Carina Silfverduk

agility practice lead

Category: Agile (page 1 of 2)

First Inaugural Women In Agile Conference at Business Agility Midwest 2019

On Tuesday, November 5th, 2019, the afternoon before Business Agility Midwest 2019, the Women in Agile (WIA) conference here in Columbus gathered nearly 80 women and allies to learn and share our experience and knowledge with each other.

Keynote

Maureen Metcalf, CEO of The Innovative Leadership Institute, whose podcast airs on Voice America and author of nearly a dozen books, shared Leadership Trends for 2020 and beyond in an engaging and interactive keynote. Attendees were invited to reflect on key trends and how they plan to meet the challenges ahead.

Speed Mentoring

We dedicated most of our conference time to speed mentoring, a collaborative technique I first experienced in New York as part of the WIA event before the Business Agility Conference in March this year. this activity allows each person to practice speaking or teaching on a topic of their choosing in a safe and supportive environment.

There were so many great topics all across the room. Examples from our table included:

  • building trust
  • coaching mindset shifts
  • expanding your network
  • leadership
  • making salad jars

In Closing

At the end of our engaging event, we invited participants to give us feedback- and we will apply the helpful constructive criticism to make our next event even better.

A big thank you to Business Agility Midwest for making this event possible, to Maureen Metcalf for her wonderful keynote and to our sponsor, Nationwide Insurance!

Photos from the event

I am collecting photos of the event here – please feel free to browse for examples from speed mentoring, pictures of the room and volunteers as well as our retrospective artifacts.

Let’s Connect!

You can get involved with Women in Agile in a number of ways:

A Work In Progress

Growing up I played the piano. I must have been at least slightly musically gifted because there were definitely times I didn’t practice and I got away with it. My music teacher finally quit me, and that was probably a good call. I held myself to such crazy expectations to get things quickly it was difficult to practice. I was a fast learner. It should come easily with minimal practice. And sometimes I did not and that had to be maddening for my teacher. Also I was 12(?) when I was left without a teacher. I’d like to think I’d be kinder to myself now, and if I wanted to I’d stick with it but I need to test that theory.

For some time from youth until adulthood, I still had a piano in my house, and I would sit down to play, just not consistently. Now there’s no piano given many moves… so I’m trying something different- to learn to play the Kalimba. I’m enjoying it and there’s no pressure, it’s just picking up musical notation again, and sometimes just toying around to learn a song that just pops in my head.

You are a work in progress, no matter the age. What kinds of things do YOU do to further your work in progress?

Best Books I’ve Read This Year (So Far)

I read A LOT! This year I scaled back my Goodreads Reading Challenge to only 175 books. I’m more than halfway there at 91 books. I’ve been mixing it up, per usual with books both inside and outside my comfort zone. I continue to learn a lot along the way.

I’ve got a few, like The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, than are big volumes I’ve been taking my time to really absorb, but can still strongly recommend. Below are the books I’ve finished and either loved, found challenging in a good way, or really learned a lot from.

Good fiction

  • I finally finished the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and Neil Gaiman was suggested. Dunno how I missed this wonderful writer. Now I’m devouring all of his work.
  • What else? The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera was lovely. And The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Cary was a page turner. Lots more but these were the standouts.

    Good nonfiction

    I’ve read a lot more nonfiction this year. Universally interesting reads include:

    1. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
    1. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    2. The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klas Schwab
    1. Flawless Consulting by Peter Block
    1. Quiet by Susan Cain
    2. Endure by Alex Hutchinson
      The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
    1. When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
    2. Not That Bad by Roxane Gay
    3. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

    Helpful for Agilists

    1. Nudge by Richard Thaler
      Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
      The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
      Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows
      Atomic Habits by James Clear
      Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull
      Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke
      Measure What Matters by John Doerr
      Lateral Leadership by Tim Herbig
      The Human Side of Agile by Gil Broza

    You can see my full list of books I’ve read in 2019 over at Goodreads, linked to on the footer of this page.

    I’ve got a running queue of over 2,000 books to-read, and the list just keeps getting longer! Since I’ve started tracking my reads on Goodreads I’ve read 860 books and I’m always taking recommendations.

    What have you read this year and either loved or found recommendation-worthy?

    The Power of Noticing

    Recently I’ve pondered the power of noticing. Not judging, nor solutioning, just noticing.

    I think it’s a profoundly human instinct to jump directly to solving problems we see. A solution can become part of the problem without pause. Without observation. Without clear eyes to see what’s there, what’s connected, what’s working and not working.

    At pivotal moments in my life, someone with clear eyes, just noticing was able to prompt action in me with a few simple words in the form of a nonjudgmental observation.

    Things like, “That took courage” helped me see myself as courageous and reframe a nerve-wracking situation.

    “You seem happier lately” encouraged me to consider why that might be and decide to amplify it.

    “Your note made a difference for me,” describes both an action I took and it’s impact, and of course I’m bound to do more of that going forward.

    Or, notice given with eyes only, prompting me to think about how I show up.

    We must be paying attention… noticing the noticing to be able to use it well, I think. Even still, there seems to be unlimited power in notice. It’s a gift you can transform.

    I wonder what unknown and awesome action we can prompt, tomorrow, by noticing for one another?

    The Power of Noticing

    Recently I’ve pondered the power of noticing. Not judging, nor solutioning, just noticing.

    I think it’s a profoundly human instinct to jump directly to solving problems we see. A solution can become part of the problem without pause. Without observation. Without clear eyes to see what’s there, what’s connected, what’s working and not working.

    At pivotal moments in my life, someone with clear eyes, just noticing was able to prompt action in me with a few simple words in the form of a nonjudgmental observation.

    Things like, “That took courage” helped me see myself as courageous and reframe a nerve-wracking situation.

    “You seem happier lately” encouraged me to consider why that might be and decide to amplify it.

    “Your note made a difference for me,” describes both an action I took and it’s impact, and of course I’m bound to do more of that going forward.

    Or, notice given with eyes only, prompting me to think about how I show up.

    We must be paying attention… noticing the noticing to be able to use it well, I think. Even still, there seems to be unlimited power in notice. It’s a gift you can transform.

    I wonder what unknown and awesome action we can prompt, tomorrow, by noticing for one another?

    Do No Harm

    A feeling has been rising in me over the last year about how agilists choose to speak and behave. At Path to Agility in 2017, it became overwhelming in a moment when a conversation I was a part of took an unexpected turn.

    If I had not seen Tim Ottinger‘s opening keynote on aggressive curiosity, it might have taken much longer for me to identify this feeling.

    The Curiosity Manifesto

    Ottinger spoke of embracing curiosity, and closed his talk with the curiosity manifesto:

    By thinking and helping others to think, we have come to value:

    1. Instead of judgment, curiosity
    2. Instead of later, now
    3. Instead of guilt, permission

    That is, while things on the right have value, things on the left just seem to get in the way.

    My Take-Away

    I took these words to heart. When I felt the urge to judge a mistake in a tweet I posted, I paused,  and said instead, “How interesting!” Throughout the two days, I postponed judgment. I tried to remain as open minded as I could.

    I’d like to think that this is easier for me because I am incredibly empathetic. I can easily put myself in the other’s shoes.

    Even in the conversation in question, I could see the temptation to make a flippant comment. I could see wanting to get some laughs, grow a sort of insider agilist camaraderie. But I could also see fresh faces just newly embracing agile participating in the conversation with me. And I thought, what a mistake it would be to close conversation off to possibility for a laugh. What harm we could do by turning a person off pursuing something better for themselves or for the workplace they might take this conversation back to. In the moment, I felt concern for how those taking part could misinterpret the words that were said.

    As the conference came to a close, and now, it seems more and more often… I am struck by how our words and deeds either express our values as a community, or betray them.

    As a community, I see agilists as smart, adaptive folks who believe in treating human beings with respect. We invite everyone to the table to participate. We are inclusive.

    As a person, the values of inspect and adapt are central to who I am. Explaining what I do to a long time friend I hadn’t seen in some time, she exclaimed- oh that makes perfect sense, that’s who you are.

    I want us as a community and as individuals to get better at doing no harm. I’d like to see us get better at constructive disagreement and listening to context before we speak. What we say and do can harm as much as help, depending on how we choose to respond.

    Maybe, you too, see where I am going here. Maybe you too see sweeping statements filled with judgment and feel uncomfortable. When we say, don’t do ____. Or that’s not ____. Or we make a flippant comment about a buzzword and it is taken out of context. When we tell a client, “you shouldn’t need a [role] for longer than [ a time period]” without understanding the client needs.

    What about when decisions rely on our words? What responsibility do we have to individuals? What about when organizations make decisions based on our advice? We can do great damage.

    Do No Harm

    The way I see it, as agilists it’s our responsibility to open up the conversation. Perhaps agilists should have the equivalent of a Hippocratic oath. We may not be operating on human bodies but organizations are living things- we are working to improve the health of organizations. There is great weight with this responsibility.

    Agile Principles for Everyone

    Based on the 12 Agile Principles and adapted for any delivered value.

    1. Early and continuous delivery of the most valuable work.
    2. Welcome and manage change. It happens.
    3. When work can be broken up and delivered in smaller (but valuable and usable) chunks, do it.
    4. Work directly with your customer daily throughout projects.
    5. Use motivated individuals. Given them the environment, support and trust to thrive.
    6. Face to face conversation is still the most effective method of conveying information.
    7. High business value is the primary measure of success.
    8. Work should be sustainable.
    9. Give continuous attention to excellence.
    10. Maximize the amount of work not done.
    11. The best work emerges from self-organizing teams.
    12. Regularly reflect on the past and make adjustments.

    I’m sure I’m not the first or the last on this, and if you’re interested in more, check out ModernAgile.org

    Best Practice: Impediment Backlog

    At it’s simplest the backlog is a list of work we want to do. There are several types:

    • Sprint Backlog: The work team(s) have committed to do in a sprint, or the work that is prioritized to start first in Lean / Kanban.
    • Product Backlog: All of the work that has been requested to do for a product or suite of products.
    • Impediment Backlog: The work to remove or reduce the impact of impediments and blockers for the team(s).

    Any high performing team should be familiar with this kind of work. There are a few ways to view what this backlog is to contain. Some describe it as a backlog for the Scrum Master / Agile Coach. Some describe it as a kanban style list of things to improve in the agile implementation for the individuals, teams, departments, even organization as a whole. I suggest the following definition:

    Impediment Backlog: a list of impediments for the team(s). With support from the Agile team(s), the Scrum Master / Agile Coach works throughout every sprint to try to remove or reduce the impact of impediments.

    Consider that these items in the Impediments backlog should be informed through team interaction during a sprint (or throughout work in Kanban) and solidified and prioritized to work in the Retrospective.

    Who is the Product Owner of the Impediment Backlog?

    Unblocking the team is not just a job for the Scrum Master / Agile Coach. So, the impediment backlog is not just a backlog for Scrum Master / Agile Coach, it is a backlog for the team.

    A high performing team is one who can work together with the Scrum Master / Agile Coach to unblock itself. The Scrum Master / Agile Coach is often the person leading this effort.

    The Product Owner of the Impediment Backlog is the team itself.

    Read More:

    1. Crisp’s Blog » Improve the improvement process
    2. Organizational Impediment Management: Early Risk Detection for Agile | Getting Agile
    3. Impediment Management and the Agile Triangle | Getting Agile
    4. The Impediments Backlog | IT-Zynergy ApS
    5. Remove Impediments. Don’t Inventory Them.
    6. 7 Steps to Build a Kanban Board for a Scrum Team’s Impediments » Agile Trail

    Common Retrospective Challenges

    I often hear about poorly run retrospectives. Below, I’ll describe a few different common problems and some ways I have addressed them. Beyond what I list below, you may want to learn more abut how good facilitation can help any team.

    Common Challenge #1: Skipping The Retrospective

    The most common challenge for the practice of retrospectives is pretty simple: many agile teams just don’t do them. It can be tempting to skip the retrospective, or allow teams to cancel because “there are no issues to discuss.”

    I’m no longer surprised when teams I start working with aren’t holding this ceremony. It takes time, is challenging, and good facilitation of any meeting takes skill. So the retrospective is frequently the first thing to be dropped.

    However, in agile, continuous improvement is really important. The difference between a good team and a high performing one lies in retros. You won’t see the kinds of amazing things high performing teams can deliver if you don’t take the time as a team to evaluate what’s working, and what you might try differently.

    Teams not seeing much benefit in agile practices need the retrospective to find out why. Good teams need it to become great. Great teams need the retro to stay great.

    Hold regular retrospectives for the same reason you take your car to the mechanic. You don’t just take your car to be looked at when it isn’t running at all; you also take it when you realize something might not be working as well as you’d like, and for regular maintenance to keep it running well.

    I’ve been asked many times by people new to agile, “When can the team stop having retros?” The answer is when you are perfect. (In other words, from my perspective, never.)

    On rare occasions I have worked with teams that proactively address issues throughout the sprint and therefore rely on retros less. However, even mature teams need time set aside to respond to change and improve process together.

    To avoid skipping this valuable ceremony, whenever possible, schedule it ahead during a time slot when all team members can be present and emphasize the importance of attending.

    Common Challenge #2: Too Short

    It’s almost worse than skipping the retro if you aren’t setting aside enough time for discussion. One scrum master I had the pleasure of listening speak on this topic called these PDQ retros: Pretty Damn Quick.

    Through the hundreds of retrospectives I’ve facilitated, I’ve found anything shorter than 1.5 hours doesn’t allow the group to dig deep enough. Your experience may be different – and certainly the length needed varies by the team.

    Too short of a retro gives you the illusion that you are tackling all team issues while allowing some issues to remain unaired. It takes time for some challenges to be discovered and fully understood, and sometimes the most impactful topics are the most difficult to raise, or aren’t surfaced until the easier and more visible challenges are out of the way.

    There’s a few recommended ways to determine the length of time needed for retros that you’ll find if you Google it: from 2 hours per week in the sprint, to 20% of the sprint length. This is never a palatable amount of time for teams or businesses to spend when first adopting agile. Underestimating the value of retrospective practice costs teams much more than the time required for this meeting, but some people and some organizations may need convincing.

    One thing you can do if you have pressure outside, or even inside the team to keep this meeting short is ask to try it for the duration you believe best for a few sprints and re-evaluate after. Remember the goal isn’t perfect, it’s just better, so after a few sprints, ask if the parties pressuring for shorter retros still have concerns and work together to find a way forward that everyone feels good about.

    Another approach is to schedule them for shorter time slots and limit discussion to a few topics. Set a timer so you leave enough time to wrap the meeting with action items. Work your way into longer retrospectives by proving their value through action item follow up and resulting measurable improvements.

    Common Challenge #3: Lack of Constructive Discussion

    Another common scenario is lack of constructive discussion.

    I see this most when running the retrospective without setting guidelines for appropriate discussion. It’s so important to set the expectation of constructive discourse and ban blaming, shaming, and naming.

    The Lean practices of Kaizen and Hansei are one way to approach this. Kaizen is the idea of change for the better – often referred to in the concept of continuous improvement. Big results come from many small changes accumulated over time. This means everyone making small changes and improvements, and involves introspection to discover what you yourself could do better (or are good at and can build on).

    This goes hand and hand with Hansei- the idea of acknowledging your mistakes or weaknesses and offering ideas of ways you can improve. Encourage individuals calling out their own faults or issues and things they could do better next time. Other participants must listen objectively and keep feedback positive.

    It’s much less threatening for a team member to acknowledge their own shortcomings than it is for other team members to call it out. If your retro takes a turn in the direction of personal attacks redirect. Remind participants, that we’re all in this together. If you can reword comments in a constructive manner and remind participants of the expectations for discussion.

    I try to start retros with the Retrospective Prime DirectiveRegardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand. In other words, we did the best we could. It can help to note that if we could do better we would like to, and that’s what this meeting is about, improving.

    Emphasize that we, as a team, through action or inaction, are all responsible for the outcome of a significant event, a sprint, release or project.  It is an art to guide discussion to protect individuals but allow the sort of introspection that helps to improve teams. Once you allow one blamer, shamer or namer, the rest come out of the woodwork, often in a defensive posture to scapegoating.

    Discussing things from a team responsibility perspective allows the team as a whole to discover ways to address problems and opportunities. It is a powerful feeling to see an opportunity to improve and identify how you might contribute to that, by choice, by building on your strengths, or by trying something new.

    Common Challenge #4: Participants Don’t Feel Safe

    Lack of trust sets up retrospectives to fail. Missing trust can happen in the beginning stages of a team, when action items are not followed up on, when management or leadership uses feedback discovered in the retro against the team or as a result of numerous poor retrospectives involving lack of constructive feedback that have made discussion feel unsafe.

    You can help with trust issues by telling the team the retrospective discussion is private, feedback is anonymous and asking what teams are comfortable sharing outside of the meeting and then following through, every time.

    You can gauge the trust in a group by running a Safety Check and addressing the issues preventing safe discussion through a Creating Safety retrospective.

    It is essential to address issues of safety before holding a true retrospective as the team will not discuss openly when they do not feel safe to do so.

    Common Challenge #5: No Action Items or Action Items Are Agreed Upon and Forgotten

    One of the goals of the retro is to agree upon action items and then act on them. Strive for 1-3 action items that the team has agreed to try. If you find your teams ending retros without action items consistently, or agreeing on action items that go no where, that’s a problem!

    Ensure action items result from the retro by reserving time for action item discussion in the agenda. Set a timer or have a time keeper help.

    After gathering data and generating insights, use filtering techniques to decide what to do.

    Ensure action items are acted upon by creating cards, estimating them and tracking them on the agile board, just as you would any other work your team does. Set aside a percentage of every sprint for team improvement work.

    You can use a checkout activity like Who What When (found in the Fun Retrospectives by Paulo Caroli and Taina Caetano) to garner ownership of these action items within the team.

    Just as important is following up at the next retro on what you did and asking the team, did it make a difference? You could set aside the first 5-10 minutes of retro discussion to review your action items and gather feedback from the team.

    Common Challenge #6: Repeating Themes

    Repeating themes are a call to action. Issues that come up again and again could mean you haven’t tackled the issue fully, the issue a bigger problem than the team and requires escalation or that the team doesn’t have the tools it needs to address it.

    In the case of repeating themes, consider a retro focused entirely on this persistent issue. Preface the session with a description of the problem and what you have tried and ask the team to brainstorm for ideas they haven’t tried yet.

    The repeating issue may be one that the team doesn’t think they have influence over. Try using the Circles and Soup technique to reveal what the team does have influence over.

    One team I worked with had the same issues come up every retrospective that were organizational issues needing a manager to escalate them in order to solve them. Sometimes the things you can’t change are the easiest to want to change.

    You can use Madhavi Ledalla’s Fly High retrospective method to get the organizational blockers out of the way (and compile a list to escalate) and then focus on items within the team’s control.

    Common Problem #7: Rigid, Unchanging Approach

    You want your team showing up for retrospectives ready to discuss whatever issues, concerns and opportunities that may come out of open exchange. You want your participants engaged.

    If you are using the same retrospective method every time (what did we do well, what could improve is one common example), your attendees know what you are going to ask of them each time and you may not be getting the chance to spark creative solutions. Sometimes participants have pre-rehearsed answers, even pre-written post-its that can disrupt the flow of natural discussion and discovery.

    It is important to keep the discussion alive and interesting. This can be done by varying check-in and check-out activities as well as the main retrospective itself. Asking the question of how we can improve in a different way can help the team think about it’s challenges differently.

    I recommend researching what techniques may help the team better discuss challenges and successes. Carefully consider a retro design for your participants that will be most effective. Make your retros engaging and fun.

    Some team members may feel uncomfortable with varying technique, so you can give participants an idea of what’s to come with an agenda prior to the meeting as well as labeled sections on the white board (or large stickies) in the meeting room so they know the general areas we you cover.

    Spend time planning activities and have everything set up in the meeting room ahead of time.

    Consider the team’s disposition (generally, and at the time of the retro). Some teams love to do something creative like a quick drawing as a check in / set the stage portion of the retro. Some teams don’t like this kind of activity at all.

    I track of everything I have tried in retrospectives I’ve facilitated and which things are good for different desired outcomes. When planning a good retro, my focus remains on what success, challenge, or conflict I am seeing in the team, and what issues remain unsolved to help decide on a retro technique to try.

    For yourself, create a library of techniques that you can pull from. Good sources include Derby and Larsen’s book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, the Retro-Mat website (Corinna Baldauf) and Fun Retrospectives (book or website) by Paulo Caroli and Taina Caetano among many. One Scrum Master I know uses Pinterest as a source of inspiration. You can also alter techniques to get different effects, and or try something brand new.

    Consider a 5 stage or 7 stage agenda to surface team challenges and find your way to action items.

    There are different methods to spark discussion on different topics, to build the team, and to discuss team goals. It’s a good idea with a new team to try techniques that encourage the discussion of working agreements, role expectations, the behaviors or attributes of a model team member versus the behaviors or attributes of team members that are not easy to work with. Discussing future desired state is a great idea as well.

    There’s More: Resources to Read More

    This is just a starting list. Others have written about common ailments and ways to tackle them. If you think you’re retros could go better, you’re probably right.

    Retrospectives for Everyone – CodeMash 2016 – Resources

    Materials

    Slides: Retrospectives for Everyone

    Photos from Session

    The Path to Nirvana 1: Now

    Where your team is now

    The Path to Nirvana 2: Next Step

    What’s the very next step you can take towards the ideal state

    The Path to Nirvana 3: Ideal State

    The perfect team environment

    The Flying High Technique

    Identifying challenges within the team’s control and challenges at the organizational level

    Resources

    Online

    Books

    • Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diane Larson
    • Fifty Quick Ideas to Improve Your Retrospectives by Ben Williams and Tom Roden
    • Fun Retrospectives by Taina Caetano and Paulo Caroli
    • Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rule Breakers and Change Makers by Dave Gray
    • Getting Value out of Retrospectives by Luis Goncalves and Ben Linders
    • The Retrospective Handbook by Patrick Kua
    • Retrospectives for Organizational Change by Jutta Eckstein
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