Posted in Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures – Min Specs for Definition of Ready

I have realized that Liberating Structures are helping me with being a more successful ScrumMaster. I have written about my experienced benefits of Liberating Structures as concept, as well as links to useful resources in the first post of this series. This post is about my experiences and reflection on a specific Liberating Structure. The primary reason for writing about it is for the sake of my own reflection. If you can use it as well, that’s awesome. Also, if you disagree, have questions, or if you spot room for improvement, don’t hesitate to comment.

Context and reason for choosing

The team had previously identified the need of having a Definition of Ready. Previous attempts in making a Definition of Ready has resulted in a poor list, which the team stopped referring to quickly after the meeting. And when a team member mentioned the need of a Definition of Ready, heated and unfruitful discussions emerged about should we have it or not?; What should it contain, and what not?

As a Scrum Master I needed to find a way to facilitate a discussion that gave everybody equal possibility of contributing; a feeling of being heard; ownership for decisions made, as well as doing it effectively, to avoid wasting time of worthless discussions.

The “Min Spec” is designed to Specify only the absolute “must do’s” and “must not do’s” for achieving a specific purpose so I chose this for the Team’s Definition of Ready workshop.

The group consisted of 4 people in the room, and 2 via skype, and me (facilitator)

Steps and reflections

I highly recommend to read the original Min Spec description from the inventors, which I used as basis for this Definition of Ready workshop. Below I have listed the steps I went through, along with my reflections.

My personal notes, for facilitating the Min Specs

Check-in: Ask participants to shout out “Why do we need a Definition of Ready”, and noting their answers to a flipchart. (5min)
This step is not actually a part of the Min Specs, but I chose to do it, to get participants in the right mood for the session. It also gave the team a common purpose for the session, so discussions about “Do we need it at all?” was not broad up during the rest of the meeting, as previously experienced.

Invitation: “Let’s begin by exploring all potential subjects for a definition of ready. Make your own individual list” (2-3 minutes)
Participants were using sticky notes and markers. The making of individual list gave participants time to reflect on their own, and a chance to work with their contributions, before having to speak out.

Invitation: “Let’s consolidate the individual list to make one long list, as long as possible. Duplicates are removed” (5 min).
Using the phrase “a list as long as possible” focused the attention to compare post-it’s but without evaluating if they were good ideas. The long list served as a common base, for the further discussion, and we had only spent 10 minutes, on something we previously could have used hours to reach. The energy got high in the room, as we were progressing faster than ever

Invitation: “If we broke this rule would we still be able to succeed? (app. 30min)
This question was the turnaround for the team. The team discussed each item one by one, in beginning with too many details, but after a reminder to be “more aggressive” the pace became faster. This made room for discussing the important things, rather than wasting time on things the team already agreed.

The team realised during the talk, that removal of an item, didn’t mean “Not important” or “Irrelevant”, It just meant, it is “not a must do”. This realisation led to changing the wordings on some items, turning them into must-do-action, and thereby more relevant for the team.

Closing: “This is now our must-do list – let’s bring it to the next refinement!”
At the end, the team owned the list. It was theirs. It made sense to them, because they could see how being strict about following this list would make them do only the bare minimum effort for making a story, but still leaving room for doing more if relevant for that specific story. In other words, the list was not limiting the team, it was fostering the open and creative dialogue needed to come up with better solutions. As closing it was enough just to sum up what the team already felt.

The “Min Spec” approach allowed everybody in the group to…

  • Contribute equally
  • Feel heard by the group
  • feel and take ownership for the groups decision
  • Feel their time was well spent

This is now my go-to process for Definitions of ready/Done. I also intend to use this approach for MVP discussions, and for discussing skills needed when looking for a new team member.

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