It has been our privilege to interview Diana Larsen who is co-founder of Agile Fluency™ Project, Author, Speaker, Agile Coach & Agility Consultant. She is a Visionary Pragmatist and helps to build capability and capacity in teams and organisations.
We discussed about Agile Fluency Model, Agile Standup Meetings, her idea of a healthy team and Agile Retrospectives with her in the interview.
Q1. Improv activities can bring improvements in Agile standup meetings. Elaborate a little on this with your experience.
Diana: I’m not trained in Improv techniques, and don’t agree that these activities contribute to standup meetings. They may be wonderful and fun activities for team building at other times, but standup offers the most benefit when they are kept brief (30-60 seconds per team member) and to the point––sustaining communication about the state of the work. It helps when team members know the questions ahead of time and come prepared to answer them succinctly. I recommend that each person write their answer on an index card to bring to the meeting.
However, the “three questions” don’t need to always be the same. Instead of improv activities, for fun and variety insert new questions from time to time, e.g. every other week or monthly. As you try new questions, make sure they stay focused on the work. Some possible variations:
Set A. (The Classic)
1) What story did you work on yesterday? Who worked on it with you? 2) What story do you plan to tackle today? Who will you work with on it? 3) What obstacles, if any, do you anticipate to finishing?
Set B. (Shared Learning)
1) In the work you did yesterday, what did you learn that could help the whole team? 2) What do you hope to learn today? How will you share it with all of us? 3) What gets in the way of your learning?
Set C. (Finding Help)
1) What helpful resources (e.g., websites, books, articles, repositories, team member expertise, etc.) did you access yesterday for your work? 2) Where will you look for help today? 3) When have you found it difficult to find helpful resources? What gets in the way?
Set D. (Achieving the Plan)
1) How did you help the team move toward our iteration plan yesterday? 2) How will you help us move forward on the plan today? 3) What will impede your progress? 4) On a scale of 0 (no way) – 5 (super confident), how confident are you that we will complete all the work in our iteration plan?
Set E. (Continuous Integration)
1) What did you commit yesterday? 2) What do you hope to commit today? 3) What hinders your ability to continuously integrate your work today?
–– By the way, the path to removing any obstacles, impediments, hindrances, or problems should be discussed separately outside of the standup meeting.
Q2. What defines a ‘Healthy’ team?
Diana: A healthy team has a shared work focus–delivering a feature, designing a product, serving a customer domain. The members know the outcome they have come together to accomplish. They also have learned to raise difficulties, conflicts, and potential “elephants in the room” while they are small, even though it may be uncomfortable to do so. They’ve learned the value of working together for improving their product quality, their work process, their teamwork, and their communication with those outside of their team. If they don’t hold regular, useful Retrospective meetings, they find another path toward continuous learning and improvement. Team members support each other.
Q3. What motivated you to work around ‘Agile Fluency’ Model and present it to the Agile Community?
Diana: James Shore and I had been working closely together for several years. During that time we had many discussions about Agile values, principles, practices, and healthy teams. The actual trigger was a conversation we had about how to improve a workshop we were presenting. That conversation led us to explore the idea of fluency in agile practices, and how those might be different for various situations. We decided to share our ideas as they developed with our local Agile meetup groups, at regional conferences, and with practitioners whose work we admire. When we began getting consistent feedback that the Agile Fluency Model was ready for publishing more broadly, we worked with Martin Fowler to make it available through his website. That was August 2012. In subsequent years, many folks shared with us their stories of using the model and we developed additional resources at our clients’ requests. Those new experiences helped us to learn more about how the Agile Fluency Model could help teams and organizations, so we updated the whitepaper earlier this year with new content. It’s available from the home page of our website http://agilefluency.org at the click of a button.
Q4. Agile Retrospectives can make good teams great. How is that possible? At times, it becomes difficult to make young practitioners understand the significance of retrospectives. Please suggest ways to overcome such situation.
Diana: In most cultures there is a proverb that says something like, “There is always room for improvement.” That is true for software teams, as well as other instances. When we stop learning, we stop growing. When we stop growing, we die. Regular Retrospective meetings are a way (not the only way, but one good one) to ensure that teams are always focused on what they can learn about doing better and how they can experiment their way to improved product quality, improved work process, improved teamwork and team member relations, improved communication with parties outside of the team, and on and on.
Younger team members often have had an unsatisfactory relationship with formal learning and believe they have been hired because they already “know it all.” And they probably are very intelligent, knowledgable people or the company wouldn’t have hired them. Thus, they can become reluctant to admit there are things they don’t know. But the world, particularly the world of software, is changing too fast to rely on past knowledge. We must open ourselves to what we don’t know yet and be prepared for continuous learning on many levels. Holding Retrospectives helps to support that effort.
Diana Larsen is the author of Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, Liftoff: Start and Sustain Successful Agile Teams, and Five Rules for Accelerated Learning. For more than 20 years she has worked with leaders to design work systems, improve project performance, and support leadership and enterprise agility.
An active speaker and contributor to her professional community, Diana has contributed in leadership roles to the Agile Alliance, the Organization Design Forum, and the Agile Open Initiative.