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October 28, 2009

Draw Me a Picture!

The "Dialogue Room" at last week's ScrumGathering in Munich was intended by conference organiser Tobias Mayer to create more space for high-bandwidth learning, in contrast to the many "talking heads" sessions planned for the Gathering. Activities there included a Haiku workshop with Liz Keogh, Innovation Games with Lowell Lindstrom and Paul Culling (video here), Tobias' self-organising Scrum Clinic (The Doctor is IN), and my own Retrospective Exercise workshop.

I invited conference participants to try a non-verbal retrospective exercise I call "Draw Me a Picture," which brings right-brain, intuitive information into team conversations. I first ran it in 2006 with team members drawing separate images, but this time I returned to Norm Kerth's original "Art Gallery" exercise, and ran it as a group effort on a single sheet of paper.

After doing a first drawing together (see instructions), we incorporated feedback from participant coach Rachel Davies (using fewer, fatter markers) and did it again, also swapping in a couple of new group members. This second drawing they entitled Chaos <--> Order. Interestingly, both this and the earlier drawing included "flow" shapes similar to the one I blogged about in 2006, (also made in answer to this question). For YouTube fans: you can see both drawings in Paul Cullen's video of Olaf Lewitz talking about the exercise.

After each drawing, participants asked "What else do we need to do?" as though they expected further steps. For me it's clear that the drawing and ensuing conversation are themselves the ends we seek. There is no great "Aha!" required, and there is no "what's next" step involved. The team simply discusses their drawing long enough to give it a title - in the process exchanging important and possibly new information.
After looking again at the drawing we created, I would say that the mechanistic way we attempted to implement Scrum in 2004 is much more obvious [in the drawing] than in the tales that I was telling people about this experience.
-- Jurgen Hoffmann, Agile Coach and Trainer
In his Retrospectives book (p 195) Norm Kerth briefly explained how this creative right-brain/left-brain activity tends to produce unexpected new insights. This new information and way of interacting can enhance relationships and provide important background for other retrospective activities, which will likely include more left-brain modes such as speaking, writing and analysis.

"Draw Me a Picture" is probably most useful at the beginning of a Retrospective, especially when emotions run high; when there are undiscussed undercurrents; when team members speak different native languages; or when relationships need to be built or repaired. It should be followed by activities that let the team discuss, analyse, learn and then also look forward constructively to "what's next". (To find such exercises, see these books). And given that each picture contains at least 1000 words, Rachel and I suggest that, in general, images should not be shared outside the group doing the retrospective. (The ScrumGathering drawings were displayed, with participant approval. These differed from most team retrospectives in that the drawings didn't delve into sensitive team relationships or controversial events).

Was it worth the time and energy, dragging all my art supplies to Munich and back, to run this workshop with a handful of people? If it truly improves the product and experience of even one team, my answer is "yes." Jeff Sutherland's more abstract "by making your Stories truly "Ready" for Sprinting, you can achieve 4x productivity" is broadly inspiring; my workshop was very personal, practical and specific. We need both, in my opinion. As it happens, the exercise has helped a team: this week I received this thank-you note from one participant:
When I came back from the gathering, my team was in a bad mood, people were unhappy and they didn't finish any story this sprint. I used the drawing method during the retrospective and I was really amazed how it allowed people to express their feelings -- I believe, more openly than when I had asked them to write stuff on index cards. It helped us talk about the bad team atmosphere and the reasons for it, and they came up with a lot of ideas for improvement. Without that method, this would have been "just another retrospective" with people discussing technical issues instead of the root cause of the problems.
-- Ute Platzer, Software Developer and ScrumMaster
Postscript: While reviewing the feedback from this event, I realised that doing this excercise at a conference had an unexpected side-effect: we discovered that, in addition to using it with established teams, it can quickly introduce strangers and help them connect! The key, of course, is a truly common experience. The question cannot be abstract, like "What is Scrum like?" It must be something specific and personally experienced: in this case, the group settled on: "What was my first contact with Scrum like?"
What I liked ... is that it gave us an easy and fast-forward way of getting to know each other much closer (in that one direction) than it would have been possible with words (only).
-- Olaf Lewitz, Process Consultant

The exercise created relationships between the four of us - and after the Gathering I am still exchanging emails with Olaf and Ute. There was no previous relationship - but somehow, a common history.
-- Jurgen Hoffmann, Agile Coach and Trainer

October 07, 2009

I am doing my thesis, please answer my survey!

Ah, it happened again today. One of those mildly annoying mailing list posts, you know: "Please help me with my thesis! Just follow this link to fill out a survey on Agile and xxx". I deleted it.

When the second email came, with the title "Agile developers.......... Please help,,,,, I have to complete my thesis ," I was annoyed. The note included "Why IT professionals don't have 5-10 minutes to help a poor student ,my degree is on risk ,now ". I decided to answer her question. I'm posting it here, in addition to my private mailing list reply, hoping it is useful to others, since we all see these requests a few times a year.

Hello, (Grad Student)!

When I saw your first request for responses, I immediately deleted it from my inbox. I'd like to tell you why, by way of supporting your studies.

You seem to have received few replies. Now, most of the people on this particular mailing list are westerners and Agilists, and I wonder if there might be some cultural differences at play here. I'd like to tell you a bit about how we tend to operate, perhaps it will be helpful to you.

Before asking people to spend time helping me, it's considered polite that I should first build some relationships. At very least, introduce myself, who I am, my interest in joining the group. Even better: join some conversations. Find out what we think of your subject. Coming in as a stranger and asking or begging people to help you with your homework is considered by many to be, at best, a nuisance.

I notice that you did include a paragraph stating your objectives and how you will use the information. There's potentially another cultural problem there, which you may not have considered. You are talking to people whose mantra includes "The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation." (see For some of us, the terms "offshore" and "Agile" clash, because we have seen too many projects with half a team in India (for example) and half a team in the US, trying to do Agile, and it makes our brains hurt. Sure, it can be done, but it's fraught with problems and some (many?) of us recommend against it.

So, when you mention "offshore" you hit a nerve that made me immediately think: "the topic is an oxymoron" and I deleted the email. However: looking at it again, it's entirely possible that what you meant was an offshore company doing work for a client in another place (the whole team is offshore). This is a scenario I still don't like, but it is workable, and not so offensive to my Agile values. Is this what you meant? Had you started a conversation around this topic, this subtlety might have come out, changing my response.

Beyond culture, there's also the issue that those of us active on Agile lists have seen many of these kinds of requests. The first few times I went to investigate, and found the questions poorly formulated, indicating no understanding of Agile, or else formulated in a way that I could not see how my answers would in any way provide data that would be useful to our community. (For example, there's no option for position = dedicated Agile Coach/ScrumMaster; it requires my company name, which I won't give out; and how can simply "select a success rate" be meaningfully aggregated, with no context?). Some are simply too long! Those of us with the information you need are also, typically, *very* busy and careful how we spend our time.

Now I just ignore such requests. Which makes me sad, as I like to support people doing good work to further Agile, but so far my experience says that answering surveys isn't the way to do it, as Agile success/failure is highly context dependent, which seems difficult to capture in a short survey.

I invite you read what Scott Ambler wrote about surveys, including why so many of us don't answer them. He said "...This wouldn't be such a bad thing if the surveys provided value, were designed well, and the results were properly published. However, this often isn't the case and as a result fewer people choose to fill out online surveys because they feel that their time is being wasted (and sadly it often is)." You can read this near the bottom of this page, which also offers hints on creating surveys:

If you feel you could convince us of the value of your survey for increasing healthy Agile adoption, and would like to tell us more about it, please do!

All the best for your studies

PS: My intention is not to embarrass you or chastise you - I hope you see this email as helpful, I put a lot of time into writing it. We are big on learn-and-adapt here, so please do try again if it seems appropriate. (I included some concrete feedback on the survey in question, but have deleted here). By the way: that doesn't look like a 5-minute survey :-)


Deborah Hartmann Preuss
Agile Process Improvement Coach
Team and Personal Effectiveness Coach
Open Space Conference Facilitator

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward."
-- Soren Kierkegaard

Readers: I've made some generalizations here. If you disagree, please join the conversation!