Using the Spotify Squad Health Check beyond the Squad

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Just in time tribute…

I’m on my way from Boston to Manhattan. Tomorrow I’m facilitating an executive workshop for a client with the goal of kicking off the next level of agility. Before that I’m meeting some of the Spotify Agile Coaches/Company Operations people in the NYC Office. I thought this would be a good opportunity to write about a Spotify Squad-level tool I started using in Executive/Management workshops as well as all-hands QuickStarts/QuickBoosts in the last couple of months.

Continue reading “Using the Spotify Squad Health Check beyond the Squad”

How to “restart” your Improvement Journey – A facilitation guide

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Previously on “The Agile Journey”…

So some time ago – maybe months or years – you decided to go for Lean/Agile. You went ahead and started to use Scrum/Kanban to break the waterfall and achieve a more agile operation. These were exciting times. First, that time of making sure you understand what you are trying to achieve, checking out all the options, building the plan. Maybe forming new teams, maybe not. Maybe you went for an evolutionary change or a big revolution. Then, training people and helping them start doing things differently. You probably had some help from consultants along the way or maybe you had enough experienced/process-curious people on staff to get through this on your own. You spent some months stabilizing things – taking care of all the impediments that surfaced to us the “Scrum speak”.

And then, after all this excitement, it seemed like things were actually working. Everyone felt that. It seemed like the journey was finally over. Maybe you even took a look at the goals you set to yourself and saw you achieved at least a major improvement. Maybe things just felt ok. Slowly (in some cases not so slowly…) everyone’s focus moved elsewhere. The retrospectives started to feel routine. The stabilization board started to grow rust. You reached a new plateau of performance. And it was ok.

(As external consultants we used to be frustrated by this plateau. It felt like there was a lot of value we could still provide the organization and nobody was listening. I talked about it back in 2012 in both the Scrum Gathering in Atlanta and the LSSC12 Lean/Kanban conference in Boston. When we defined our AgileSparks way we called this the “Recharge” phase – it comes after you finish “Stabilizing”. Naming it helped us deal with it – starting with the understanding it is natural)

At some point, you decided you want to get back to the journey. (Yes, you might notice there is a big question here of what are the triggers to get back to the journey and can we do anything as internal/external change agents to help organizations decide to get back to the journey at the right time – not too early but not stay stuck in this plateau too long? maybe in another post…). And you are wondering what are some effective ways to do that.

How to move from Recharge to Improve

(First, there are probably countless ways to do this. I’ve done it several ways over the years, I’m sure you have too. If you have a way you would like to share or already shared, please let me know in the comments, I’m really looking for practices people find useful for this stage of the journey. I just decided to share one of my favorites I’ve been using frequently lately)

ReStart with Why

One important step before doing anything is making sure you understand why you are doing it and what you are trying to achieve. This is especially important in the case of moving from recharge to improve because you are trying to nudge a system that is stable so you must understand the importance of moving it. A classic short movie that makes sense to see in this context is “Overcoming Resistance to Change – Isn’t it Obvious” (This is based on Dr. Eli Goldratt’s work in Isn’t it Obvious). You can show the movie to your team and follow it up by a discussion of how it applies to your current context. This is VERY similar to running a SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) exercise, so you can do that instead.

An even more structured way I found useful in the lean/agile context is to give people concrete options for the Strengths – Reasons not to change/Weaknesses – Pains of not changing quadrants in the SWOT/resistance to change analysis. These options are based on the “Starting with Why – Goals for Lean/Agile Journeys” slide deck which we often use at AgileSparks.

If you are co-located you can do this by showing the slide and asking people to dot-vote on 2-3 goals they would like to focus on. If you have more time, start with scoring on all of the aspects to set a baseline for the future. If you used this to kickoff your agile journey you have the benefit of continuing the same language and getting the benefit of seeing the differences from the baseline you took when starting the journey. Even if you didn’t, setting a baseline now can be a good idea – you can get back to it a couple of months into your Improve journey and check where you are and what you should focus on next. In any case, the point is to look at where you are and choose areas you want to focus on improving – at the level of
Goals, not Means (That is important! As a facilitation tip – try to keep the discussion at the level of purpose/goal rather than means at this point.)

improvement goals sim2

If you are distributed or want people to prepare beforehand you can do this with the facilitator marking colored circles on a powerpoint slide (as can be seen above), work together on a google spreadsheet, use an online survey like the one here (I made the google spreadsheet used to generate this publicly available here) to get people to think about it either online during the session or beforehand, or use your favorite collaboration tool/approach.


1-Goals Survey - Mozilla Firefox 20062014 162340goals survey

In any case, at this point you should have 2-3 clear goals to focus on. Maybe these are the goals you originally decided to start your lean/agile journey for. Maybe they are different. The group from the first example above started the journey to improve flexibility, reached a good enough level and then moved to other goals.

Assess where you are (with regards to the fitness Goals you chose)

The next step is to assess your current reality and gaps that affect your performance in the aspects you chose to focus on. One way to do that is to simply run a focused retrospective with that goal as the theme. You can do it as a “World Cafe” (or your favorite subgroup based meeting design method) – in essence working in subgroups on the different goals and sharing notes and outcomes. If you are distributed or want to do this part as preparation to meeting face-to-face you can run this as well online as surveys using something like asking what is our current level, what are we doing well, what can improve our performance.

Another more structured way to handle this phase is to run a depth assessment. I like to use our own Lean/Agile Depth Assessment but feel free to use whatever you like.

Here you see a group that took our assessment. You can see their scores in each of the aspects of the assessment. After taking the assessment people understand more what each of the assessment areas mean and are able to map how relevant they are to the improvement goals they chose. In this case you can see for example that the “Empowered Teams and Individuals” assessment area was mapped to the “Engaged People” and “Sustainability” goals. After this mapping they could now choose assessment areas to focus on. We can see here “Empowered Teams and Individuals” was one of these areas. (You can ask “Isn’t this something they should have started with?” and my answer is that it depends. In many cases people don’t really understand what it really means when they start the journey so even if they try to do something they don’t get far. And others focus on goals that are lower in “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” and then realize this is an area that they need to work on more. )

Now, within each assessment areas, look at the specific gaps you have and choose a few that are the most relevant for the goal you are trying to work towards. Take these gaps and add them to your improvement backlog.

Another approach is to look at something like the AgileSparks Way which has a catalog of options for the improvement stage and choose options that you feel as a team are most relevant to your choice of goals. This can be things like running the assessment, examining team formation, going on a WIP diet, going on a frequent releases exercise regime, etc.


From here on it is a matter of executing improvement/change. But you have strong forces on your side. You engaged people as part of this fair process (maybe it was your management team, maybe everyone). You started with why. You set concrete improvement goals that are mapped to concrete action items.

One last thing you might want to do is to run a vote of confidence with everyone who participated in the process to see whether they think the plan makes sense and is worth pursuing. And if not, iterate and fine-tune until it does.

As an interactive session I would recommend setting aside about half a day to a day for this activity. Ideally offsite as an opportunity to open your mind and think creatively. “Doing Food” never hurts as well.







Bootstrapping Agile (by yourself) using Kanban – My Agile Israel 2013 talk

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Agile Israel 2013 took place yesterday. This year was they year of “Hands on”. Around 600 attendees came to get practical hands on advice on multiple aspects of the agile world. My talk was about running your agile journey on your own.

This talk was aimed at people looking into agile or exploring ways to go agile for “group level” and above. I presented a mind map I recently created based on work I’ve been doing in the field the last 2 years and some experiences of other coaches on the AgileSparks team. I also mentioned some aspects of the recent and excellent Kanban Kick-Start Field Guide. 

I also experimented with a hybrid delivery approach for this session. I started with an Ignite/Pecha-Kucha style run through the 37 frames Prezi using 20 second auto-advance. Together with a short intro to what I’m going to do took about 10 minutes. Then I allowed serious time (something like 20 minutes) to deep dive of areas the session participants found especially interesting or unclear. This felt quite good as a speaker, and I got some good feedback from people in the audience, as well as some people who didn’t really like the session (red dots – no explanation why…)

The first question was about where how to choose which teams to start with, how to deal with different approaches for different teams, which was a good chance to explain my “Starting with Managers Kanban” approach in more depth – basically starting with value streams rather than component teams, then explore real value-stream/feature teams, then scale to more and more value-stream/feature teams as you grow your maturity, understanding. I think it is especially useful when exploring agile on your own, as it ensures the leads/managers are into it before you go into deep painful changes that are beyond your pain/skill threshold.

Second came up another one of my favorite challenges – how to make sure improvement happens. I took this opportunity to explore this area of the mind map in a bit more depth, basically addressing 3 key areas:

  • The need for purpose/urgency (connecting the drivers for agility with relevant metrics)
  • The need for clear actionable steps beyond just “improving” and “retrospecting” (here I described the concept of “boosts” to use the term coined by the Sandvik people in their great Lean Kanban Central Europe 2011 talk as well as gave some examples like Maturity/Depth assessment, Learning about variability, Learning about bottlenecks and Theory of Constraints, Learning about Rightshifting and how to use it to energize further mindset shift.
  • The lack of progress on identified improvement actions. Here I talked about Personal Kanban for leaders and management teams as a way to create discipline of execution and Improvement Kanban Board to make sure improvement actions are first-class citizens in your execution routine

BTW, readers interested in this topic are welcome to look at my Lean Systems and Software Conference 2012 talk – The Improvement Journey.

The last question we had time for was about my favorite visualizations. Kanban boards obviously. But I also talked about the Talent Matrix and how to use it to grow versatility in a way that is collaborative and inclusive. I also mentioned dependency boards and hierarchical kanbans that can be useful when applicable.

One of the questions people are asking me is obviously do I really believe people can bootstrap agile on their own with Kanban? My answer is that it obviously depends. If you have a great leadership team, the need and motivation for agility is clear, there is the ability to invest in learning on their own, the time to spare for experimenting and taking time to recover from wrong turns, then probably you can make it on your own, at least most of the time. Having someone who knows what they’re doing around can reduce risks, help recover faster from wrong turns, avoid some unnecessary mistakes. This provides some “risk management” as well as acceleration of the bootstrapping and improvement process. Note that even if a coach is involved I believe great coaching still leaves most of the work at the hands of the managers/leaders of the organization and still requires experimentation and evolution by people on the ground.

While obviously attending a 30 minutes session is not enough to make this happen (dear attendees, don’t expect a Certified Kanban Boostrapper title…)  I believe we can help change agents use this approach to bootstrap agile in their organizations. If you want to learn more about this approach, we are considering a “deep dive” workshop that will get you to that level – including Kanban, the Implementation approach, the different Boosts and Models mentioned, and other tips and tricks we use at AgileSparks to help organizations improve.  Leave me a comment here or at AgileSparks if that is something that interests you.