Category Archives: Facilitation

Impediment Monkey Overview Video Posted

If you haven’t already checked out our FREE online service,, then check out this overview video describing what it can do for you, your team, and those that you collaborate with to increase the habitability of your team’s delivery environment and deploy continuous improvement on a daily basis.

Recognizing Software Debt Talk at Beyond Agile Meeting

A couple days ago I spoke at the Beyond Agile group meeting on the topic of “Recognizing Software Debt”. Early in the presentation we ran an exercise to get a feel for the effects of software debt that was original created by my friend, Masa Maeda. Here is a link to the exercise:

The exercise went great even though I was using the audience as guinea pigs to run the exercise for my first time. Below is the slide deck that I used as a backdrop for the presentation.

Example Facilitation of Agile Adoption Strategy Session

More than a year ago I was training and consulting with a company that was deciding how to adopt Agile software development methods across all of their teams in the organization after some successful pilots. After a 2-day private Scrum course we decided to use the 3rd day to run a workshop on how to take their organization’s strategic business goals and support that with Agile methods adoption and Lean thinking across their project portfolio. This article will share the facilitation techniques and exercises that I used, which spanned many techniques that could helpful to others supporting strategic decision-making meetings:

For more information on Innovation Games®, please check out:

For more information on Cynefin, please check out the following articles and videos:

Hope this gets folks started in looking at Cynefin and methods around complexity. My one suggestion for anyone getting to know Cynefin is make sure that you don’t look at the “Cynefin Model” and misjudge it to be a basic 4-box model. There are actually 5 domains and a fold at the bottom that have tremendous significance in the model. Not only that, the model is about sense-making rather than categorization. With a focus on these suggestions while learning more about Cynefin I think will help make the experience more beneficial.

As for an experience report from the actual client. A company that I was asked to work with wanted a 2-day Certified ScrumMaster course along with a 3rd day workshop to focus on their specific needs. Of course, during the 2-day class we pulled many specific areas of opportunity and ideas that the group had. The participants were about 1/2 Director and above and the other 1/2 were development team members and project managers. There were about 30 folks in the class and the 2-day class was providing plenty of insights.

One thing that I am focused on in every class is not how can Scrum be implemented but what is the most valuable next steps an individual, team, or organization can make starting the very next day. In the 3rd day workshop we decided to focus on the business goals that implementing more agility would help achieve and a strategy to attain these business goals. Overnight I came up with a loose facilitated session with the following exercises:

1. Impediment Management Exercise using basic facilitation techniques:

  • Brainwriting: 10 reasons per individual that Scrum and other agility cannot be implemented effectively at company
  • Affinity grouping: on a wall place all items and affinity group them with names to provide context and insights into to the data
  • Multi-voting: not a scientific method necessarily, but quick way to get feedback on what is most important on the wall
  • Debrief actions to take

2. “Give them a hot tub” – an Innovation Games® exercise (

  • Used to identify goals and initiatives that would improve business outcomes focused on software development

3. Ritual Dissent –

  • set up tables with 6-7 folks per table
  • each table comes up with a strategy for implementing agility to attain business goals and value of agility (20 minutes)
  • 1 person is chosen by table to go to another table and present the strategy for 5 minutes – important that all tables have a chair at the end of it to have the visitor form the other table sit at
  • folks at the table that are listening to the strategy are not allowed to speak during the presentation
  • at 5 minutes the person presenting turns their chair around with back to folks at table and takes out a notebook
  • the folks at the table now ritually tear apart the presented strategy (be sure to tell all of the participants before the exercise that this will be occurring and that their duty is to be as cutting as possible) (3 minutes)
  • at 3 minutes the person that presented does not turn around and make eye contact or talk with the table of folks and then just goes back to their own table with all of their notes
  • the table uses those notes to modify their strategy (10 minutes)
  • the presenter goes to a different table 2-3 more times
  • you can end with a round where the folks at the table talk about what they liked about the strategy once it has went through 3-4 rounds but we did not do this (this is called “Ritual Assent”)
  • Find out more alternatives and ideas on Ritual Dissent at the Cognitive Edge web site

4. Combine Strategy

  • at the end it was fairly simple to pull strategy from all tables and since they shared with each other we decided what the combined strategic alignment and implementation would be presented to executive management

As an epilogue to this, the company did implement most of the strategic plan and found effective changes in their organization even 2 years later since I was there. Hopefully this article provided some opportunities for those facilitating strategic decision-making sessions and added some other options to learn about, Cynefin and Innovation Games® in particular, to your facilitation tool belt.

Approaching Conflict: Be Honest Then Ask for Help

I talk to people in training classes, in consulting engagements, and when out with colleagues about situations of conflict. There is quite a bit of literature out there about how to manage and resolve conflict. There is one single phrase that I use to provide others guidance on how they can work with others to resolve conflicts:

Be Honest Then Ask for Help

I will give an instance of this from my real world. We were working on a team that I was ScrumMaster on. One of the best developers I know seemed to be having difficulty making it to important meetings and also in meeting commitments with the team. The rest of the team was even starting to notice and voice concern about this person’s contributions. In a one-on-one discussion I first described the situation in an honest way:

“I noticed lately that you are not getting to some of our important meetings and seem to be having troubles keeping up with the work we are working on. In fact, other team members made some comments to me about their own concerns.”

Then I followed this up by asking them what is going on and what we should do about it:

“You have been an excellent team member and this recent behavior concerns me in terms of the team and for you. Do you have any ideas about what is going on and how we should address it?”

Come to find out this person was having heavy family issues over the past 2 months. They were so consumed with these family issues that they were not really aware of how much their behavior was impacting the team. They told me that they would like to talk with the team about their situation before the next day’s Daily Scrum meeting. When they told the team about their situation the entire team was very supportive and said they would help and make up for any impact to planned deliveries if they would just keep the team informed about any adjustments that need to be made to handle important family issues.

Conflict Types

In our Certified ScrumMaster course we provide a list of conflict types:

  • Lack of clarity – we just don’t have detailed enough information to create a common view
  • Position focus – we are discussing a topic from at least two different perspectives
  • Different values – our philosophies or principles are not aligned
  • Past history or personality – our previous experiences or personality trait we are familiar with distracts us from healthy resolution

The first two, “lack of clarity” and “position focus”, make up a significant amount of the conflict that we come in contact with. Fortunately, these are also the easiest to resolve in my experience. When there is a lack of clarity we can analyze more to make visible data that could help us clarify the situation. For a position focus conflict, we can usually find something that all parties can agree on within the larger situation or topic. From this point of agreement we can work through it until we have a sufficient resolution to move forward with.

Now, the last two, “different values” and “past history or personality”, are a bit more difficult. I have been known to be principled in the past and take a stand when I thought that I could be put into a position of being part of something I didn’t believe was good or valuable. The stance I was taking from a value-based position caused the other people involved to get frustrated with me. In these cases, I have found that we can isolate the pieces of the overall situation or topic that make either party take such a strong position and then work on them through negotiation. It can take some time to work through conflicts involving different values. For past history or personality, sometimes we can just try to start anew and take some advice from one our former U.S. presidents:

“Trust, but verify” – Ronald Reagan

Faster, Better, and Cheaper than Sticky Notes (Post-Its)

For several years now, I have been using less and less sticky notes. This is because I use something much better: Drafting Dots. They work better, last longer, cost less, do not harm any surfaces, and make my life much easier.

Now, I can easily use mail merge or tables to print out stories using four cards per page.  I use card stock (120# in US) and often use colored paper to color the product backlog.  Any printer, a paper cutter and I am quickly ready with a stack of cards that work like index cards or sticky notes for emergent conversation and valuable collaboration.  We can lay things out on tables and then put things on walls which, is something sticky notes cannot do well.

I am always ready with index cards and drafting dots.  They are cheaper and easier to use in many flexible ways.  I have seen drafting dots hold up cards for a month and then get moved without issue.  Try them out, you may find yourself using far fewer sticky notes.