Tuesday, 26 May 2015

My Retrospective on my Retrospectives

I have been doing regular retro's for about a year since I changed direction career-wise. I have recently been looking over how my style has changed and looking at why these changes came about.

Working with an experienced Agile coach has certainly been the catalyst - Helen Meek has pointed out many areas of improvement which I have been gradually working on over the last few months. Other inspiration was from an amazing talk from a lady who works with kids on the Autistic spectrum called Gina Davies.

She describes how she centers attention around a box. There is something different every time in the box and the kids she works with respond to this by sitting and waiting to see what happens next. You don't realise how effective this is until you see some video - kids with ASD don't get 'waiting' but after a relatively short amount of time, they start to participate and want to wait to see what happens next. The box is 'magic' - something new happens every time.

So this got me thinking, what's my 'magic box'? The obvious answer is the retro. It should be fun and engage the team. It should be something we all look forward to. Here's my observations on things that I have changed over the last 6 months:

Keep it Fresh - One of the key things I have tried to uphold is to never repeat the same retrospective with a group. I mix up sections of the retro or come up with a dedicated retro to target a specific area that the team needs to improve on. Sometimes I am inspired and come up with something completely new, other times I spend some time putting something together using the awesome Retromat.

Experiment - Each team is different. Different styles and techniques fit with some teams and are lost on others. Experimenting with formats lets you continuously improve getting the team involved and engaged. You also learn what works for a given situation - your retro style and format may well change depending on the sprint and team morale.

Sit back, relax - Helen encouraged me to sit back and watch the team rather than stand up and direct. Sounds easy but your team may now be a bit lazy! By you sitting back 2 things will happen - first your team will need to get more involved and second you can observe your team and start actively getting people involved. Helen encouraged me to direct, rather than lead which is a really nice way of seeing it.

Stories not Events - I have noticed that the events that stick out are usually the bad ones. These are usually the ones brought up with allows for improvements but does not help with celebrating successes. We should be pepped by the end of a sprint! Using timelines you can encourage storytelling, allowing you to replay a sprint from beginning to end. You can journey through the sprint, looking at what happened so you can see both the good and bad points.

Be prepared! - I spend as much time prepping a retro as doing one, if not more. Since I vary my format, I have to spend some time thinking about what I am going to do. This is a good thing and the team deserve it. Playing out the same retro might feel safe but I should imagine the team dread it after a few months. Dedicate time to preparing your retro, fitting it in with the teams personalities and requirements.

I'm sure there is more but these are the ones I have had on my mind recently. Enjoy!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Reference Conversation

So, I have this problem. I find it very hard to start conversations. This has never really been a problem, I put it down to how I'm wired. Just recently, I have cause to think this is holding back my career progress so I have been working on understanding why and finding a solution or workaround.

First, I looked back and realised that fear had a big part to play. I have a tendancy to build up the conversation in my mind, running scenario after scenario in an attempt to control the conversation when I have it. In reflection this creates a negative feeling around the conversation so I shy away from starting it in the first place.

The build up also means that if I do start a conversation I am already apprehensive about it, which I am pretty sure the other person picks up on. Bad news all round really.

Now, I use 2 things to help break this cycle. The first is to think only about what the conversation is about and how I let the person know that. Seems simple really, I just work out how I open the conversation e.g if I am just checking in, I let the person know that in the first few seconds so they can relax.

Even if this is something that the other person might find difficult to talk about, I realise that I only need an opener - something is worrying me, this is why, now lets find a solution. I find this far less scary to think about.

This got me some of the way in that I could shut down a thought process by recognising it as daft from the outset. Once I had an opener, I could put it to one side as there is nothing left to think about.

Then I needed to find a way of countering the fear of starting the conversation, which felt like a learned response at this point.

Taking a cue from story planning, I came up with the idea of having a reference conversation. This gave me something I could refer to in the lead up to a conversation if I was feeling anxious about it. Similar to how we would use a reference story in planning, I would compare the type of conversation I was going to have with my reference conversation in help me recognise that it is really much less than I had built it up to be.

I use my reference conversation at any point that I am holding back from a conversation. If I am putting off booking it or starting it, I review my opener and remove my fear by comparing with my reference conversation.

For me, my reference conversation is one that I would not have the words for. It is one that I can think about and realise that all mine are trivial in comparison. As simple as this technique is, it has helped me move on and focus on having the conversation itself.