to become a ‘thing’ you start to make extra effort. The human mind is a wonderful thing. As soon as we put a name to something, we begin to over think it. We over complicate it and in doing so make this simple, common sense thing of Agility a very difficult thing to achieve.

Agile transformation is about a mind-set paradigm shift. A completely different way of thinking. The processes and ceremonies around any Agile framework are just enablers.

This is just my day to day observations of how Agility is all around us without people realising. Next time you are on the chores, politely asked by the wife or girlfriend, think how you may be invoking your inner Agile mindset without even realising it.

A Retrospective Idea - Formula 1 Pit Stop by Kwasi Owusu-Asomaning

Edited image reference: Car and Driver

Excitement has set in for Formula One fans around the globe with the 2017/18 championship kicking off over the weekend and as an avid F1 fan myself, I am excited too.

So much so that I had developed a retrospective game around the sport a while back and I'll like to share it with you. In case you might find it valuable.

The key part of Formula One this retro idea leverages is the Pit Stop; One of the most effective, efficient and highly collaborative teamwork display you will ever see.

When we talk about the ultimate team, a Formula One Pit Stop crew is second to none. If you think of an F1 car stopping and changing all 4 tires to put it back out on the road, takes the best part of 2 seconds. It takes some serious teamwork and synchronisation to achieve this.

For those who don't follow or understand the F1 sport, here are few links to a mini preamble for you.

Formula 1 Preamble

Overview of the retro:

This retrospective format uses the structure of facilitating great retrospectives laid out by Esther Derby, Diana Larsen & Ken Schwaber in their Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great book.

The retro covers the Set the Stage, Gather Data, Generate Insights, Decide What to Do and Close the Retrospective structure but the focus of two stages of the structure are not in the order advised by Esther and Diana. This is not because Esther and Diana’s structure is not effective. On the the contrary. I experimented here to get targeted and early focus on discussions when identical items start to appear throughout the Gather Data stage. As Agile teams focus on moving quick feedback loop through early discovery, I thought to introduce this slight tweak to Esther and Diana’s structure. What will this give you? Quick feedback loop on any identical items is instantly acquired as the team holds discussions and identify potential actions out of these items. It is human nature to start problem solving when a problem presents itself. By talking through it right there and then without waiting for the end of the Gather Data stage time box, I feel you get an even richer, more meaningful, targeted discussion and potential action items to tackle. One might say “but the Gather Data stage is probably only time boxed to 20-30mins. Can you not wait?” Again, Esther and Diana’s structure is spot on but I’ve also found this permutation effective. Plus it gives a slight variation to the retro structure itself.

See diagram below

 

Timing:  

90 minutes (or adjust to the size of your team)

Materials:

  • Post its
  • Sharpies/whiteboard markers
  • Magic charts/whiteboards/wall charts

Instructions:

Make sure you have enough room for the team to have a whiteboard/magic chart to huddle around for pit stops.

Image reference: The Sam Barnes

If your team is distributed, you will have the added complexity of choosing a good collaboration tool that works for the team. I would recommend not experimenting this retro with a new collaboration tool because this is a retro fully facilitated by the team so everyone taking part is important.

  • Give the team a very quick context on Formula 1 (for the benefit of team members who don't follow it). Focus on the Pit Stop!
  • Team nominates a Team Principal. A Team Principal is the owner of prompting the team about potential action points to be noted for later discussion. She/he is also responsible for time boxing and helping the team focus the conversation without digressing.
  • Team nominates a Race Technical Director to call Pit Stop! when data generation identifies 2 or more identical groupings of data in the Gather Data stage.
  • Time box each of the stages below as appropriate for the team but for the Gather Data and Generate Insights, time box them together and give it a fairly large time box.

If the team is not mature enough, the Scrum Master can play the role of Team Principal and team members will observe for when they come to re-run this format again.

Running the Retro:

[Assumptions]: You've reviewed with the team last sprint retro actions taken into the sprint. Anything else you perform at the beginning of your retro including reiterating to the team the retro is not a blame exercise is done before kicking this off.

Set the Stage -

Start with setting the scene and introducing this retro and explaining the rules. Prepare a game to warm the team up and to disconnect them from work mode. [Team Principal activity]

Gather Data -

Team starts to discuss on how the sprint went and starts to add stickies to the whiteboard. Team with nominated Race Technical Director also keeping an eye on identical items in this data gathering phase. [Team activity]

Generate Insights -

As soon as there appears to be identical items raised by team members, Race Technical Director will call PIT STOP! When Pit Stop is called, the team will huddle round the post-it notes on the wall chart/whiteboard and discuss the identical grouped items to understand more i.e. how is this impacting the team (be it negative or positive)?. Discuss if there's a potential action item here. If there is a potential action, it doesn't mean you are to take it into the next sprint but you simply make a note of the actions which will then be prioritised by the team at the end of Retro (Decide What to Do stage). [Team activity]

Loop these two stages until time box is over. [Team Principal to keep an eye on time box]

Decide What to Do -

Team then huddles around the listed action items post-it notes and start prioritising the list and agree which one to take into the next sprint to work on to improve. Add the remaining actions not going into your sprint to be worked on to your team’s improvement backlog. [Team nudged by Team Principal as time box keeper]

Close the Retrospective -

End the retro with another game or something fun so the team ends on a high.

Just as I have adviced to end the retro on a high, let's cross the finish line in this article on a high. Here's a 'Director's cut video of the first race of the 2017/18 Championship in Melbourne. If you watch carefully, you'll see a bit of a pit stop in action.

 Formula1.com - Director's Cut: Australia 2017

Formula1.com - Director's Cut: Australia 2017

I was showed this video below by a coach and mentor of mine after this post went out and I really liked it so I wanted to share it for you all to enjoy. It shows the importance of optimising the System as a whole and not just a part of the system. If Pit stops were the only thing to have been optimised in F1 over the years, the sports (The whole System) will not be optimised as it is now. So remember to keep looking at the bigger picture and the system as a whole.

Observe how the art of the Pit Stop has evolved since 1950 Created by the channel CpatainCanuck. Footage used taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0bg3ztLGfk and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHSUp7msCIE Source Video used under the Fair Use Provision.

I hope this helps you mix up your retrospectives. I'll like to hear your feedback in the comments below. Please share any permutations you run also.