There are times when facilitating a big group of people is necessary. One of the hardest things a facilitator faces is trying to keep a group of people on track and on time. Trying to keep more than ten people on track and on time is hard enough, but double that and you could quickly find yourself in facilitation hell. If you have a set of topics that you want to discuss and include everyone in, Rotating Flipcharts can be a really useful facilitation technique that breaks a large group into smaller ones and still ensure the groups communicate with each other.
Every day we rely upon our habits over actively making decisions, and on the whole for very good reasons. From an evolutionary perspective the cost of a decision is high; spending the energy and time to make countless decisions every a day is impractical. Like lots of our instincts that have been great for survival historically, they’re not great for life in the twenty first century. As technology propels us forward faster and faster, making a poor decision can mean finding ourselves off course by miles. Here are five questions to help you be more mindful about the decisions you want to make consciously.
What are the consequences of making / not making the decision?
Sometimes decisions don’t need to be made at the point you first start considering them. Make the decision at the last responsible moment. Give yourself as much time as can be allowed to learn more.
Although we typically use the word consequences to mean something unpleasant, I prefer to think of consequences as things that are observable, and have an identifiable causal link (even if they aren’t always predictable). Use what you know and the time you have to consider the consequences of letting things run their cause, or being more active in your involvement.
What are my duties?
These go all the way from yourself, to your family and friends, your country, and humanity and the world. We are part of the universe, not separate living inside like a building. What we do to others we are also doing to ourselves. These factors should be taken into account when making an important decision.
In the business world, this may be legal regulatory requirements or codes of ethics from your professional body. If you hold a position of responsibility within the organisation, consider the duties you have to those who the decision will affect. Seek out these people and ask them what their opinions are to help you have a wider contextual understanding.
Will it work?
Probably the most important question of the five, and yet potentially the hardest to understand. When the consequences are easy to understand then this question will be the easiest to answer. When the decision is around a more innovative problem is when things become trickier.
Does it align with my values?
To answer this that it helps to understand what your values are. To think about these you can ask yourself these questions:
- Are there any behaviours that I’ve purposefully adopted? Why have I chosen to adopt them?
- Why have I chosen to work (or not work) at the organisation(s) I have during my career?
- At the end of the day, what do I look forward to most?
To act in a way that goes against our values, is to act against ourselves. Which leads nicely into the final question,
Can I live with it?
Will you be able to sleep tonight if you do this thing? Will you regret it in ten years time if you don’t? We’ve all made decisions and done things when we were younger that are hard to live with later, but we forgive ourselves because of our age at the time. Part of our personal, continuous improvement should include looking for ways to not fall into traps we’ve seen before or ones that we can predict. Listen to what your gut is telling you on this one.
Consciously Making Decsisions
It’s not an easy process to keep oneself mindful. Every neuron in our nervous system reacts automatically it those around it. The emergence of conciousness allows us the ability to control these impulses and be aware of our decision making and the impacts we have. To use this gift takes strength of will, but can itself be made an automatic habit given continued practice.
ADKAR is a goal oriented change management model for individuals and organisations to help guide them through changes and create lasting change. As both an agile coach and a personal coach, I find this model incredibly useful. This is something that we can all use ourselves in our work and personal lives to help form new habits.
Key question: Why do you want to change x from the way it is now?
The first point of any change is to have an awareness of the need to change, and then building an understanding of it. If this change is coming from yourself then you should already have an understanding of this. If it’s a change for an organisation, you’re going to have to ask around to find out. If the decision has come from a committee then finding that why may be difficult. Find out who the key people who have made the decision to change are, and start asking them questions.
Key question: How will I benefit from making this change?
Once you have your why, the desire to change is easier to foster. This is the time to create passion and a sense of purpose around the change by selling it. Whether it’s change for an individual or a group, there needs to be a commitment from everyone involved towards the change in order to make it happen in the first place. Organisations need to employ change agents to support the change, and individuals need to create a network around them of people to help them stick to their decisions.
Key question: What behaviours do I need to change for the entire change to be successful?
Now that you’ve built up some passion, it’s time to gain the knowledge that we need in order to enact that change. There are plenty of resources available out there, you’ve just got to make the most of them. If you have a budget, then look for training both online and IRL. If you’re lucky enough to be in a major city then you’ll probably find groups of other people exploring the same kinds of things that you are. Perhaps you can take an evening class, or take a trip down to your local library and do some old fashioned book reading. Whatever it is that you need to learn, go and learn it.
Key question: What can I use to trigger me to remember to behave differently?
Knowledge is great, but until we’ve changed that knowledge into understanding and habitual behaviour we’ll sit in the hardest part of change. This is the part of the model where we actually start making those changes. Whilst you’re starting to make the change things are going to be slow and awkward because you’re having to really concentrate to make sure you behaviour in the new way. Persevere through these times. The longer that you practice the new behaviour, the easier that new behaviour will become.
Key question: Who can I ask to help me maintain my new behaviour by rewarding me when I exhibit it?
We’ve all started a new habit (usually around January) with good intentions to keep it up, but over time find ourselves falling off the wagon and back into old habits. Either find a way that you can reward yourself, or ask someone else to comment when they see the new behaviour. If you’re in an organisation and have the luxury of a change agent, then ask them to create a process for everyone to be able to easily call out when they see that people are successfully adopting and exhibiting the desired new behaviours.
Try Out ADKAR
When you’re thinking about making a change, take a moment to consider this model and what it means to making the changes you want. Create a passion within yourself to making this change, find out all the information you need before you start changing your behaviour, and finally find yourself a support network so that you can find that emotional reward for being successful.
I’ve heard as many explanations of story points as teams I’ve worked with. I’ve seen a team use equations to get from T-shirt sizing to story points to time prediction. Another team I worked with estimated user stories in story points and estimated sub-tasks (hello there, Jira) in hours. When I ask a team why is it that they estimate in story points, the explanation I typically hear is, “We’re an agile team.” In an agile environment we should be questioning what the value of doing everything we do, and we shouldn’t overlook estimation in our inquiries.
Complicated vs Complex
Complicated pieces of work are pieces that we know about. Mostly, we know what it is that we don’t about the work and therefore can have a good guess at how much effort it’s going to take for us to complete the work. If we’re really lucky this work can slip into simple and it comes to us almost for free.
Complex pieces of work are pieces that we don’t know about. Some things we may not be able to know anything about until we have a go at. If this is the case, we should be considering creating a spike to find out before we start work.
How do we as a team agree whether we think a piece is complicated or complex though? Story points. Over time, a team will start to understand that a large story point estimate means that the piece of work sits more into complex and less into complicated. Therefore when a team estimates work high up the story point scale, they know to look into the questions they don’t have answers to yet. A spike is a piece of work to quickly look into very specific questions in a set time scale. At the end of their investigation, the team should throw away all the work that they’ve done (so quickly that it should never be allowed into production) and bring the things they’ve learned into the original piece of work.
Another reason why the team may have estimated a piece of work high on the story point scale may be because the piece of work is just too large. When work is too large, people build in extra contingency into everything around that piece of work, including their estimate. These are a few questions the Scrum Master can ask the team about the piece of work to help them find out why their estimation is high.
- How much information do we have vs how much do we need?
- Whose perspective is the information written from?
- Is there a clear reason why the piece of work is being requested?
- Do we know exactly what the measures of success are?
Sometimes a team has everything they need and everything is clear, but there’s just too much to do as one piece. Like all large things, large pieces of work move more slowly than small pieces of work. Take a look around the web for ways to break down user stories. There are some interesting and creative ways to look at your work and find different ways to tackle it available out there.
If you think that refinement is your problem, perhaps think about facilitating some Three Amigo sessions in between formal backlog refinement meetings.
Something that should scare everyone in every organisation is how concentrated the knowledge of their organisation is within their organisation. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of someone leaving an organisation and them being the only person who can <insert important function here>. As part of the refinement and estimation process the team must be talking to each other about what they collectively know regarding a piece of work.
When it comes to estimation, this typically manifests itself by the individuals having wildly different estimates. Ask multiple members of the team to explain their estimate and you may find out that one person has never touched part of the system and that another is the only person who has. What a better time than to invite the team to collaborate more intensely than they’re used to doing so that the knowledge can be spread out?!
Facilitating Estimating in Story Points
There are some gotchas of using story points that are easy to fall for if the facilitator is not looking out for them.
Only the Development Team get to estimate. Not the Product Owner, not the Scrum Master, not the boss. Only the people who are potentially going to do the work get a say on the estimate for that work. This includes BAs, devs, QAs, and anyone else who falls into the ‘does the work’ category.
We’re trying to find out what each individual thinks as an individual to understand the team as a whole. This means we need to avoid groupthink. I always provide teams with planning poker cards for two reasons. First, when a planning poker app is open and being paid attention to, then those twitter and facebook notifications are oh so appealing. Second, due to the nature of a phone, it is easy for one person to see what the person next to them has selected.
Ask the team to select a piece of work to discuss ready to estimate. Once there are no more questions about what the work, then we’re ready to estimate. Ask everyone to choose a card and place it face down on the table in front of them once they’ve chosen. Wait until everyone has placed their choice down, and then ask everyone to turn their card over and hold it up for all to see.
Check for disparity, and ask at least the highest and lowest voters to reveal why they chose these results. Once the discussion that innevitably start have finished, invite the team to vote again and guide them through the same process of placing a card in front of them and revealing as a group.
Check for agreement of a high estimate. What looks like high is different for every team, but typically sits around the 13 mark (5 – 20). Lead a discussion with the team to find out what their concerns are. Is this too big a piece of work, or does no one know enough about it yet? Perhaps only one member of the team hsan’t voted high, and that may be indicitive of a silo. If you’re ready to esitmate again, then do so.
If a concensus cannot be made, take the piece of work away for further refinement. Maybe you want to break it down, maybe you want to do a spike or two, maybe you need to do some knowledge transfer. Work out which, do it, and then bring this back to estimation and try again.
Once there is a concensus, you have completed the process and have a high confidence that this is a piece of work that you’re going to be able to complete quickly and with relative ease.
As you can see, story pionts can tell a team information about the work that the individuals that make up the team can find hard to uncover in other ways. Understanding the stories that story points tell us allows a team to use estimations as a valuable tool, and not just a reporting mechanism for their management.
I think that we’ve all received apologies that just haven’t quite felt genuine. For sure, we’ve all seen politicians and celebrities on TV say how sorry they were, yet do it in such a way that nobody believes them. However, apologising is something that we all need to do many times during our lifetimes so it strikes me that we should know what we should and shouldn’t do in order to ensure that those we have done wrong by know that we sincerely regret it.
Things to Not Do
Don’t wait. The longer you take to show the other person that you’re sorry the more likely two things are likely to happen. Their resentment for your behaviour grows, and your regret of your behaviour grows. Neither of these things are conducive for good communication. The quicker you recognise to both yourself and the other that you are unhappy with your behaviour, the better for both of you.
Don’t give context. The other person will have their context of what happened before the incident, and is likely to be uninterested in yours. It is more likely that any context you give for your actions are going to come across as excuses. It may be that at some point in the future you’ll be able to talk more about the circumstances, but at the time you are apologising is not the time to explain yourself.
Don’t apologise for what other people thought. You’re not responsible for the thoughts of others, nor their feelings. Your apology is about you and your remorse for hurting another.
Things to Do
Identify the victim first. As much as your apology is about you, it is also about them. The need to apologise is the consequence of a cycle that you initiated by behaving in a manner that has distressed another. By explicitly recognising that you have had an impact on another, they are going to feel better about the situation – and you – immediately.
Express remorse and admit responsibility. I think these are the most important factors of an apology. Putting yourself in a vulnerable position is often a way to bring others emotionally closer to you. Be honest with yourself and with the part that you’ve wronged, show that you empathise with them, and above all be authentic about it.
Make restitution. Ask the other party what you can do to make up for your actions, and perhaps offer up some ways that you’re going to try to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
What Happens Next?
Don’t expect miracles. The more distress you’ve caused another, the less likely it is that your apology is going to to be received easily or accepted quickly. Hopefully the other person will thank you for your apology, and whether or not they do the best you can do is to be humble and give them the space they need to process what you’ve said and decide how they’re going to respond.
In my career I’ve worked at many organisations, and most of them have thought that they have a staff retention problem. They talk about how staff stay with them for about two years and then move on. However, I think that they’re worrying unnecessarily. I think that the real retention problem is when your organisation keeps people for 10, 20 years, or perhaps all of their career.
New Experiences Required
Most people in technology will agree that spending five or six years at the same place is a long time. Most organisations choose a technology stack and stick with it for the life of a product. In the last 20 years, the average software product has had a lifecycle of six to eight years. If a developer wants to start working on a new technology, then they are most likely going to move on within those six years to find a newer software product to work on. When a technologist works within a new technology, they are expanding the way they think about problems and learning new ways to solve those problems. On the softer side, technologists who move around more are likely to have better soft skills because they are repeatedly meeting new people and learning how to interact and work with them.
I find it hard to believe that if your technologists moving on every few years, that it can be anything other than a good thing. Those people will be experienced in a range of technologies and industries, and will be used to adapting the way they work to fit new scenarios. When the technologist moves on, if both parties separate on good terms then hiring the leaver back after they’ve had those different experiences elsewhere can be a positive for everyone.
High Staff Retention?
So what about the flip side? What if you’ve created a culture where your technologists are so loyal that you retain your staff for decades, or maybe even forever? Perhaps you rotate people around teams every few years so they have to keep adapting to working on a new team. I’m willing to bet though, that it’s unlikely that you’re the kind of organisation that takes risks with the latest new and shiny technology and so will still be missing out on the breadth of technology experience.
Of course, there is a place for those who stay in the same place for many years, even decades. I have a very good friend who has worked for his organisation for 20+ years. He not only understands the organisation’s current product, but also the last three. He knows of pitfalls that were avoided a decade ago, and trains new recruits how to avoid them. What he can never teach is why to avoid those pitfalls. It’s near impossible to convey the pain of when we experience an obscure edge cage that takes a month to solve. Subject matter experts (SMEs) are important to an organisation, but not everyone needs to be one.
If someone is planning on spending their entire career in one organisation, their attitude is going to be very different to someone who is only thinking about the next five years at the most. There’s always conflict within any group of people, but we are far more likely to keep the explicit conflict levels low if we know our entire career depends upon the people around us. This is how group think gets a hold. Once a team is in this state, they stop challenging each other. People would rather keep the peace, than produce a higher quality of work.
When practicing agile, we look to uncover all conflicts and harness them to produce better products. It’s very difficult (though I’ve heard not impossible) to be fully transparent and honest with those around you when you’re planning to spend your career with them. The easiest illustration of this is likely to be your family. How many times have you sat quietly instead of telling someone they’re wrong?
So, What to Do?
Well, I don’t know. I think it’s great that companies are looking after their employees to the point that they want to stay forever. All organisations benefit from having a certain amount of people who want to stay forever. However, if this is nearly everyone in your organisation then you can start by asking yourself why that is, and what (if any) harm that may be doing to your organisation.
During moments of stress in the workplace our anxieties can rise and result in us behaving in ways we would prefer not to. Our normal, instinctual reactions are unlikely to be the best for ourselves or our organisations. I knew a manager who found that when something unexpected happened to them, they overreacted. This manager, let’s call her Jane, came to me as she found herself unhappy with how she handled stressful situations. Together we came up with a plan. Continue reading “The Significance of Committing to Your Values”
With the Soccer World Cup getting into full swing, my current team talk of little else. We have a sweepstake going and I have Poland. The winner will receive £100. Given the level of excitement the team has for the World Cup I decided to tap into that for their retrospective last week. The format worked really well, and the team loved the competition element. If your team is football crazy, try it out with them too. Continue reading “The World Cup Retrospective”
Three Amigo sessions are a great way to get people together to talk about a ticket. The structure ensures that they are quick and have representatives of the groups interested in the ticket. The best time to use one of these sessions is when you have found something emergent before or during development. Welcoming change late in development is one of our agile principles, and Three Amigos is a practice that can help to make a change as painless as possible. Continue reading “Three Amigos to Enhance Agility”
I love retrospectives. They’re one of the easiest and most effective ways of directly implementing an agile principle. (At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.) Retrospectives should be something that the team looks forward to because they know that it means that during the next iteration they’re going to improve. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case for all the teams I meet. In this post I’ll talk about how you can improve your team’s retrospectives so that they can be excited about them and improve their ways of working. Continue reading “Increasing Team Engagement in Retrospectives”