A simple retrospective exercise I like to use is the ‘one-word retrospective’ found in Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives by Luis Gonçalves and Ben Linders. This exercise is particularly useful for helping teams deal with their feelings.
Simply ask every team member to summarize in one word how they felt about the last sprint.
Just as a workman wouldn’t rely on the same tool for every job (unless they have some kind of massive Swiss Army tool), it can be useful for Scrum teams to have a few different retrospective models to draw on. Different approaches help teams to see things from different perspectives.
The starfish retrospective is an extension of the typical three-question retrospective of what went well? what didn’t go well? what could be improved? By asking similar but different questions it can help a team appreciate the practices that are going well as well as consider new ideas. I know scrum masters for whom this is their default retrospective pattern.
One of my favourite podcasts is Eat Sleep Work Repeat hosted by Bruce Daisley, the European Vice-President for Twitter. I was delighted when I heard earlier this year that he was publishing a book, The Joy of Work (2019).
The subtitle of this his first book promises a lot: “30 ways to fix your work culture and fall in love with your job again”. The book is arranged into three sections which he claims together create happier work environments:
Recharge—ways we can help recharge our own batteries.
Sync—suggestions about how to encourage trust.
Buzz—ideas, based on research, that can help teams reach a state of ‘buzz’.
Each chapter relatively short, easy to read and is packed with great, up-to-date research and ends with a few practical ideas about how you could implement that idea.
The first section offers 12 performance-enhancing actions to make work less awful:
Have a monk-mode morning—silent and distraction free.
Go for a walking meeting—seemingly, it makes you more creative.
Celebrate headphones—they can really help you focus by shutting out the noise around you.
Eliminate hurry sickness—don’t see gaps in your schedule as moments when you are not working, celebrate space—sometimes you have your best idea when you are doing ‘nothing’.
Shorten your work week—stop celebrating overwork, go home on time, break your day into small chunks. Burnout and exhaustion are no good for your creativity.
Overthrow the evil mill owner who lives inside you—don’t be a tyrant, don’t jokingly say ‘half day?’ when someone comes in at 10:00. Don’t give people a hard time about their hours especially when work has some flexibility.
Turn off your notifications.
Go to lunch—it’s better for your mental health.
Define your norms
Have a digital sabbath—for example, don’t email afterhours
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the size of user stories in agile projects. The idea that I’ve been reflecting on is what if teams only worked with small, similarly-sized pieces of work, rather than exponentially larger blocks of work?
In theory, small user stories should be more predictable, should include less risk, less uncertainty and less complexity. They should, therefore, take less time to complete than larger user stories… you would think! Or as Mike Cohn put it in Agile Estimating and Planning (Prentice Hall, 2006), “small stories keep work flowing”.
One of my favourite books on agility is The People’s Scrum (Dymaxicon, 2013) by Tobias Mayer.
A lot of books on agility focus on the mechanics of how it all fits together, who needs to be where doing what with whom in order for the machine to work more effectively.
This book is different. It focuses not on the how, but challenges the why. It is open to critically questioning every aspect of agile with the intention of uncovering the core drivers behind agile practices.