Use Proven Success Factors From The Past, To Improve Your Team In The Present
This article is also available as a free PDF on our webshop. It’s a nicely styled paper and allows you to easily share it with others. You can download the PDF here.
Christiaan Verwijs and I created the Scrum Team Survey to support Scrum and other Agile teams in their continuous improvement loop. The first step in that loop is to create transparency around where you are right now, and then to work together as a team to identify improvements and make adaptations.
It can be used independently from the Scrum Team Survey. As such, it’s a powerful conversation starter. Eventually, our recommendation is to use the (free) survey to bring real data into the conversation and to identify improvements.
This blog post describes a detailed do-it-yourself workshop built on the factors from the survey. It uses Appreciative Interviews to share success stories from the past, Ecocycle Planning to create transparency about the present, and 15% Solutions to identify improvements for the nearby future.
Give it a try, and let us know the results!
How to prepare?
This workshop is feasible from 8 participants onward and takes about 120 minutes. You can quickly scale this workshop up to many Scrum teams as well.
We designed this workshop for one Scrum team, but our recommendation is to also invite your supporters (managers, leaders, coaches), stakeholders, and other Scrum teams. Try it together, and see what becomes possible. This workshop is also suitable to run during public meetups. It’s interesting to explore the differences between the various organizations that might be joining the meetup.
Liberating Structures work well virtually. Here too, they allow you to unleash and involve everyone. What is exceptionally important, however, is that you have the right tools. Because Liberating Structures are fundamentally about breaking down large-group interactions into smaller groups, you need tools that allow you to create subchannels or breakout rooms easily.
Step 1 — Opening
Start at the scheduled time. People who drop in later can jump in then. We always start our gatherings by simply saying “Hi!”, followed by our name. We then explain the purpose and start with the first structure. Superfast!
Step 2 — Share Success Stories With Appreciative Interviews
We’ve found that it works best if you build personal connections from what people are proud of, or have warm memories about. The Liberating Structure Appreciative Interviews is a great way to do this.
“In pairs, share a story of a time when you worked with a successful Agile or Scrum team. What happened? What did the team do or didn’t do? What made the success possible?”
- (2 min) Explain the sequence of steps upfront so that people know they will be sharing a story, listening to another story, and then re-telling the story they listened to.
- (2 min) Give participants a few minutes to silently bring back into memory a success story from their past, or at least the start of it.
- (10 min) Invite pairs into their own breakouts. In turn (5 min each), people interview each other about the success story of the other while paying attention to what made the success possible. The interviewer only asks questions (no advice, suggestions, etc.).
- (10 min) Invite pairs to join another pair in new breakouts. Everyone retells the story of the person they interviewed. The other three participants listen for patterns in conditions/assets that supported the success. Invite groups to capture the most salient factors in your virtual whiteboard.
- (10 min) When everyone is back in the main channel, collect insights from the group. Ask people to share some examples of what created the insights for them. The purpose here is not to collect everything, but mostly to spread ideas around. So don’t let this go on and on.
Appreciative Interviews during a meetup we hosted for the French local user group.
Step 3: Explore The Foundations Of Effective Scrum Teams
Now that everyone has loosened up, made some fresh connections, and shared personal success stories, it’s time to have the group explore the Scrum team effectiveness model. The Liberating Structure 1–2–4-ALL is a great way to do this together, interactively.
- (1 min) Prepare by putting the posters on the wall or in a digital workspace. Make sure that everyone can clearly see and read the posters. Bring more copies if necessary.
- (4 min) Invite everyone to silently review the posters.
- (1 min) Ask: “In silence and individually, identify the two things from the posters that seem most meaningful or impactful to you”. These could be factors they already identified during Appreciative Interviews or totally new ones.
- (2 min) Invite people to pair up with one other person and share their takeaways. Set up breakout rooms if you do this virtually. Ask: “In your pair, share your biggest insights and build on them together”.
- (4 min) Invite the pairs to pair up with another pair to form groups of four as much as possible. Ask: “In your small groups, share your biggest insights and build on them together”.
- (10 min) With the whole group, collect the most critical insights and questions. Try to answer the questions by putting your insights together.
Step 4: Use Ecocycle Planning To Make The Current State Of Scrum Transparent
In the previous steps, the group shared stories about successful teams they’ve been part of and identified the success factors that stood out. Afterward, you explained the model of Scrum team effectiveness with the primary and subfactors. In this step, you help the participants reflect on how the factors connect to their own team. Ecocycle Planning is perfectly suited for this. It creates transparency about the state of Scrum at this moment. From there, you can start the inspection and adaptation.
- (2 min) Distribute A4-sized illustrations “Factors that determine Scrum team effectiveness” and “Ecocycle Planning”. At this point, everyone is familiar with the illustration containing all the factors. Ecocycle Planning is most likely not known to the group. If this is the case: totally fine, don’t explain Ecocycle Planning yet.
- (10 min) One by one, present six prompts for everyone to complete on their Ecocycle Planning illustration. After each prompt, pause to give them time to write down their answer in the specified quadrant, with their current team in mind.
- Top-left (Gestation): “A factor that my team is unaware of or hasn’t started using is…”
- Bottom-left (Birth): “A factor my team recently started using or investing time in is…”
- Top-right (Maturity): “A factor that provides lots of value for my team is…”
- Bottom-right (Creative Destruction): “A factor we need to rethink, change, or creatively destruct is…”
- Middle left (Poverty Trap): “A factor, we consider valuable, talk about a lot, but somehow don’t invest enough time in is…”
- Middle right (Rigidity Trap): “A factor, we keep doing, despite we know it doesn’t generate much value anymore is…”
3. (3 min) Once you’ve offered all the prompts, give the participants some time to individually reflect on the Ecocycle that emerged. Maybe they want to move some factors around or they’ve got questions that need to be clarified.
It’s probably easiest for the participants to plot the subfactors on the Ecocycle because these are more specific compared to the primary factors.
Use Ecocycle Planning to help the participants reflect on how the factors connect to their own team.
Step 5: Sharing Patterns And Findings
In the previous step, you created transparency around the current state of Scrum in your team. Based on how you answered the prompts/sentences, you plotted some of the factors that determine a Scrum team’s effectiveness on the Ecoccyle. The purpose of this step is to make sense of what this means for your team.
- (4 min) Invite people to reflect on the individual Ecocycles you created in the previous step. Ask “What does the placement of the factors say about the state of Scrum in your/our team? Where do you see connections between the various factors?”. In the meantime, prepare breakouts for three rounds of different pairs.
- 2. (15 min) Invite people into pairs and into their breakouts. Ask them to share the most salient patterns they notice (4 minutes). Repeat twice more in different pairs (8 minutes).
- 3. (10 min) When everyone is back in the main channel, ask people to share the most salient patterns with the whole group. You can help draw out patterns by noticing where most cards of one color appear, whether or not the Ecocycle is balanced and which items appear in the traps.
- We purposefully use pairs, and not larger groups, to create safety for everyone to share their insights. Even in small groups, loud voices can drown out silent voices. By quickly rotating pairs, great insights and observations will spread through the group. If you really must do it with a larger group, use a Conversation Cafe.
- Use “Creative Destruction” as the area where activities go that need to be creatively re-invented to be valuable again. An Ecocycle Planning with nothing in this area may be an indicator that double-loop learning — where existing structures are challenged — is limited in your team.
Step 6: Identify Improvements
In the previous steps, you created transparency together around the state of Scrum for your team. Then, you identified the impact together. In this final step, you help the team identify improvements.
- (5 min) First individually and in silence, ask people to consider the following question for a few minutes: “Which factors do we need to creatively reinvent in order to move the way we use Scrum forward?”. In the meantime, prepare breakouts for pairs and — for the step after that — breakouts with two pairs each.
- (15 min) Invite people into pairs and into their breakouts to share their ideas and build on them (5 min). Then, invite the pairs into new breakouts with another pair to share their ideas and build on them (10 min).
- (5 min) When everyone is back in the main channel, ask every group to share two or three of their most promising ideas. Capture these potential improvements on 15% Solutions cards to make them tangible.
- If you have the time and when the improvement ideas remain fairly abstract, you can use a Liberating Structure like “Shift & Share” to develop them further.
If you like, draw inspiration from our card deck with 102 Quick Tips to improve your Scrum team. We categorized them into the factors you also find in the Scrum Team Survey.
Product Kit: Unleash Scrum In Your Organization
Scrum impacts the entire organization. To unlock your Scrum team’s superpowers, improvements are necessary within and especially around teams. We created this kit to help see the bigger picture. It’s filled with materials to diagnose Scrum in your organization and unleashes its potential with Scrum.
Although the product kit isn’t necessary material for this workshop, it can help to dig deeper into the results. The product kit contains the following materials:
- The exercise “Panarchy” to diagnose Scrum in your organization. You help Scrum teams, stakeholders, and supporters understand how their system works and find leverage points for improvement.
- The exercise “What I Need From You”. It helps Scrum teams to clearly express their needs and for others to clearly respond to those requests. The exercise includes a 50-sheet block of tearable ‘help request cards’.
- A card deck with 102 Quick Tips to improve your Scrum team. We categorized them into the factors you also find in the Scrum Team Survey.
- 5 Impediment cards. Impediments are problems the team can’t resolve themselves. Use these 5 impediment cards to make visible where you’re stuck and need support from others to improve the situation.
- 2 large A0 posters: “Factors That Determine Scrum Team Effectiveness” AND “What Makes Scrum Teams Effective?”
- A 50-sheet block of tearable 15% Solution-cards. Ready to be filled out by members of your team.
- A facilitation guide. You receive a 16-page PDF that describes how to use the included exercises.
In this blog post, we described a detailed do-it-yourself workshop built on the factors from the Scrum Team Survey. It uses Appreciative Interviews to share success stories from the past, Ecocycle Planning to create transparency about the present, and 15% Solutions to identify improvements for the nearby future.
Why don’t you give it a try? And if you’ve got any questions, comments, or ideas: always feel free to reach out and share them with us.
Let’s learn and grow, together!