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.

Posted in Liberating Structures

How to involve and unleash everyone in a group

As a team facilitator, your responsibility is to ensure that everybody in the group

  • Has equal possibilities to contribute
  • Feel that their input has been heard
  • Take ownership for whatever decision the group makes
  • Feel their time is well spent – Efficient and valuable

Seem like a big responsibility, and if the list makes you feel a bit anxious, I perfectly understand it, because I feel the same way. Yet, I need to say, there is more to it. Today’s world is changing faster than ever, and everybody needs to move faster. This also calls for a need to be able to foster “Creativity and Innovation” when facilitating.

Did you lose your breath now? I almost did, just by writing it!

When it comes to facilitating retrospectives, I have a decent toolbox to pick from to achieve some or all from the list above. However, I have been struggling to find ways on how to ensure equal contribution, ownership for decisions, efficient processes and room for creative thinking, outside of the retrospective.

Søren Weiss, who is an agile coach, change agent and someone who inspires me a lot, introduced me to Liberating structures. It changed everything.

Looking back at the situation before I was introduced to Liberating Structures my “go to methods” was not as effective, as I could wish for, and I can now identify some of the patterns, that weren’t helping me. I tried different things, with some success, but still ending in this pattern, or variations of it.

  • Presenting my thoughts and my perception of the situation which justifies my selection for processes and activities. I am the only one talking, and I don’t get to hear the team members perception of the situation.
  • And then I ask the team about their perception to have an open discussion. It tends to be words of the most outspoken people that often shapes the next steps. Leaving the uncertainty: Did we really explore all options?
  • Then I tend to manage the discussion by asking specific people about their opinion. Then I’m suddenly in charge of who can speak and when. And since I don’t know what everybody is thinking, how can I ensure that people get to talk when they have something on their mind?

So, what is Liberating Structures?

Liberating structures is a set of structures that allows everybody to be involved and contribute equally, as well as unleashing the creative and innovative potential in the individuals and in the group. And because of this it makes the individual take more ownership on the groups decisions. And this goes for groups in any size

It was almost to good to be true, but after reading about it, and trying a few of the structures on my own in smaller group I must say, that so far Liberating Structures live up to what they promise. I can’t wait to expand the use in larger groups, once I get a chance. If you are a ScrumMaster, Team coach, Agile Coach or facilitator, the chances are high that you’ll find these structures valuable to your work too.

If you want to know more about the concept of Liberating Structures, I suggest that you go to liberatingstructures.com for the original source, or visit “The liberators” and their introduction to liberating structures.

My personal key insights and reminders

My adventure with exploring liberating structures has only just begun. I am eager to learn more, to truly understand and master them, because I see they have great potential. Some of the new insights and the ‘reminders’ that stands out as the most important to me right now are…

  • When preparing for a session or workshop, don’t plan to control content. Plan to achieve a purpose and not to get to a specific conclusion.
  • During facilitation, make the invite, and step back. Let the group unfold.
  • Liberating structures breaks the limits of conventional meeting structures such as presentations, open discussions, and managed discussion by removing limitations and barrier for contributing – Awesome!

I’m still exploring the concept of Liberating structures and trying to figure out how I can use them in my daily work as a ScrumMaster. I see the potential to use them not only in retrospectives, but other Scrum ceremonies, group discussions, department meetings etc.

In the following posts on this blog I will write my reflections on my experience with the Liberating Structures that I have tried so far, and how I have used them in my daily work as ScrumMaster.