Posted in Liberating Structures, Teaching

Training facilitation – Talk less, make more sense

As an Agile Coach helping software teams finding ways to improve their ways of working and deliver better solutions with higher quality, I have a responsibility to do exacly the same with my own services. This is a post on how I have worked with improving my training sessions.

I have conducted quite a number of training sessions in various settings. The more courses/classes I teach, the more I realise that I need to talk less. Not because I don’t have the knowledge, but because people don’t learn so well, just by hear me talking and seing a slide deck projected on the wall.

Therfore I have come to value a few principles when designing training sessions:

  • People don’t learn from listening to me, so talk less and engage them physically and verbally in the learning process.
  • I am not smarter than everybody in the room combined, so utilize the knowledge in the room.
  • I don’t know the nuances of my participants context, so let them figure out how theory applies to their context.

I have come to realise that I use these principles in all training session I conduct, regardless if it’s a fixed scope course (eg. SAFe), a session about “Agile” I designed myself, or even in dance classes.

With the last full day agile training session I developed and conducted, my aim was to enable the participants to act differently to improve their working environment towards a more agile fashion, without telling them explicit the process they must follow. With the principles mentioned above I designed a full day workshop, where I only did 3 ten minutes presentation during the day. The rest of the day was about making sense of it, and share insight within the group. Liberating structures was the tool to facilitate sensemaking and sharing.

The Learning 3.0 Flow by Alexandre Magno

Here is how the session was organised:

The session was about “Flow in Product development” and It was based on the content of Donald Reinertsen. D. Reinertsen’s work serve as basis for many (if not all) of the SAFe principles, and since my organisation were already using SAFe, this session was also about connecting and understading the theory behind these principles.


  • Presentation (10 minutes only): Showing to visualise basic concepts of flow and queues, to set the stage from an easy-to-understand and relateable context

  • Impromptu Networking – Sharing initial insight about why this is relevant for particpants and their context.

  • Presentation (10 minutes only): A brief walkthrough of the 12 problems of the current orthodoxy, which Donald Reinertsen describe in his book, “The principles of Product development flow – Second Generation Lean Product Development”
12 Problems of Current Orthodoxy By D. Reinertsen – visualised by me 🙂
  • Gallery Walk – To debrief the presentation. What confuses you the most? What do you feel strongest about? What gave you the biggest insight?

  • TRIZ – To identify the problems that participants could recognise in their own context, while having fun

  • Presentation (10 minutes only): Introducing some principles from Reinersens book. It may seem overwhelming with 175 principles, and since we were already working with SAFe, I decided to link it to the 10 SAFe Principles to make it more digestable.

  • “Make a Principle Poster”. Each group selected a SAFe principle to visualise. Poster definition of done:
    • Principle name and number in a headline
    • What problem(s), from the current orthodoxy is this principle trying to solve?
    • A drawing
    • A stement to explain how you in your role can work by this principle “As a [role/jobtitle] I will [do this action to live the principle]
Guidelines for making the posters ( Sorry for
  • Shift and share – To share insights and give feedback to posters across the group

  • 1-2-4-all – To discuss and connect principles to elements in the SAFe big picture, to build understanding of the purpose of the SAFe Process

  • Eco-cycle planning (and 1-2-4-all), to assess how the organisation was currently living the SAFe principles, and to determine where improvements could be made.

  • 9 why’s – To identify and articulate why it matters to the participant to work by the SAFe Principles.

  • 15% Solutions – To help the participant identify, where and how they could act, to start improving, without getting lost in how difficult it might be.

Learning and findings

  • It worked extremely well to have only 3×10 minutes presentations for the whole day
  • People were engaged and energised during the whole session.
  • Laying the eco-cycle on the floor, created an awesome group dynamic. Note: Make sure the items are color coded in a way that makes it easy to get an overview from the distance, without having to read.
  • To save time during the workshop I experimented with people giving feedback on sticky-notes during the Shift&Share of posters. This didn’t work as intended, and felt akward and useless, since there was no time to follow up on that feedback. Instead the groups just presented a few posters in the large group, with feedback from the large crowd. This worked better, but didn’t engage everybody as intented.
  • The Gallery Walk resulted in quite a lot of people being alone on one of the 12 stations, leaving them with no-one to talk to, about the pormpts. Instead groups of 3 were formed and the prompts discussed in those groups. That worked quite well, keeping everybody engaged.
  • The 15% solution really made actions tangible. One participants expressed it this way: “I was about to leave the room with no hope, because the task to fix these challenges seems so overwhelming, and will involve the whole business. But the 15% solutions gave me insight, that I can start acting differently, to influence others. I leave now, full with energy, and determined to execute my self-defined action”
Posted in Retrospectives, Working Agile, Working as a ScrumMaster

Shorter and fewer Retrospectives, please

Previously I have asked my team my team for feedback. I was surprised that the team rated the retrospective as our least valuable scrum event. Surprised because it is the event I, as the scrum master striving to help the team improving, put the most effort into preparing and facilitating. I honestly felt that we were making progress, and in some aspects I would argue that we were. However the team was not sharing the same perception, and then my perception does not really matter.

To show the team, that I take their feedback seriously, and to help the team readjust the focus retros on what matters for them, I designed a retro, with the following agenda

  • List all recently defined actions from memory – Besides gathering a list of actions for further treatment in this retro, the ambitions was to get the thinking going, while getting an impression of which actions we had defined actually seemed important. We used the liberating structure 1-2-4-all, to generate the list.
  • Generate insights on the listed actions – The purpose was to explore the retroactions to build shared understanding of what the next step could be. I wanted to get everybody’s perspective in play, only then can we come to a truly shared understanding. We used the liberating structure What, so what, now what, for that purpose
  • Define individual actions for moving forward – The purpose was to help the team identify small and actionable steps, that could get the ball rolling. We never got to this part in the retro. The conclusions from previous step required a shift in the agenda, more on that later.

The team discovered they had a hard time remembering what actions they had decided on, which let to the conclusion that if they cannot remember the actions, they are not that important. When asking” what is a good next step, what makes sense from here?” The team conclusion was: “Let’s do fewer and shorter retros”.

This has been the conclusions in many teams, it is like a universal and natural thing to conclude. Previously I have reacted to this conclusion with an “I know better, so we’ll continue attitude” or being childish like “Ok, then facilitate it yourself”. Sometimes I even agreed to reducing frequency and length, just to see nothing changed. None of these solutions solved the problem of not getting value out of the retrospective.

The reason for the problem not being solved, should be found in the concept of single- and double-loop learning.

Double loop learning illustration form the Zombie Scrum Survival Guide –

Single-loop learning is about taking actions within the system. Double-loop learning is about challenging the system. In our case we needed to understand why we were not succeeding with our retroactions, as well as setting a base for why we even do retrospectives, before we could determine which frequency and length we should have. Addressing this, was more important than defining actions as planned. So we pivoted.

The questions that helped me bring deeper learning at this retro was the following invitation: “I will gladly change the frequency and length of the retrospective, if we are conscious about why we want to do it, and what we expect from it – not because it is the easiest way out. So in order to get that consciousness we should reflect upon, what are the reasons we don’t get value out of our retros, despite defining small actionable next steps?”

We identified the following challenges preventing us from benefitting more from the retros:

  • Obvious problems are solved during the sprint, leaving an empty space of what to talk about on retros – which is great!
  • Actions are so small that we don’t see they fit in the bigger picture.

This let us to the action, that we as a team need to define the bigger picture. What themes would we like to address on retros, in what areas would we like to improve as a team?

Our action from this retro was to retake the evidence based Scrum Team Survey to help us define the areas where we could improve as a Scrum team. The survey gave us good insight in our improvements since last time, and helped us define new areas to improve.

Because we now have a shared understanding of the bigger picture, as well as shared understanding of why we have retros and what will be discussed in those, our retrospective quality already increased – even without changing format, frequency or length.

Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

How must we organize…?

When a new team is formed we hope that it will be long lasting, and that it eventually will become high performing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. What determines the success? Despite there are no guarantees of success, there are still things you can do to increase the likelihood of your team becoming high performing. In this blog post series, I would like to share some experiences of mine, from starting up new teams. Inspired by the Liberating Structure “Purpose-to-practice” I am helping the newly formed team to design five essential elements to make the team resilient and endurable. The 5 elements are Purpose, Principles, Participants, Structure and Practices. This post will cover my approach to help the team design Structure.

Taking responsibility!

Often we have heard managers saying to a team “We want you to take responsibility”, where after the manager takes the lead, controlling what the team should do. When working in an agile fashion we want to break out of this habit, and start building a culture and work environment with accountability, responsibility, empowerment, in order for teams to build the right thing, build it in the right way and building it fast.

The “top-down control” comes in many shapes and sizes and doesn’t only exist in manager/employee context. It could also be between roles eg. a Product Owner dictating what a team should do, a Scrum Master telling a team how to do it, and even Senior Developers instructing Junior Developers.

This element is the beginning of breaking these “top-down” patterns, and foster collaboration to benefit from the combined intelligence in the group. Regardless of experience this element helps team building the competence to become self-managing, as it will help team identify how to organize to distribute control instead of relying on top-down control.

Which structures and why

This session is slowly building up to the main question: “How must we organize to distribute control, instead of relaying on top-down control?”. The first parts are:

  • Help the team articulate the challenges they facing,
  • a small theory input on Scrum Roles, and how to see it in a different perspective.
  • Reminder of the team purpose (which has been identified prior to this session),

The Liberating Structure Wicked Questions is well suited for helping a team to easily identify and articulate the challenges they must confront to succeed. It also serves as a tool to “let the air out”, and make participants mentally ready to leave challenges behind and focus on constructive thinking.

To give a different perspective on how to organize, I introduce the concept of “total football” where all players in a team are defending when opponents has the ball, and all players are attacking when the team has the ball, regardless of their designated role (Defender, midfield, attacker). This is used to exemplify how to break down top-down control between scrum roles. This part is short and based on Maarten Dalmijns post “Stop talking so much about the Scrum roles“.

The last part of the introduction is simply to remind the team about their Purpose, as this is the guiding star to where the team want to go.

You can now invite for a Conversation Café with an expanded invitation, leaving a lot of handles for team members to hang their thoughts on, and to get the discussion going:

  • How must we organize to overcome [articulated challenge]. How must we organize to distribute control, instead of relying on top-down control from managers and/or team roles. How must we organize to achieve [our purpose]?
Facilitation canvas

My observations and experiences

  • You could skip the “Build up” part of this session and move directly on to answering the main question. For inexperienced teams, and newly formed teams, this question can seem very abstract and hard to grasp, for people who merely focus on solving technical problems. Adding the wicked questions, the football analogy and putting the team’s purpose statement in play, helped the team to see an (imaginary) future which they could relate to. This was helpful for the reflections and the dialogue, about how we must organize to get there.
  • The wicked question helped the team not only to identify impediment, but to express it clearly and to set the stage for taking actions ourselves, instead of waiting for others to remove the impediment.
  • The discussion took a different turn that I imagined during designing the session. I was about to interrupt and “bring it back” but I instead, I reminded myself, that whatever the output the team creates, is the right output. This made the the team own the output more. I believe they felt heard, because they could relate to the output. Since this session the team has used the output as handles for other discussions and retrospectives.
  • Originally I planned the purpose-to-practice element “Principles” to be a part of this session, but the time schedule was to tight, to let the good discussions unfold, so I decided to skip the Principles for now.

Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

Creating the foundation of trust

When a new team is formed we hope that it will be long lasting, and that it eventually will become high performing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. What determines the success? Despite there are no guarantees of success, there are still things you can do to increase the likelihood of your team becoming high performing. In this blog post series, I would like to share some experiences of mine, from starting up new teams. Inspired by the Liberating Structure “Purpose-to-practice” I am helping the newly formed team to design five essential elements to make the team resilient and endurable. The 5 elements are Purpose, Principles, Participants, Structure and Practices. This post will cover my approach to help the team design Participants.

Who are we?

The original intention with the “practice” element in Purpose-to-practice is to answer the question “Who must be included in order for us to achieve our purpose?”. While this is a very important question to answer to be successful as a team, I found that getting to know your nearest teams members first, was more important. After all it doesn’t matter who we include, if we are not able to work close in the team and trust one another. Therefor this session is designed around making a safe space, where it is easier to be vulnerable

Which structures and why

Being vulnerable often proves to be difficult and even directly uncomfortable. And for some it may be hard to understand why we should have it in the first place; “Why don’t we just begin working?”. To make the importance of building trust in a new team clear, as well as setting directions for expected behavior in the session, the session is kicked off with a brief introduction to the concept of “5 Dysfunctions of a team” with emphasis on “invulnerability” being the hindrance in building trust.

From “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni

The Liberating Structure Impromptu Networking gives participants the opportunity to share there thoughts about a question, while building connections one-on-one. In this case it is expanded with multiple rounds to give each participant a chance to speak to everyone in the team. The Impromptu Networking is the main part of this session, evolving around the invitation:

What should your fellow team members know about you, that will make it easier to collaborate and communicate with you – work related and privately?

A debrief on the session was done with the whole team together using What, so what, now what?

Facilitation canvas

My observations and experiences

  • Letting the team know that the more they share about themselves the more trust is building, worked as a gentle push to be courageous, as well as taking good care of teammates being vulnerable.
  • Using the open question as invitation gave participants full control of what they wanted to share, thus feeling safer.
  • Being vulnerable to only one person at the time instead of a whole team, made it easier for the individuals to gently challenge their own limits.
  • The session was all about the conversations. Keeping the process very simple helped the group feel comfortable and able to focus on the content.
  • Impromptu Networking was a really good lightweight structure that enabled the group to focus on the
  • The simple process also allowed me as facilitator (yet equal part of the team) participate in the session.
  • A break after being vulnerable, and before debriefing was good to digest some of the impressions.
  • The debrief revealed that we were all insecure in some aspects. That let to the conclusion that it is OK to express insecurity and ask for help.
Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

Getting “done” – a key practice

When a new team is formed we hope that it will be long lasting, and that it eventually will become high performing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. What determines the success? Despite there are no guarantees of success, there are still things you can do to increase the likelihood of your team becoming high performing. In this blog post series, I would like to share some experiences of mine, from starting up new teams. Inspired by the Liberating Structure “Purpose-to-practice” I am helping the newly formed team to design five essential elements to make the team resilient and endurable. The 5 elements are Purpose, Principles, Participants, Structure and Practices. This post will cover my approach to help the team design practice.

Practice are key for success

After all, what we do is what determines our success. Therefore designing the element of “practice” is essential for a teams chances of success. For a Scrum team that wants to harvest the benefits of Scrum, the ability to create a “Done” increment each sprint is essential. This session is specifically designed around the practice of “getting done”. First step, of getting there, is knowing what ‘done’ means, and why it matters, and this is what this session helps explore.

Which structures and why

This session is kicked of with a 1 min self reflection, just to get peoples thinking going, before jumping in to the activity.

The backbone of this session is the Definition of Done exercise made by Christiaan and Barry from The Liberators. This exercise is designed to create transparency of the consequences of not getting to a proper state of “done”. I highly recommend purchasing this exercise (No, im not sponsored. I paid for it myself), as it is also applicable for virtual teams. Specific instructions on how to facilitate is included in the package, so I’ll leave out the details here. Overall the group get a chance to have conversation around mapping typical developer activities to common steps in development process. Hereafter the group will do the same with typical unexpected problems.

I divided my group into four pairs, to give more room for the individual to talk. Each pair did their own mapping.

After the Definition of Done exercise I added the Liberating Structure Min Spec, to help the team form their first Definition of Done. This is for specifying the absolute must do’s to deliver a “Done” Increment, which also is a set of practices we rely on to achieve success.

Facilitation canvas for defining a teams practice – with a focus on “Getting done” as a Software Scrum Team

My observations and experiences

  • The short 1 min silent reflection in the beginning gave participants a chance to “arrive” and tune in to the topic. If time allows, it could be beneficial for the group to share there thoughts with each other.
  • For a non-Scrum team, it might be beneficial to design the session around a broader question, such as “What practices much be in place in order for us to achieve success?”.
  • Putting “Done” as a theme for discussions about practices, allowed me to take the Scrummaster stance of teacher to my scrum team, without being the preacher. This initiated a specific conversation on this essential practice.
  • Depending on experience, the group might need some guidance on which patterns to see from the definition of done exercise.
  • While there are many activities to take into account, for reaching a “done” state, the Min Spec, helped narrow the list in to the truly essential. The list became short enough for the team to actually take ownership for it. It is better to start with a list too short, which can be extended as the team gain experience, rather than making a complete list, which no one will look at because it is too comprehensive.
Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

New team, new name! How?

A name is important for creating cohesiveness in a team and for supporting the “feeling of belonging” for the individuals in the team. I have heard about teams, that use 5 minutes and then they have settled of a name. I am still to experience that in my team, but I have plenty of experience with teams struggling to agree on a name, and the process can seem to drag out forever. I have also previously tried facilitating a team to decide a name, and failing miserably.

I did challenge myself to come up with a process to help my team decide on a name they liked – within an hour, with a preference to an even shorter timebox. The challenges I needed to take into consideration were:

  • It takes time for people to come up with names they like. Not all are comfortable with brainstorming under strict time pressure.
  • People can have strong opinions about team names, especially the ones they don’t like. This can create a negative tension, that stalls the creative process.
  • A team name can be anything, actually. It is not the name that is important, as much as why the name was chosen.

The following is what I came up with, and experimented with with a team of mine.

Which structures and Why

To save time during the workshop, and to give everybody a chance to brainstorm names, I provided a Miro board where the team could post name suggestions. To ease up on the “fear of the white paper” I added questions like: “How would you like other people associate with the team?” and “If the team were an animal, what kind of animal would it be”. In this way, team members that are not creative in finding team names, could contribute, and inspire others, by answering those questions on the board. Also a few links to online team generators was added.

The actual session, was based on the Liberating Structures “1-2-4-all“, and “Shift and Share“.

The 1-2-4-all was designed in a way that it would narrow down the pool of ideas, by allowing people to remove names they didn’t like, as well as building consensus together with other team members. All individuals could vote on one name the would discard. The pairs had to agree on a name to remove and a name to keep. The foursomes should agree on up to three names, and prepare a 15 second pitch.

The “all” part of the 1-2-4-all, was replaced with the Shift and Share. The simplified shift and share was designed so groups could share their 15 second pitch to everybody. A simple dot vote help decide which name (and pitch) was the best.

My observation and experiences

  • The “open board” to give team members a chance to brainstorm names, at their own pace, whenever it fitted their workday resulted in 50+ suggestions for a new name.
  • Giving the team members a chance to remove names, removed the fear of the team picking a name that one team member could absolutely not identify with. This provided openness for other names.
  • Having pairs agreeing to discard a name and keep a name, enabled conversation and team members leaning towards each other, instead of just insisting on own ideas.
  • Asking the foursomes to prepare a pitch, enabled conversation on why a name was cool or not. Those discussions helped build consensus and understanding for names, that might not have sounded interesting in the first place.
  • The pitches was in itself a key, to this selection process. There was a clear winner, and it was all about the pitch.
  • It felt very natural to run this process right after defining our purpose. Both can fit into a 2 hour session.
  • I actually changed the type of voting in the end, to a standard dot voting (number of dots = [Number of options]/3 + 1 )

Posted in Liberating Structures, Purpose-to-practice - Building a New Team

Identifying the shared purpose of a new team

When a new team is formed we hope that it will be long lasting, and that it eventually will become high performing. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. What determines the success? Despite there are no guarantees of success, there are still things you can do to increase the likelihood of your team becoming high performing. In this blog post series, I would like to share some experiences of mine, from starting up new teams. Inspired by the Liberating Structure “Purpose-to-practice” I am helping newly formed team to design five essential elements to make the team resilient and endurable. The 5 elements are Purpose, Principles, Participants, Structure and Practices. This post will cover my approach to helping the team identify a shared purpose.

Why is it even important to have a shared purpose?

According do Daniel Pink, “Purpose” is one of the factors of “the surprising truth about what motivates us” (Autonomy and Mastery, are the two others). Motivated people achieve greater results, than demotivated people. So making the purpose of the teams work together clear to everybody is a stepping stone towards success and high performance.

Workshop Structures

The core of this session is the Liberating Structure, Nine Why’s. This structure is all about making the purpose of your work together clear, and this is exactly what we want to achieve. Many people go mentally blank when you ask them ‘What is your purpose?’ and therefore Nine Why’s is a good approach as it allows people to explore and describe their purpose in small steps. I have added a few tweaks, which is not included in the original structure, such as ‘finish the sentence “My job exists to..”‘. This helps participants sum up their discussions in to one sentence, which not only can be revealing for the individual, but it is also easier to work with as we go along.

Instead of jumping straight in to the Nine whys, you can begin the session with an Impromptu Networking. This is an excellent structure that allows people to share viewpoints on a topic, while building connections. In this particular session the impromptu networking helps people to get their thoughts going about their expectations to being in the new team as well as talking a bit with other team members one to one.

The facilitation canvas for making the purpose of the team’s work clear.

My observations and experiences

One team came up with this purpose statement:

This team exists to deliver high quality, valuable products with a great and intuitive customer experience for external and internal users, with short time to market.

While it may not be perfectly written, and it may seem trivial and even obvious for outsiders, the fact that it is based on the individual purposes, and that the team made it together, should not be underestimated. This purpose serve as a guideline for decisions making in the team. When a decision is to be made, we hold it against the purpose, and ask ourselves: “Which choice helps us achieve our purpose?”

Other findings

  • The dialogue that took place during the 9 Why’s plays an important role, in creating ownership for the purpose statement. In other words, it is not the statement itself that is the interesting part.
  • Using the Impromptu Networking, gave participants possibility to express their thoughts with their own words, which made room for being fore jumping in to a more structured process.
  • Teams like talking in pairs. It feels safer than speaking in the whole group. You actually build trust during those short intimate conversations

We also decided on a new team name during this session. I’ll reveal my approach for that in the next blog post.

Posted in Liberating Structures, Retrospectives, Working as a ScrumMaster

Liberating Structures: Design Storyboards – for planning productive meetings and workshops

Liberating Structures fundamentally changed the way I work, and they are helping me becoming successful as Scrum Master and Agile Coach. Liberating Structures are a set of patterns, that allows a group, of any size, to collaborate and self-organise around a topic, problem or challenge, by involving and unleashing the potential of each individual.

The structure Design Storyboards has proven very useful to me, when preparing meetings and workshops. Even though it is designed for a group, this structure fundamentally changed how I prepare to facilitate group gatherings.

It really helps me focus on the goal, and then select the best approach to achieve that. Without this, it is easy to fall in the trap of selecting the structure/activity first, and then missing the goal.

Answering the following questions, help me stay on track. The visual representation that comes out of it, serves as my “facilitation canvas”.

  • What is the purpose of the gathering?
  • What structures would I normally use for this session?
  • What Liberating Structures or other activities could achieve that purpose?
  • Which structure/activity is best suited to achieve the purpose?
  • What would the invitation that will trigger reflections and conversation with many perspectives look like? (See Characteristic of Powerful Invitations for Liberating Structures)
  • What should be asked to debrief if the gathering achieved the purpose?

The answers are recorded in the “storyboard”:

This example is a retrospective, evaluating my team’s newly created Definition of Done, dealing with some of the concerns the team raised: (1) we now have a Definition of Done, but we have tried that before, and it will just go on the wall and we’ll forget about it. (2) our new Definition of Done will not work with ‘backend stories’ so I can’t see how it will work. (3) To what use is our Definition of Done if we are not able to go all the way to done in each sprint?

The visual representation of the planned gathering is a great way to create shared understanding and foster fruitful conversations about what we want to achieve, when planning together with a group.

I have found it hard to use this structure together with people who did not yet discover the power of Liberating Structures or are not familiar with some Liberating Structures. So far I have been preparing on my own, presenting a design storyboard to the group, and then working from there. That is not really the intention, as my opinion will be more dominant, and makes it harder for others to contribute… Yet it is still better than what we use to do.

Posted in Liberating Structures, Working Agile, Working as a ScrumMaster

An approach to kick start the usage of Sprint Goals

Sprint goals proves to be a vital element of Scrum, but it is often overlooked and neglected because it is difficult. This blog post will describe one way to kick-start the use of sprint goals in a team or ScrumMaster CoP. Before I describe the approach I would like to explain the background, that lead me there.


I was blinded by my own approach and I was just executing Scrum in a Zombie like way. In my eagerness of facilitating the events “right” I have forgotten why we were doing this in the first place. I was fallen into the trap, but the content of Barry Overeem and Christiaan Verwisj from The Liberators came to the rescue.

One of the two driving principles as described in their article about the Scrum Framework made me realize that using and working with sprint goals, was something I have neglected, even though I know it is important. Then I listened to the the podcast Scrum Mythbusters: Having A Sprint Goal Is Optional In Scrum. It changed a lot for me. The podcast highlighted many of the challenges I faced together with my teams, and I felt that every sentence was an important point that could help the team. This was too much information for me to remember, and I didn’t want to miss a thing, so I decided to do a graphical recording of the Podcast.

It resulted in 4 posters.


With these 4 posters in hand, and a topic to important to be forgotten, I had to find a way on how to share this and enable others to reflect upon and start working with spring goals. I ended up with the structure below, which can be used in many settings, such as a Scrum Master Community of Practice, a team or any group that work with or could benefit from working with sprint goals.

My approach to kick-start the usage of Sprint Goals

Purpose: Share the content (in this case about sprint goals) and let participate arrive with their first impressions and conclusion about the topic. This is the foundation for the future development and usage on the topic.

Preparation: Hang up the 4 posters in different places of the room allowing people to walk up to it. If you want to facilitate this online, add the 4 posters to an online white board, where every participant have the access to view.

Step 1 (10 min)

Invite the participants to walk around the room an take in the impressions from the posters. Let them imagine they are on a museum. Encourage to take personal notes.

Step 2 (3×5 min)

Prompt the whole group with one question, and invite the participant to go to the poster that match the answer to the question (1min)

At the the posters, people form small groups (2 to 4) And discuss the topic and the prompt (4 min)

Repeat step 2 three times, using different prompts. Here are the prompts i used:

  • What confuses you the most? Why?
  • What do you feel strongest about? Why?
  • What gave you the most valuable insight? Why?

Step 3 (5 min)

Debrief together, by sharing insights from the group discussions

Step 4 (25 min)

Use the Liberating Structure 15% solutions to help the individuals discover and focus on what each person has the freedom and resources to do now.

  • Explain the concept of 15% solutions (2min)
  • Invite people to make their individual list of possible actions based on inputs and insights from previous discussions. (5min)
  • Share your lists, in groups of 3 (3 min per person)
  • Refine and improve each others lists (actions) (3 min per person)

My reflections

Based on the discussions during the workshop, and feedback afterwards, it seemed like this was a good approach for participants. But why is that? Giving this a few thoughts I have come up with the following

  • It enables participants to drive the change by themselves.
  • It gives any group/team freedom to decide what to focus on – in this case when working with sprint goals.
  • It changes the concept of learning from “teacher to students” to “Emergent learning”, where a group or a team learn together by sharing experiences and perspectives.
  • It allows people to focus on “the first step” in dealing with a difficult topic, and fostering a “one step at the time” approach for the change.

Maybe you have input on why this seem to work well or maybe you have other comments. anyway, it would be great to hear from you.

Posted in Liberating Structures, Retrospectives

Sharpen focus of your team’s retrospective with Spiral Journal

Have you ever noticed somebody in a retrospective having trouble remembering what happened in a sprint or iteration? It can be hard to remember even 2 weeks back.

The liberating structure Spiral Journal, which is currently in development, is surprisingly effective in sharpen the focus of a team retrospective. In this post I will describe the process and share my reflections.


  • State the purpose of the activity; “Sharpen observational skills, and capture insight as action unfolds”
  • Ask the participants to divide a piece of paper in 4, by either folding twice or drawing 2 lines.
  • Guide participants to draw a spiral from the center, as tightly as possible, and in silence.
  • After few minutes, ask 4 questions one by one, and allow participants time to write their answer in to the specified square.
  • Ask participants to share their answers, if they want.

Reflections and observations

The questions can basically be anything, but the idea is that they should guide participants in a direction you find appropriate, for the following activity. I wanted my team to “tune-in” to what happened in the sprint, using these questions

  • Top-left: One impression of the last sprint?
  • Top-right: One thing I learned during the last sprint
  • Bottom-left: Name a problem that the team has, but we haven’t found the solution
  • Bottom right: What is the most important thing that the team discusses in today’s retro

For some, drawing a spiral on a piece paper, can be out of their comfort zone. Others might find it hard to see the purpose. Both might result in talking or even questioning the activity. Yet this exercise is so simple, that is worth giving a shot. What worked for me, when i faced resistance like this was being firm that the participants stayed silent during the activity. I told them that we would debrief afterwards and asked them to play along for now.  As debrief I asked, other team members than the the most resistant one “What did you get out of this exercise?”.  The answers made it so clear to everyone in the room why we did this activity, and i didn’t have to fill in a word my self. That was the moment I realised how powerful this structure is.

The feedback from the teams were: “Drawing made me forget things around me and got me in the zone”. “Reflecting on the question helped me remember what happened in the sprint, something I normally find hard”. “We spent 20% of the time, to figure out what to talk about in the retro, and 80% to discuss the actual topic”.

I highly recommend to try this out! Let me know how it goes!