Something Agile Lean Something – Posters on agile and lean concepts and techniques

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A couple of weeks ago I started a new hobby. I’ve found a way to combine teaching agile and lean with creativity, art, Lego and Star Wars. Now I love spending time slowly putting Lego blocks together to create scenes. One by one. Very meditative and creative 🙂 The scenes I build I then use for illustrating different concepts and techniques from agile and lean in the format of posters.

If you like it, you can find more here. Clicking the thumbnails on the site will give you high-resolution images that you can download.

You can put print them and put them up on your team’s wall like a friend of mine has done.

Thanks Jörgen Thelin for the photo 🙂

Role Expectation Mapping

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Role Expectation Mapping is a series of workshop that explores, clarifies and establishes which expectations members of a group, team or project have on each other.

If you suspect that collaboration is undermined because of mismatch of expectations between people, then this exercise could boost the team’s ability to collaborate efficiently together. It is also a powerful way to jump start a new team and give them a structure to relate to.

People always have certain expectations on each other, behaviors, responsibilities, etc., but if those aren’t made clear and agreed upon among everyone – you are bound to have unconstructive conflicts, colliding agendas, difficulties in collaboration and things that fall between chairs.

Remark: If you have a need to figure out the basic description for of each role, or create detailed job descriptions, there are probably better workshops for that purpose.


I developed this exercise when working with a newly formed Tribe (Department) at Spotify. I felt there was a need among the leadership to agree upon what was expected on different roles. Some of the leaders were also new in their roles and I wanted to expose what others expected from people having that role. My hopes wer that this exercise would help them to faster collaborate more efficiently together. I have since then conducted the exercise many times with different constellations of people.

Role Expectation Mapping in a nutshell

Role Expectation Mapping is a three stage rocket.

First you have interviews with people having the different roles. These interviews extracts the current expectations that those people have on other roles, as well as capturing what expectations that others are allowed to project on themselves. Each group is interviewed individually.

Once all interviews have been held there is a discussion meeting where participants can debate and question the results from the interviews. The output of this meeting is understandment of others point of view, clarification of notes from the interview and knowledge about where opinions diverge.

Finally there is the consensus meeting where the participants formulates five bullets that captures the most important expectations for each role. Only the bullets that everyone agrees upon are kept.

Possible situations

This exercise is designed to be run with a full team, a department, or even a full company. It’s designed to create an inclusive result through consensus. It can be run with different kinds of teams on different levels. For example…

The Development team

Example of roles in a development team:

  • Programmer(s)
  • Designer(s)
  • Tester(s)
  • Scrum Master
  • Product Owner
  • Manager(s)

The Management team of a department

Example of roles in a department:

  • Hiring Manager
  • Product Owner
  • Scrum Master
  • Department Manager
  • Release Coordinator

Deciding upon the roles

Before you start you have to decide which roles to include. I suspect that for the most of the time the roles are pretty obvious. However, you don’t want too many. Four, five or six roles are probably a good number. Also, you really want to talk about Roles – not persons.

If you have too many roles, the discussions might risk get too detailed on the work itself and less on behaviors and responsibilities. Also, if many of the roles you define maps to single persons, you probably want to rethink. You want to talk about expectations on people having a certain role – not the persons themselves.

Note: When I do this with teams, I sometimes add one more role – the team itself. Within a team we have expectations on each other, but we probably have expectations on how we should behave as a team as well. These are also valuable to capture and discuss.

Step 1 – Interviews

The first step is to gather data. For every role, invite the people having that role to a meeting. The goal for that meeting is to gather as much input as possible with regard to those people’s expectations on other roles. 60 to 90 minutes should be enough.

Paint the roles on the whiteboard with the interviewed group in the middle.

Start with asking them what their expectations are on people having the other roles. For example, let’s say you have the interview with the product owners. Ask them what their expectations are on a Scrum Master. Collect their feedback on the whiteboard below the corresponding role. Make sure that the notes are clear so that others can understand them later. Move on to the next role.

When all roles are covered it is time change the focus to themselves. Ask the participants to list expectations that are fair for others to have on them, i.e. what expectations are others allowed to have on people having their role?

Don’t be too rigid in the order. If you feel that the pace slows down, jump between the roles and try out different perspectives. You can always go back to a previous role and continue on that one whenever you want to.

The result might look something like this (picture to the right).

When all roles have been interviewed you put the data into a PowerPoint (or similar) so that you can print it out and make copies for the next workshop, the Discussion meeting. (Read more below – Aggregating the the results)

What if the group is too big group?

If the group is too big (i.e. bigger than 5-6 people) you probably want to select a subset as representatives. For example, if you have five Scrum teams and want to interview team members, have the teams select one representative each for the meeting.

What if the group is too small?

Some groups are small. For example, there is probably only one Department Chief Manager.

Capturing comments and mysteries

The interviews sometimes reveal a lot more than you ask for. A good idea is to have an extra space on the whiteboard to capture extra comments, raised concerns or exposed mysteries. I usually write down “Comments and mysteries” as a header and then continuously list remarks that pops up with a red pen.

Doing this makes the group feel that they are being taken seriously. You should also explain that what we write in this list will be shown to everyone in the next meeting, i.e. they should make sure that they language is proper and that they can stand up for their opinions even in a bigger group.

Aggregating the results

When the interviews are over you want to summarize the results into a document or presentation. You want to group the summary so that each page lists all expectations for directed towards a single role. The summary should show which group stated each expectation.

On the last page you include all lists of “Comments and Mysteries” from the interviews.

Prepare people for the second meeting

To help people prepare for the second meeting it could be a good idea to send out the summary to the participants a couple of days prior to the meeting.

Instruct the members to print out the document and then highlight statements they agree with with a green pen, and statements they disagree with or don’t understand with a red pen. Ask them to choose which three red marked statements they really want to discuss at the second meeting. (They are of course allowed to choose from the “Comments and Mysteries” page as well.) Tell them to bring their copy of the summary with them.

Step 2 – Discussion meeting

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the outcomes from the interviews. You probably want to set aside two hours with a 10 minute break in the middle.

You want at least one representative per role. If you do this with a single team then everyone should attend. If you do this with a full department you probably want to limit the number of participants to 10-12 people to allow for good discussions to happen.

As preparations to the meeting, print out a couple of extra copies of the summary for those who forgot to bring their own copy.

When the participants arrive, give them a green and a red pen and have them seated. Explain that the purpose of this meeting is to be become as prepared as possible for the third and last meeting. Explain that the meeting won’t result in actions or decisions, it will result in knowledge and shared understanding of the interview outcome.

One way to structure the discussions is to simply allow the participants to take turn addressing one of their selected red marked expectation statements. I usually also set a timer for 5 minutes. If the bell rings I ask the group if they want to continue with the same discussion or move on to the next person’s red marked statement.

Your role as a facilitator in this meeting is to help the group have good discussions. You want to help them understand each others point of view. They don’t have to agree with each other, but they do have to listen.

Ask people to continue to make notes and highlight the summary with the green and the red pen.

Note: Sometimes I start with some kind of working agreement stating that “It is more important to understand than to be understood”, or “Engage in inquiries, not arguments”, etc. Sometimes I don’t. It depends on whether or not I’m concerned that the discussions will explode in unconstructive arguments or not. I’ve always been wrong about my concerns so far and in retrospect realise I’ve should have done the opposite to what I did…

Why spend a full meeting only talking?

If you would rush the group into the consensus meeting (where they actually are supposed to agree upon the final expectations) without going through a solid “Groan Zone”, there will be no buy-in and the results will be weak.

Unless the group have a shared understanding and appreciates others point of view (reached through discussions and debates), the outcome can’t become inclusive (i.e. covers all participants needs and point of view) and the sense of agreement will be far from strong.

Allow room for continued discussions

Don’t book the third meeting too close to the second one. You want to give the participants some time to think, and also make it possible to continue the discussions by the coffee machine, in other meetings, while out to lunch, etc. One or two weeks in between the meetings is probably good.

Step 3 – Consensus meeting

This is the last meeting. This is where it all comes together. You probably need to allocate three hours for this meeting, with a ten minute break in the middle.

Make sure people bring their own summary containing their notes to the meeting. As preparation for the meeting you want to write down the names of the roles as big headings on the whiteboards. Below each heading, create five bullets with no text. You also prepare an area which you title “Unresolved”.

If there aren’t enough whiteboards you can always use magic flipcharts instead. The important thing is that it needs to be possible to easily erase and replace text.

Launching the meeting

Once participants have arrived, hand out a black whiteboard pen to each person, and have them seated.

Explain that:

  • When the meeting is over, each role will have 5 bullets with text that summarizes which expectations we have on a person having that role.
  • We will leave the room cheering and celebrating the fact that we have agreed upon many things, and uncovered areas where we disagree.
  • We will spend the first two hours writing the bullets together.
  • We will spend the last hour voting on every single bullet. Only those that no one objects against will be kept.
  • Everyone is allowed to add text to bullets on any role.
  • Anyone is allowed to rephrase what someone else has written.
  • Anyone is allowed to erase what someone else has written.
  • When in disagreement on bullets, or on the way to formulate them – we engage in discussions! We will try to phrase the bullet so that everyone agrees upon the formulation.
  • When we can’t agree upon a bullet we park it by writing it down in the “Unresolved” area.

Make sure everyone understands the procedure. When that is done, simple ask the participants to grab their black pen and approach the role where they would like to start.

Parking topics in “Unresolved”

Your role as a facilitator is to spot where people seems to disagree and encourage discussions. When failing to reach a conclusion you can suggest that the topic is added to the “Unresolved” list for now and that we can re-address it later. These may, or may not, actually be re-addressed. It all depends on the time and where the discussion takes the group. No matter what, just listing them as unresolved is about being truthful on where we disagree and enables the group to move and avoid getting stuck on a specific topic.

Before and after the break

When it’s five minutes before the break, ask people to pause ongoing discussions and to take a tour around the room. Ask the participants to carefully read the bullets that have been written so far for each role. When they have read all bullets they leave the room and take ten a ten minute break.

When people are back from the break instruct them to continue wherever they please, they don’t need to continue from where they left of.

To give participants a sense of time you can as a facilitator periodically announce how much time they have left before the voting part of the meeting starts.

Consensus voting

When there is a hour left have people take another tour. Have a short break. After the break, ask them to sit down.

Explain that we now will vote on every single bullet. Only the bullets that no one objects to will remain. Thumb-voting will be used for voting.

Thumbs up mean “I agree! This reflect my expectations and the statement is well formulated”.

Thumbs sideways mean “I have concerns about the formulation” or “I don’t necessarily disagree but I want to discuss the bullet more”.

Thumbs down means “No. I don’t agree that this is a valid expectation for that role.”

Start with any role. The participants representing that role stands up and presents the bullets for the role. I always choose the role representatives to present the bullets because it’s about them. If they don’t relate or agree with the expectations this whole series of workshop has been in vain.

The bullets are read on at a time. For each bullet there is a vote of thumbs. Instruct the participants to decide upon a vote. When one has made up your mind, you raised a closet fist in front of you. When everyone shows closet fists, you count to three. On three everyone reveals their vote. If everyone votes thumbs up, awesome! You have consensus and can quickly move on to the next bullet.

If you have any thumbs down, ask these participants why they voted “No” and what needs to be changed in order for their vote to change to a “I agree”. Allow a brief discussion. If the discussion continues for longer than a couple of minutes, erase the bullet and move it to the “Unresolved” list, and move on to the next bullet.

If you have no thumbs down but a couple of people have voted sideways, have them speak their mind and explain their concern. If the statement can be tweaked or clarified, thats great. If not, ask them if they want to move the bullet to “Unresolved” or if they are okay with the current formulation now that they’ve had a chance to share their concern.

As a facilitator, make sure you carefully manage the time spent on each role so that you will be able to go through all roles and all bullets before you run out of meeting time.

Closing the meeting

As soon as the last bullet has been handled, celebrate with an aplaude! The group has just accomplished something great and truly challenging.

Explain what will happen next. How will the results be communicated and used? What will happen to the “Unresolved” list and how will it be handled?

Wrap up the meeting with a sharing-round. Ask everyone, in order, to share what they think was the best thing with this Role Expectation Mapping exercise? Favourite aspect? Discussion? Insight?

Possible next steps

Communicate and discuss results

If you mapped expectations for a whole department it probably means that only a subset of all employees did participate. If that is the case; the results needs to be presented and discussed with every team and person.

Address “Unresolved” topics

If you don’t naturally have forums that discuss continuous improvements (such as retrospectives in teams and at management level) you probably need to get started with those to address the “Unresolved” list and the learnings from “Comments and Mysteries”. Failing to address any of them could be fatal to moral and deeply undermine trust in managers and leaders.

Put up nice posters

Do a nice, graphical, poster of the final results. Have them printed on A2 or A3 and put them up around the office.

Use the outcome as input to one-on-ones

If you as a coach have one-on-one sessions with people, you could bring a printout of the summary to the next meeting. Ask how well the person feels he/she lives up to the expectations. Do they feel the expectations are fair? In which areas do they like to improve?

Improvement Theme – Simple and practical Toyota Kata

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Improvement Theme is a tool in the form of a poster that works as a conveyor belt for continuous improvements once the Retrospective is over.

I’ve been reading a little bit about Toyota Kata and seen great presentations on the concept. In order to make it practical and useful for me I found myself tweaking it and packaging it in a concept I’ve come to call Improvement Theme. I’ve tried this concept a couple of times now and found it to be a good tool to extend improvements beyond the Retrospective and bringing it into the daily work. In this article I describe how to create the poster and how to use it as a tool for continuous improvements.

The Improvement Theme is a poster. I’ve been using magic charts since they are easily moved between the room in which the retrospective is held and the teams wall.

The charter consists of five areas.
1. Name of the Improvement Theme
2. Now/Problem – Description of the current situation
3. Definition of Awesome – How would we like it to be?
4. Next Target Condition – X weeks from now, what has changed?
5. First Steps – 3 slots for three post-its that describe the first (next) actions we will take?

It’s a living document, preferable put up next to the scrum/kanban wall. Once or twice a week the team reviews the theme and agrees upon new actions as they get completed.

When X weeks has passed the team does a review of the theme itself. If they want to continue on the same theme they identify a new “Next target condition”. Otherwise they create a new Improvement Theme poster.

Here follows an extensive description of how I’ve been using the concept as a tool for improvement and a more in-depth description of the different aspects of the poster.

1. Gather suggestions for themes

We can’t change everything at once; let’s focus on one area at a time. If there isn’t a single obvious problematic area we need a way to gather suggestions for areas of improvement.

A way to present it to the team is to ask for topics for further discussions in areas you think we can and should improve. Improvement Theme suggestions goes onto post-its which then goes onto the wall.

Another way, which I prefer, is not to jump directly into suggesting themes but instead have the themes emerge. I’ve tried two different approaches so far.

1.a Jimmy Cards
Run a couple of rounds of Jimmy Cards. Between each round give the team a couple of minutes to think about the discussions that took place and write down Improvement Theme suggestions. They don’t have to be directly related to the discussion, don’t limit yourself if your inspiration takes you elsewhere. When all rounds are over (or timebox ends) the themes are presented and put up onto the wall.

In this blog post you can read how this played out when a colleague ran a retrospective with two teams simultaneously using Jimmy Cards.

1.b Good/Bad/Could be improved
Run a “standard” retrospective, gathering comments and reflections on what has been good and what could be better. I personally like people to reflect and put up notes in the following categories:

  • Good – I’m happy this happened
  • Appreciation – Thank you for <contribution/help/effort/insight/etc>
  • Frustrations – Things that make me frustrated. This have to change.
  • More! – We need to do more of this
  • (Sometimes I add the category “Mysteries” – Things I don’t understand. How come…? Why is it that…?)

Once all the post-its are up we don’t jump into identifying improvements or retrospective actions. Instead we draw a couple of circles and then tries to find patterns. We move related notes into the circles and then finally label the circles. Not all notes needs to end up in circles.

The labels then become the Improvement Theme suggestions. And as a bonus we have some input data for further discussions.

2. Choose an Improvement Theme

Through voting, or discussion, select a theme to focus on.

If it is a very big team (>10 people) perhaps there is enough people to work on two Improvement Themes. If you choose to work on two (or more themes) have the group split into smaller groups that focuses on a single theme for the remainder of the workshop. You might also want to insert breaks where the sub-teams present their progress so far  once or twice during the remainder of the exercise.

3. Explain the Improvement Theme charter

Draw the improvement theme charter and briefly explain the different areas and how the rest of the exercise will be executed.

4. Now/Problem – Create a shared understanding of the current situation

To be able to get a buy-in from everyone we need a shared understanding of the current situation and the problem. Give everyone two minutes to individually write down their views on the current situation/problem on post-its. Then everyone presents and explains their notes. The post-its are NOT put onto the poster, they are put next to the poster. Once all notes are up, the team is given the task to summarize the “Now/Problem” in a couple of sentences or bullets. This two-step process is important since it builds a shared understanding and surfaces different views on the situation.

5. Define “Definition of Awesome”

Ask the team how they would like the world to look like? If it worked as they wanted, how would that look and feel like? The “Definition of Awesome” can be a distant vision, perhaps not even realistic within a year. That’s not the point. The point is to create a joint vision of the goal to strive towards.

I usually ask the team to describe this vision in a couple of bullets (max 5) or in a couple of sentences (max 3) and ask them to write them together. This can of course require a bit of discussion – which is a good thing.

6. (Re-)name of the Improvement Theme

Now that we have a shared view of the current situation and the problem, and have created a vision of how we want it to be in our Definition of Awesome, we might want to modify or change the name of the theme itself. Write the name on top (where the illustrations say “Improvement Theme”) on the poster.

7. Describe first target condition

Identify a first realistic sub-goal on our journey towards our vision – the Next Target Condition. Select a timespan and create a checklist of three to four things you want to be true by then. For example: “6 weeks from now, the following is true:” followed by a list statements describing things that have changed.

The statements should be easily evaluated and leave little room for interpretation. Either our improved way of working allows us the check the checkbox, or it doesn’t. (For example; “Better testing” is too vague. “We obey the testing aspect of our Definition of Done” is concrete. “Weekly sync meetings with team X” is better than “Fewer frustrations with dependencies to team X”.)

8. Identify first possible steps

How do you eat an elephant? Yes, one bite at a time. Same goes for change.

Start with brainstorming ideas for possible small actions the team can take in order to get closer to the described Next Target Condition. If it’s a big task ask yourself, what would you start with? Make that into an action. Don’t shoot down suggestions or censor wacky ideas now.

The actions don’t have to describe a complete plan on how to reach the next target. We want to figure out a couple of small steps we can start with.

Once a bunch of possible actions has been identified, select (through voting or discussion) which three will become our First Steps. These three post-its goes into the three red squares, the place holders for todo actions. Finally assign responsible persons to the actions.

9. Make it regular

Select when you review and update the

One team I coach reviews the status of their “First steps” every Tuesday and Thursday immediately after the daily stand-up. They review their actions, asks what needs to be done to “check them off”, etc. If a task is completed they move it to the “score board” and then fills the empty box with a new action. That new action could be one of those identified during the retrospective or a totally new idea. Whatever brings the team closer to the Next Target Condition.

10. Decide upon when to follow up and re-evaluate

If possible, book a review meeting immediately. When the date of “Next target Condition” is up it is time to reflect upon the Improvement Theme. We ask ourselves
* Did we reach the target condition?
* How much have we moved away from “Now/Problem”?
* How much closer are we to our “Definition of Awesome”?
* Does our theme still feel relevant? If yes, identify a new Next Target Condition. If not, create a new Improvement Theme poster.

Good Luck and Happy Improving! 🙂