Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin': Using Story Cubes to jazz up team retrospectives

Are you looking for a simple way to liven up your retrospectives?  In my coaching engagements, I often encounter teams that are having ineffective retrospectives because they always take the same approach to framing the discussion. Using the same format for every retrospective preordains a very similar conversation each time, and it won’t take long for team members to start grumbling that the retrospectives aren’t working for them, creating a Doom Loop of disengagement.StoryCubees

I’ve had surprising successes dropping a handful of Rory’s Story Cubes on the table and suggesting “Hey, maybe we can use these to have a team conversation?”.  Story Cubes share some of the magical properties of using LEGO Serious Play to spark a serious conversation: they’re fun, they’re tactile, and they’re easy to use.  More introverted team members who might be intimidated by being asked to do improv don’t seem to notice when there are Story Cubes involved.  By breathing a spirit of playfulness into the conversation, and engaging fingers as well as tongues, the people at the table will share ideas that haven’t surfaced in previous retrospectives.  It’s also a great technique for dragging the conversation out of the rut of endless griping that some retrospectives seem to fall into.

Story Cubes are easy to use, and can be adapted to a number of different purposes.  The Original set is enough to work with, though including another set such as the Actions (particularly useful for Retros) or some of new Mix-ins can help inspire greater creativity.

Here are some ways that you might incorporate Story Cubese into your next retrospective:

  1. Check In: One person rolls, then each participant picks one cube and offers an associated word to complete a simple check-in statement, such as “The last sprint was great because…” or “Today, I’m feeling like…”
  2. Data Gathering: Use the cubes to inspire the story of the retrospective.  Dana Pylayava suggests:  “Everyone picks 1 image as his view of last sprint. Speaking in turns, team builds the shared story in 9 cubes”.  There really are no rules here: have each person choose one cube or a few; people can roll again if they come up dry in continuing the story. Or have each person roll and then use all the cubes to tell a short individual story about their experience of the sprint.
  3. Gathering insights: To mix things up and really boost ideation, try combining Story Cubes with brain-writing to encourage everyone to generate ideas about why things are the way they are.  Roll the cubes, have each participant silently write as many ideas as possible on individual post-its using the images on the cubes as inspiration in identifying patterns, themes, and connections. Roll the cubes again and repeat.  Then use silent affinity grouping to assemble the big picture before starting to talk about what’s been revealed.
  4. Deciding what to do: This is where the Actions or Voyages cubes might be particularly useful to draw out creative ideas about “What is the thing we should do differently next sprint to be more successful?”.  Use the cubes to brainstorm as many ideas as possible about what types of actions will get the team to the desired destination (and then make a collective decision about which one to focus on, of course!).
  5. Closing the retrospective: Similar to the Check In, have participants select an image from a cube to help them complete a closing statement, such as “Our next sprint will be better because….”

While I’ve offered ideas for how to use Story Cubes for any phase of a retrospective, I wouldn’t recommend using them for the entire thing.  Choose one or two of the phases and combine using Story Cubes with other techniques for soliciting input – this is a great way to start especially if your team is unaccustomed to using playful props to do serious work.

Some other ideas for how to use Story Cubes in retros:

I would love to hear from you about how you’re using them – leave me a comment!

Where to find them?: Rory’s Story Cubes are available at many toy stores, via Amazon, or directly from Rory’s Story Cubes. And no, I don’t get any promotional perks for being a Story Cubes fangirl.  I just really like their product.


Doing Trumps Reading: Training from the Back of the Room Workshop June 5-6 2014

What’s the best training experience you’ve been in?  Take a moment to put yourself through the retrospectoscope and consider what made it memorable for you.

Maybe it was a Scrum training.  Or a ski lesson.  Or perhaps a first aid class.  I’m willing to bet that whatever type of training it was, you’re not fondly recalling sitting in a beige room being talked at or PowerPointed to death.  What I remember vividly from a long-ago Scrum training is not the words of wisdom falling from the instructor’s lips, but rather the games, exercises, and conversations with other participants that illustrated and reinforced the ideas being presented.

In Training from the Back of the Room, Sharon Bowman has distilled and shared a powerful framework for designing and delivering training experiences to adults that will help make learning stick.  The Training from the Back of the Room approach is grounded in 6 simple principles (Sharon calls them the Six Trumps) derived from what we know about how the brain actually works to receive and retain information:

  1. Writing trumps reading
  2. Talking trumps listening
  3. Different trumps same
  4. Moving trumps sitting
  5. Images trump words
  6. Shorter trumps longer

None of these principles are revolutionary – yet we often fail to apply them when designing training experiences because they don’t align to what we’ve experienced in the past as a model of “how adult learning is done”.

I’d read Training from the Back of the Room a while back and had attempted to apply the principles in the workshops that I deliver to my clients, but it didn’t really all come together for me until I took Sharon’s class last December.  For me, the workshop was a transformative experience: while I didn’t burn all my slide decks after taking the course (because there’s useful content in there that I can repurpose to be presented in different ways) I will never again deliver training the way I used to.  A couple of weeks ago, I delivered a 3 day Agile team workshop making heavy use of TBR principles and I received excellent feedback from the participants about the interactive nature of the class and the very limited use of slides.  Afterwards, a couple of people in the class told me how apprehensive they’d been about having to sit through a 3day training session, and how delighted they were by how little sitting they actually did and how much fun they had while doing some serious learning and planning.

If you’re interested in learning how to make Training from the Back of the Room work for you, I’ll be offering a 2 day Training from the Back of the Room workshop with Glenn Waters in Guelph ON on June 5-6 just before Agile Coach Camp Canada 2014.  It’ll be a ton of fun, and you’ll walk away from the experience knowing how to apply the Six Trumps and 4Cs (next post!)  to delivering your training content, two of Sharon’s excellent books, and a toolkit of activities and ideas that you can use right away to revitalize the training you deliver whatever the subject matter.


Building Your Dreams at Agile India 2014

I had a great time presenting a User Requirements with LEGO Serious Play workshop at Agile India 2014.  Sharing LSP with a new crowd is always fun, and the 100+ people who participated were enthusiastic and ready to play!

One lovely surprise from my session was the amazing graphic summary Lynne Cazaly created:

I think Lynne’s graphic is a better summary than my slides, but here they are anyhow:

If you’re curious to learn more about how LEGO Serious Play can help your team get work done or move forward in resolving a serious issue, check out my previous post on Why Serious Play Works or leave me a note in the comments so that we can chat.


The Team Responsibility Game

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I love games for learning – playing about serious matters allows people to drop some of the filters and barriers that may unconsciously affect how group discussions unfold and really explore ideas.  And the laughter and drama of playing a game that involves body, mind and emotions in order to learn about something helps ensure that the learnings stick.

At Play4Agile 2013, Markus Wittwer led an amazing and very popular game about team responsibility that explores the importance of shared intentions and playfully illustrates some of the effects of dysfunctional team behaviour.  I ran the same game during the Friday night playdate at Agile Coach Camp Canada 2013, where the participants had a lot of fun and made several excellent suggestions for how to extend and improve it.   Since then, I’ve been asked to share the exercise so that others can run it with their teams – here you go:

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Time required: 15-20 min

Number of players: teams of 7, the more teams the better

Materials:

  • big loops of rope – I bought 20M hanks of lightweight cord at a dollar store and cut it into ~6.5M long pieces.  For bigger groups, you may want longer loops.
  • beach balls – or other light balls (balloons, playground balls) roughly the size of a soccer ball.

The game:

  • Participants arrange themselves into teams of 7 and each person grabs onto the loop with two hands.  The team members should count off so that they know who is team member #1, team member #2,…through to team member #7
  • Each team make a net with the loop by passing the rope to each other until a net is formed.
  • Place a ball in the middle of each team’s net.  The team’s work is to keep the ball in play on the net – don’t let it fall!
  • The facilitator then guides the team through a number of actions/scenarios.  In each scenario, the team follows the instruction and attempts to move gently around the room while keeping the ball in play.  The facilitator may ask the team to return to a neutral state between scenarios (or not!):
    • the team moves around, learning to keep the ball in play
    • team member 1 takes 130% of the responsibility by pulling harder on the cord.
    • team member 2 gives up some responsibility by loosening their grip on the cord.
    • team members 3 & 6 have a conflict and try to pull apart while maintaining their grip on the net.
    • team member 4 leaves their home team and joins another team
    • team members  5 & 7 swap places
    • multi-tasking!: have one team member join onto another team while remaining part of their home team
    • remote team member: have one team member close their eyes
    • have the team members move around silently
    • have one team member remain immobile while the rest of the team moves around.

The debrief:

This is a really powerful game for dramatizing what happens when teams are not aligned in intent or are in a position where team members are distracted from the shared team goal by external factors.  I think it works best if you debrief as you go: run one or two scenarios, then pause and encourage participants to reflect on how they are feeling right then, and how the current situation reflects circumstances that are present on their teams.


Vote for “Discover To Deliver” class to be offered in Ottawa! (or Montreal!)

Well-formed user stories help Agile teams to make the right decisions about what to deliver next.  Ellen Gottesdiener and Mary Gorman’s excellent new book, Discover to Deliver: Agile Product Planning and Analysis, gives Agile teams practical guidance on planning and analysis practices that will help practitioners explore all dimensions of their product so that they are focused on learning the things that will enable them to deliver great products.

There ‘s an opportunity to have the “Discover To Deliver” class offered in either Ottawa or Montreal in October.  Visit this page to find out more about the course and indicate your interest in attending.  The more interest we have, the more likely it is we can bring Ellen or Mary to Ottawa to offer a fantastic learning experience.


Interested in presenting at Agile Tour in Ottawa or Montreal?

Agile Tour is a series of one-day non-profit Agile conferences held in 80+ cities around the world in October and November. Agile Tour conferences provide excellent learning value for not-very-much cost by bringing in top-quality keynote speakers and presenters, and are a great way to meet other Agile folks in your community.   Agile Tour Montreal has been going strong for several years now (they’re planning for 600 attendees in 2013), and I’m really excited that the Gatineau-Ottawa Agile Tour 2013 is shaping up to be even bigger and better than last year’s successful inaugural event.

Did I mention the excellent presenters at Agile Tour?  Do you have something to share that you’d be interested in getting out to an audience of energized and interested people?  Both Agile Tour Montreal and Gatineau-Ottawa Agile Tour  are soliciting proposals for presentations.  The deadline for submission is Aug 16 2013 for the Montreal event and August 30 2013 for Ottawa.  If you’ve got an Agile topic you’re passionate about, submit a proposal today!


Introduction to Lean & Agile Work: presentation to IEEE Ottawa

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of presenting “An Introduction to Lean and Agile Work” to one of the IEEE Ottawa SIGs

As a prelude  to the conversation, we played a simple variant of the penny game in order to spark some lively discussion and great questions to frame the rest of the evening.  We then talked about Agile values and principles, and how those ideas are manifested in Agile and Lean practices.  As the group was quite small, it was less of a formal presentation and more of a conversation with a few pictures to help clarify key ideas about Scrum and Kanban:

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The conversation was lively and long (as an Agile coach, I tell myself that one day I’ll get the hang of this time-boxing thing!), and from the comments afterwards it was clear that the talk had sparked a lot of curiosity about how these ideas could be applied in practice. My favourite comment was “You know, we’re supposedly doing Agile at work, but we’re missing a couple of really basic elements.  I get it now!”.

Here are the slides from the presentation:

Download the Scrum & Kanban Fundamentals handout.

 


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