Examining LeSS’s “Overall Retrospective” Model

In a time when discussions about how to scale agile are front and center there are many variations and approaches to consider.  Some popular scaling frameworks are Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), and Disciplined agile Framework (DaD).

Today we will examine one element of the LeSS framework, and that is the “Overall Retrospective” model. In general, it is widely accepted that the LeSS framework is much more lightweight than SAFe. And as with any framework, you don’t necessarily need to adopt every element therein, but that doesn’t mean it hurts to examine components with a critical eye.

According to LeSS’s guide “The Overall Retrospective is a new meeting in LeSS. Its purpose is to discuss cross-team, organizational and systemic problems within the organization.” This is similar to a “scrum of scrums” but with a retrospective spin. So, can you and your organization find value by leveraging “Overall Retrospectives”? Let’s look a bit deeper and find out.

The Positives

  1. Cross-team collaboration – it is very common for teams to only be able to take their growth so far until they hit cross team or organization-wide challenges. Encouraging and providing a model for cross-team retrospectives is a big win and something many companies could majorly benefit from.
  2. Tools provided – the model outlined in the LeSS model tees up very nicely a model that is to the point and gets to the heart of issues. The article says “An important tool for Overall Retrospectives is to use Cause-Effect Diagrams. Having the participants pick an issue and explore the different causes together in front of a whiteboard can lead to big insights and real, useful changes.” These type of methods are great to make retrospectives less subjective and move towards identifying real for experimentation and continuous improvement.

The Pitfalls 

  1. PO role – One thing you could not like about this model is that it distinguishes the PO as a separate entity from the team. This may not be the intention, but when the PO is designated as a separate piece apart from the team, it can create a dynamic on a team of “us and them”.  I’ve found it helps to message and position the PO as a “peer leader” of sorts that is an equal on the team. This means that POs should be a part of their team’s retrospective.  Product Ownership is such a critical component of a successful agile team, that having that role only active in cross-team retros would be missing many opportunities for growth.
  2. Managers & Retros – Not including managers in a retrospective typically is a signal of some kind of safety issue. Aside from this model, I’ve seen many teams hold two variations of their retro: one with management and one without. I think creating MORE meetings rather than addressing the behavior of a leader that doesn’t foster safety is counter-intuitive to the principles of LeSS. That being said, I am a fan of taking realistic steps forward so the dual phase retro can serve a purpose if the long-term goal is to groom leaders that can be present at a retro and have teams feel comfortable. I’ve also found that when treating managers as agile leaders it is important for them to attend retrospectives so they can take away action items to help support the team. If a manager spans multiple teams it could make sense for them to not be present at a team’s retrospective. I realize this may be counter to the popular belief in many agile circles, but take some time to consider if keeping managers in a silo away from the team is solving the right issue.

Summary

If your organization is struggling with cross-team collaboration “Overall Retrospectives” could prove to be a tremendous resource. As with any tool or process, you will want to carefully evaluate how to customize it for maximum benefit and minimal waste. LeSS is seeking to solve all the right problems with this process, but you may want to reconfigure the attendees at each level of retrospectives. Do you have experiences using this format or something similar?  If so please do share in the comments!

 

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Planning tool: Pointing Poker (website)

What is it?

Someone developed this handy website for online Planning Poker sessions. Their website says it best “Online, virtual and co-located agile teams use this application during their planning/pointing sessions to effectively communicate points for stories.”

https://www.pointingpoker.com/

Pros:

  • It’s FREE!  It’s hard to be overly critical of a free tool right?
  • You can set custom point values.  this is useful if you want to simplify your backlog grooming discussions.
  • It’s fast to setup a session and requires no authentication.  In my opinion you want to spend as little time focused on getting into the tool as possible.  No credentials or software = a breeze.
  • Enables remote team members or distributed teams to work together.
  • The timer is super useful for keeping on track.  Until you press “Clear Votes” the timer keeps going.

Cons:

  • The interface is a bit outdated.
  • If you are concerned about security, this may not be the tool for you. While it’s not required to put sensitive or specific information on the site, all one needs is a session ID to see the contents of a session.
  • You can make your name whatever you want when you join the session.  Follow me on this one.  Depending on your team’s sarcasam-o-meter you could see some interesting names join your session. 🙂  If you are trying to run a smooth session with multiple people it could be a little clunky until you figure out who’s who.

Conclusion:

I love the tool, and have yet to find anything that works as well as this.  Well done!

Screenshots:

Do You Lean Coffee?

Have you ever used the Lean Coffee format for a meeting?   It’s a tool I’ve been so pleased to use in a variety of formats in recent years.  I’ve used it for governance meetings, team retrospectives, and open agenda meetings where there is no pre-existing agenda other than to do Lean Coffee.

What is the Lean Coffee format?

The following content is copied from http://leancoffee.org/  “Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated.”

1. Set up a Personal Kanban

Simple Personal Kanban for Lean Coffee

In this Personal Kanban we have the items to discuss, what we are currently discussing, and the discussed columns.

This provides a structure for the conversation. Next we populate it

2. What to Discuss

A Populated Backlog for the Personal Kanban

People all get pads of post-it notes and a pen. They then start to add their topics for conversation into the “to discuss” column. These can be literally whatever people want to discuss or follow a theme. Right now, we want to encourage as many unique ideas as we can.

When the ideas start reach a certain point (an you’ll be the best judge of when that is), each topic gets a 1 to 2 sentence introduction. This way people know what to vote for.

3. Vote and Talk

Stockholm Late Night Lean Coffee

Each participant gets two votes. You can vote twice for the same thing or for two different topics. Simple put a dot on the sticky you are interested in. Tally the dots. Then you are ready to have a conversation.

The power here is that you now have a list of topics everyone at the table is interested in and is motivated to discuss for real.

End of content from leancoffee.org website.

Some benefits of using the Lean Coffee format:

  1. It’s highly collaborative!
  2. It supports the discipline of being a self organizing team.
  3. It helps to crowd-source the agenda. People have skin in the game because they got to vote about what is being discussed
  4. Time boxing helps to keep the meeting from getting stale and boring.
  5. The proof is in the pudding. Some of the best conversations I’ve every been a part of have been while using the Lean Coffee format.

Examples of when Lean Coffee may not be the best idea:

  1. You have a very specific agenda that needs to be adhered too.
  2. There’s only 2-3 participants in the meeting.
  3. You are talking with customers or the participants may have never heard of lean coffee.
  4. Your participants are knowingly “anti agile”.
  5. If you know the majority of the participants of the meeting are not typically not inclined to talk in a group. Dominating personalities will control the conversation and others could become bored and find it a waste of time. (with the right coaching this risk could be avoided)

Need more info still?  Here’s a great video showing a sample lean coffee meeting.

Agile Tool: Trello

Capture

If you are anything like me, I’m always looking for great agile tools to add to my arsenal.

I stumbled Trello the other day and I must say I’m pretty impressed! So far I can say that it’s great for personal Kanban or small internal projects. And it’s free!

Notable Features: You can easily invite people into your boards to collaborate,  view version history, add pictures to cards, and create custom lists. There’s a guided tour function that is really helpful to give you a jump start into using the tool.   Another feature I think is really helpful is the ability to create check lists within a card.  This would be a great way to keep track of tasks within a story.  My personal favorite feature is the ability to add a deadline to a card…So helpful for planning out a light weight project or really any small effort needing coordination.

Enterprise Use: From what I can tell this would not be a great Enterprise tool due to some features missing like rolling up cards into epics or portfolios.  I’ve heard this same feedback from 4-5 colleagues.  However, my observations are based on the free version, not some of the paid options they have, which very well could have those additional features.

Personal Use: I created a board for a home projects and invited my wife to the board.  We can both individually add projects or honey do’s and change the order of the stack rang for our backlog. (It’s fun to see how we have different priorities 🙂 )  The mobile app works quite well and does pretty much everything I would want it to do from my phone.

Conclusion: If you are looking to get more organized and incorporate some of the agile principles into your life and work, Trello is worth checking out!

Image source:  Trello.com

Brainstorming, Story Boarding, and Retrospective Tool – IdeaBoardz

This week I was talking with some fellow colleagues about starting a Lean Coffee for our organization.  We have a national (soon to be international) footprint and a ton of knowledge out there, but how to bring it together?  So I thought the lean coffee meetings would be a great way to bring people together to inspire, encourage, equip, and empower each other. It could also create a consistent venue where we can work together to solve challenges for our clients.

I had a few different people suggest using a tool called IdeaBoardz.  I want to share this tool not only because think it will be great for Lean Coffee but it has value for things like brainstorming, story boarding, and retrospectives.  Especially if you have co-located teams.

It’s simple to use and has just enough functionality to make it useful. And best of all…it’s Free!

You can take it for a test drive without having to sign in or create an account.

IdeaBoardz

Please Note I am in no way affiliated with IdeaBoardz and receive no compensation for writing this article.