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 should be asked to debrief if the gathering achieved the purpose?
The answers are recorded in the “storyboard”:
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.
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!
How do one become a good retrospective facilitator? The same way as with anything else you want to master: Practice, Practice and Practice. But when dealing with retrospectives we run into a dilemma: You can’t really practice the execution of a retrospective unless you execute one. And it may seem hard to just throw yourself into trying it, without practicing first. If you don’t know if you can swim (or simply keep your mouth and nose above the water) would you jump into the ocean?
Previously I have conducted workshops on the topic “facilitating retrospectives” with a combination of teaching theory and facilitating self-reflection. It was alright, but something was missing. Kind of like a swim teacher standing next to the pool telling the group of students how to swim, asking them how they think they are doing, and then telling them to jump in the pool in the deep end. Maybe the student got a few useful tips in the process, but did they learn to swim? Did they get the courage to jump in? Did the ones that jumped in survive?
If I were a swim teacher, I wouldn’t accept that uncertainty, so why should I when trying to share my knowledge on facilitating retrospectives? That’s why I wanted to put together a retrospective workshop where participants could practice preparing, planning and facilitating a retrospective in a safe zone, were total failure did not have any consequences. In the Swimming metaphor, I wanted the students to get into the pool and try swimming without risk of drowning.
As human beings, it is our nature to learn. We start learning when we are small, we learn as we grow up, and even as adults. We learn about life – to make decisions. We learn more – to make better decisions than previously. We do it all the time. It’s our nature. We are hardwired with this skill.
I often hear from ScrumMasters and Agile Coaches stating, that you cannot have a succesful Scrum implementation without a Product Owner. The importance of the Product Owner can not be discussed, but there are “everyday situations” out there where a Product Owner for some reason is not available, as much as desired, and for sure won’t be for period of time. Telling the Product Owner to be more available won’t help anything, and calling off the desire of becoming more agile, doesn’t seem to be the solution as well.