# Friday, March 27, 2015

Everyone always asks me why I very rarely give meet up talks, despite looking after two user groups.  I guess part of it is, why does anyone want to hear me talk? But when I do actually push myself to do them, I absolutely love it!  So more recently I have been putting myself out there. 

I recently got the opportunity through the work I am doing with Learning Connexions to visit Romania!  Not your number one holiday destination, so i immediately wanted to go.  I was asked if I wanted to do a couple of talks at a local ‘Colors in Projects’ conference and I was more than happy to help out.

Lesson number 1….always validate what you are being asked to do!

My small conference talk turned out to be a keynote speech, and my session turned out to be a one day workshop.  Never the less I was excited and nervous at the same time.

I decided to do my key note on something that I have been using with my client called ‘Evolutionary Stages’. Effectively it’s a team self reflection tool to look at how Agile they are, and what practices they should consider focusing on.  My topic tackled the continual question I seem to get ‘How Agile are we?’

I am not sure I have ever publically said this in my blog, but I have an irrational fear of balloons. Literally before I took the stage there was a group exercise which involved blowing up balloons with your name in (to win a prize) and then throw them to the front.

Cue my keynote standing amongst these balloons whilst freaking out!!!!!!

The other thing I really hate in life is snow……….second day…….it snowed!

Never the less I felt it went really well and I even got a few laughs from the audience

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I was most happy with my prize as a talker and he has currently moved into my house.

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Whilst I was excited about delivering my key note, I was even more excited to try out my ‘Art of Retrospection’ one day workshop that I had created.

OMG, it was awesome!  I had such a great bunch of attendees who really threw themselves into all of the practical exercises and simulations we done.   People know I have a passion for retrospectives generally, and so to see it all come together was fantastic for me and I got some really good feedback.  I now want to see how I can incorporate this into an everyday offering through ‘The Rock’

One of the new metaphors that I have picked up was from one of the groups….Lord of the Rings.  I find my students so inspirational in the ideas that they have.  Two of them have already written to me to tell me, and send me images of how they are starting to use this in their teams now.

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Here are a few images from the day.

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Final Thoughts

I am not sure I have a hard hitting message for you today. I was just so excited about some of the stuff I have been doing, I just wanted to share with you.

I guess if I really sought out a message, it would be ‘Have confidence’ in what you do, and we all have something valuable to share with others. Even though we may feel it is not important.

Watch this space

I have started creating my ‘Karate Kid’ retrospective and will be excited to share it with you soon!!


Friday, March 27, 2015 3:43:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What I enjoy about my work is the autonomy I get to try new things and the support that I get from ripplerock (whatever the outcome).  I guess that much of what us Agile coaches do is experimentation and then inspecting and adapting from there. Ultimately this gives us patterns which we can re-use.

My latest little experimentation was a collaboration with Mark Summers and Stuart Young on what we called the ‘Week of Fun’. Ultimately it was a series of training events where we ran a Certified Lean Kanban Foundation Course and/or Certified ScrumMaster, combined with a free day of visual artistry.

All right, so the first two aren’t new, but the visual artistry workshop certainly was!

I met Stuart some time ago through a mutual friend at a meet up group and I was pretty impressed with his illustrations and his work ethic.  From that point collaboration with him became a regular thing, and so when Mark and I wanted to do something a little different and creative, we gave him a call.

Our experiment was. Is there value in having a graphic recorder at the Certified Courses and would anyone sign up for a free ‘Learn to draw’ class? and maybe even pay?

Over my two Kanban days Stuart set about recording my training with the following output. Overall it was a massive success and we had many comments on the feedback forms for how it helped people remember and learn concepts in a fun way.

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The free visual artistry day was also a massive success. I actually attended this class as a learner for myself as I have hid away from drawing images, but always envied those beautiful posters I see people create at conferences.

I rated my drawing ability as zero and I am pleased to say I am already much more confident. On a recent company day I even did it as my show and tell item. Check me out !

So I started the day looking a little something like this  (imagine the Tony Hart gallery music playing in the background)


and by the end of the session I was busting out these, which have much improved since i have been practicing them. It is all about building a bank of images and practice, practice, practice!

IMG_5013  IMG_5014

ok, ok, so I am not going to be giving Stuart a run for his money or quitting my job, but it actually made me really happy Smile and something that I can use and get value from.

One of the most fun parts had to have been the graphic jam. We brainstormed a group of words in the literal, abstract and agile space, and then we all picked one and had to race to draw an image. This demonstrated many of us think the same way and speed to be able to do this at pace in practice. Some totally stumped me, and one particular image by Mark made me cry with laughter. You do not want to know what Mr Blobby was doing to the stick man !!

Final Thoughts

Experimentation is good. You might succeed or you might fail, but you certainly learn along the way and that is what helps is grow. Many of the worlds multi millionaires went bankrupt many times before they achieved their success. Keep pushing to learn something new and inspect and adapt from there.

I also learnt, I can draw and that visual artistry is cool!

Naturally with all this learning, came much reflecting. Here is us reflecting hard….Cocktails' always help us think Smile

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I will try not to leave it so long next time before my next blog (Thank you Sarah for poking me into action). Coming up I have an exciting key note, conference, talk at BCS Agile day and new one day workshop offering on the Art of Retrospection, so watch this space for more of my ramblings and my successes and failures along the way.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015 8:38:57 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Friday, September 26, 2014

I have been at the Scrum Gathering Berlin over the last few days and I had a really good time. Not just is it a great place to learn and float new ideas, but it’s also an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. If you have not had the opportunity to attend a Scrum Gathering on your journey to date, I really recommend it. 

My good friend Mark Summers and I were selected to host one of the sessions. Retrospectives are a passion for both Mark and I in terms of running creative ones and using the best facilitation techniques to really get the group flowing and the learning's aired.

So we ran a session called ‘Building Metaphors for Retrospectives’

The session was an opportunity to show off some of the creativity from Mark and I, but also to get the audience to create their own. Once we created a new metaphor, we got the audience to run a retrospective on retrospectives to have an opportunity to share best practice, learning's, tools and techniques.

The session was positively received and we got some great instant feedback.  A few of these you would have seen from some of my earlier blogs, but always worth sharing again to get your inspiration juices flowing.

1) The Boat Retrospective

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2) The ‘Top Gun’ Retrospective. Based on my love of 80’s films and Tom Cruise (At the time!)

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3) Mountaineering Retrospective – Created at the request of one of my clients. I now give them sometimes a choice and I will create based on the teams interests.

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4) The ‘Rocky 4’ Retrospective. This is my latest one and has been very popular with my clients. I always look for films with motivational sound tracks as I love to play the music to the teams. I find that music drives them and we have fun.

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5) ‘Nothings going to stop us now’ Retrospective. As a challenge on the day we proved that you could even use music songs for a basis. We challenged Benjamin Cooke to create one around Marks favourite song. Considering he spent 15 minutes on it, we had so much innovation and ideas.  We made him listen to the song at least ten times while creating it and Mark was doing his dad dancing around the room Smile

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So now we have some of the Scrum Berlin groups output. Thank you to everyone at the gathering who helped to produce these.

1) Up – I love this idea and won the prize for the best metaphor. A great film and so many items you can relate to a team.  Eliminating waste by releasing the balloons and not forgetting the cone of shame Smile

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2) Driving – Simple yet effective. I quite often one similar to this with Kanban teams.

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3) The Zoo – The spidery looking thing is a peacock.  I thought this was great because it made the team laugh and got us talking as a group. You don’t have to be a great artist and having a giggle can actually break the ice!

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4) Travel – Watch out for those Sharks

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So as promised some really great ideas out there.

Final Thoughts

I recognise that metaphors are not for everyone and some teams respond to them better than others, but as ScrumMasters we have a duty to continually drive improvement. Nothing worse than a scrummie running the same retro over and over again. The retrospective is a key meeting and there for a purpose and so we need to be creative in keeping it fresh and bringing out the important points.

So I challenge to you to think about the quality of your retrospectives and how you could facilitate them better.

A few other photos for your pleasure

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Friday, September 26, 2014 8:34:50 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Friday, April 25, 2014

Been on extended Easter holiday over the last week and being back at work was a shock to the system. I had an awesome week off though, and got to do lots of little jobs at home that needed doing (4 hours of ironing!). There was also the more exciting stuff such as my weekend away to London, the zoo and talking my niece and nephew out. If anyone knows me well they will know my passion for crazy golf and so that was a particular highlight Smile

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I have been keeping myself busy at work with my clients and of course organising the first ever European Scrum Coaching Retreat with a few of my good friends. I am so excited about being involved in this and we have only a few places remaining.  By the time you read this it will be SOLD OUT!

Got a few lean Kanban events coming up as well such as the BCS Agile day and the Kanban Leadership retreat. Once again David Anderson and his team has not let me down by picking a glorious  location. I am very much looking forward to spending time with my fellow Kanban peers and seeing what innovative concepts they have to share.

I shall be sitting here with a Pina Colada at some point Smile

So today I have another new retrospective theme for you! Though Top gun is still awesome….

I am obviously so comfortable with running retros now that I have started giving teams a choice of a theme and I will go away and create one based around it. You just know I am going to get a tough one sooner or later!  This weeks theme was mountaineering.

Here is the overall view – Printed naturally as my art isn't that good!

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Some of the lower level questions I want to pose.

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Final Thoughts

Keeping retrospectives fresh is so important because they are such valuable opportunities to gather how everything is going and really make a difference with a team to put improvements in. 

I am keen to hear about any retrospectives that you have created yourself. Get in touch.

Over and out.


Friday, April 25, 2014 7:41:35 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Thursday, February 6, 2014

First blog of the New Year!

I had a good Christmas and New Year. Who wouldn’t with three weeks off work and a trip the New York included within that Smile

New York was awesome!! My friend Sarah and I went for 5 days and pretty much immersed ourselves into being total tourists and ladies of leisure, who shopped and wined and dined. 

I have never known weather like it it, minus 16 wind chill and I couldn’t bear to have any flesh on display.

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We didn’t let it spoil our trip though and managed to do everything we wanted. We both agreed that the Circle line boat trip was the high light, because we saw so many of the sights and got classic views of the iconic skyline. The picture above shows the Hudson river  full of ice and it physically moved like lava.

We also managed a cheeky ride around central park in a bright pink horse and carriage.

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Alas though to pay for these pleasures I must work (until my millionaire comes along Smile )

I am meeting a new team next week and I have been asked to run a retro for for them.  Normally I can just pull one of these out of my tool box, but this team has been together a while and their ScrumMaster already seems to have been quite creative with them. Now this left me in a quandary as I don’t want to do just a run of the mill one! There are so many great websites out there and I got lots of inspiration but I just wanted something different, fun and original.

As I sat ‘hard at work’ on the sofa looking for a movie to watch, inspiration hit me. Why not use a movie to form the basis of my retro.

Hmmm, now what is a really cheesy film that is legendary?

Enter ‘Top Gun’

“ I feel the need, the need for speed!!”

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Key questions I am asking:

  • Top Gun Logo - What does it mean to be ‘Top Gun’?
  • F14A Tomcat - Do we have the right gear?
  • Radar – What challenges are there coming up?
  • USS Enterprise – What are we stable in?
  • Explosion – What went wrong?
  • Migs – What are the things dragging us down?
  • Goose & Ice – How are we as a team?

Ultimately you can pick any questions you want to drive from the team, but we are looking for a good mix of positive and areas of opportunity.   I am with this team for two days and so I am looking to drive the opportunities where I can help them quite quickly.

Now, we all know that I am a little bit geeky and so for extra effect I have downloaded the soundtrack to play in the back ground. The first track is my 5 minute time box!

I am now thinking what other films can I start incorporating into a retrospective? I need to find that predominantly female team and bust out one on the classic ‘Dirty Dancing’. Not sure my usual demographic would appreciate that one!

So todays message is go out there and be creative, bring some fun into the team whilst harvesting some real data to help teams go from good to great.

I will let you know how my retro went, even if they hate it, I had fun creating it. If you want my images to print  I am happy to send across and so you only have to ask.

PS: If you see me, ask me how I embarrassed my friend by suggesting a new flow based system going through security in London Heathrow Smile  In fairness he did adopt it…


Thursday, February 6, 2014 6:11:57 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Thursday, December 19, 2013

Last night at the Agile Coaching Exchange we had the fabulous Karl Scotland introducing working models that can be used by organisation as they make their journey in the agile world. The reception by the ACE family was awesome and I am glad we can continue to bring interactive and relevant topics to the ACE. For those that were not able to make it you can find Karl's slides here.

During the night Ben was also looking for people to set their New Year’s Agile resolution. We did this by having a big wall and inviting people to place their commitment. Ben and I thought it would be nice to publish these as a reminder of where we want to get to as we bravely step into 2014.

Here is what we collected.

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We are all in control of our own destiny and so it’s up to you now whether you act on this or not. Ben and I can certainly help along the way by trying to align some of our sessions around a common theme.

Overall we had a real Christmas cracker last night and we look forward to seeing you in the New Year.

Merry Christmas.

Helen & Ben



Thursday, December 19, 2013 6:26:51 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The end of 2013 will shortly be upon us and I find myself having my usual mother of all personal retrospectives. There has been some real ups and downs this year, but I guess that is just life and somewhat makes us stronger and more prepared next time around. Here are a few of them;


  • Co-Presenting with Ben Cooke at the Agile Business Conference. This was Bens first conference outing and I was so proud. He ROCKED!
  • Co-Presenting with Mark Summers at Scrum Gathering Las Vegas. Naturally there was fun and frolics. Oh and Mark and Nigel Baker falling asleep in the show!
  • Co-Presenting with Mark Summers at XP Vienna. This is also a lowlight as I got very ill and physically left parts of me in the hotel..seriously, parts will remain!
  • Attending the Scrum Gathering Paris. Great to have the whole RippleRock family out in the corporate colours. I really do love my work family.
  • Attending my first Lean Kanban Conference. Our stand kicked butt with the Lego drive through!
  • Becoming an Accredited Kanban Trainer and putting this into practice. I have made some great new friends in the Kanban world and learnt so much from them.
  • Linked to the above Dan Brown and I refactored and rebranded the KickStart Kanban course. We got presenter scores of 96% on the first outing, I mean, how do we beat that!
  • The Agile Coaching Exchange is going from strength to strength and we are getting awesome speakers. We had our peak at 70 attendees with Roman Pichler! I am very proud of the ACE and want to thank all the presenters for giving up their time for the community, and to Ben Cooke and Duncan Smith who help me to organise the events. Also finally ASOS for letting me host such events in their office.
  • Kicking off the Kanban Coaching Exchange with Dan Brown. Again the numbers for this have been so overwhelming and prove there is a real thirst for knowledge out there.
  • Extended Evolutionary Stages (A reflection tool for teams). Getting to run it with a new client and receiving positive feedback.
  • Loving that my jobs means that I get to meet so many new people and to travel to places I would probably have never gone. There is a whole new world out there waiting to be discovered. I have had lots of new clients this year and made some great new friends, whilst maintaining my strong bond with my teams at ASOS.
  • Being on the organising team for the first European Coaching Event in 2014. Giving back to the community is a real passion of mine. My job is ultimately helping people reach their full potential.


  • I had a difficult engagement this year and it really did knock my confidence and make me doubt myself. It did make me feel quite low and has taken me much time to get over this. I naturally had the fabulous support of Zia Malik, Mark Summers and Dan Brown who coached me though this. That is what makes my RR work family so ‘Awesome’, we are there for each other 24/7. They helped me to understand that it happens to everyone and in life there are just some people you don’t connect with, and that it is not personal to me or reflective on my overall style. So why am I telling you this when it is quite personal and did upset me? Because it can happen to anyone and people are there to support you and so you don’t need to hide away because you don’t want to show perceived weakness. I have learnt from this experience and I want to offer the support to you, should you find yourself in the same situation. You are not alone.
  • After 16 months of hard graft I left ASOS. I miss my boys!!  But friends are for life and having just come from a Christmas lunch with them, they can’t get rid of me that easy.

Overall, good times out weigh the bad and I really have had a great year . I hope that 2014 lives up to my expectations. At the very least I am going to New York in the New Year and so I am starting the year as I mean to go on!

I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. For those that have supported me I want to say thank you and you mean a hell of a lot to me. For my readers who I don’t know, I look forward to meeting you!

To quote Vinnie Jones ‘It’s been emotional’

Merry Christmas !

PS:  I have included a few of my favourite photos for your delight  Smile

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013 3:04:51 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It’s been a little while since I have written a blog. I guess I have been off the radar for a bit, but I am back now. Since we last spoke I have been to the Scrum Gathering Paris and had an awesome time. I was so encouraged to hear about the great journey they have had at Spotify, and it shows what the art of the possible really is. My work family (RippleRock) were proud sponsors of the event and we hosted a Marshmallow Challenge on the second night. I love that game! I also love eating marshmallows Smile


I also attended the Agile Business Conference where I presented ‘The Style Challenge’ with my good friend Ben Cooke. It was it his first conference or debutant as I like to call it Smile He did a fantastic job and I look forward to his next submission.

I will be drawing my conference season to an end this week by attending my first ever Modern Management Conference. I am looking forward to seeing all my fellow Kanban enthusiasts and maybe 1 or 2 from my time in Sapanca getting accredited.

On the Kanban front Dan Brown and I have launched the Kanban Coaching Exchange. We had an awesome first session and over 40 people attended. It’s fantastic to see so many people giving up their free time to come and develop themselves and learn more. Don’t forget about the Agile Coaching Exchange also! We had the highest numbers ever come and hear Roman Pichler talk about Product Ownership. From my experiences with Scrum this is one area that many organisations really fall behind on. If you missed the session you can pick up the slides here, and we will shortly be releasing the video. Did I mention we are now starting to record our sessions Smile

I wanted to talk to you today about the art of the possible. I was heavily influenced in the subject by the book ‘The Art of the Possibility’ by Ben & Rosamund Zander. Ben is the conductor of the Boston philharmonic orchestra and his wife is an executive coach.

Even though I am an Agile Coach I still sometimes get caught up in the politics and processes of an organisation, and I found myself in this situation not so long ago. This could be through not challenging the status quo or working around a process that maybe is no longer valid or just getting approval for doing something. The book was suggested to me by a colleague I was working with at the time and did initially think it sounded a little bit like a self-help book. I was so far off the mark because it actually helped me reframe my whole mind-set and look at the world differently. For those working with me at the time will remember my ‘No Regrets ‘mission. For the curious amongst you, it was about challenging everything we do and making the change towards better practices and agility. I was not going to ask for permission. I was just going to do it and if I got my arse kicked, so be it. I had the organisations best interest and goals at heart and so armed with that I was ready with new invigorated ideas, enthusiasm and passion. Did I ever get my arse kicked? As if! No one is brave enough for that.  Smile with tongue out

So what’s it all about?

To explain it all fully here I would need to type out the book, and so I advise you to read it for yourself. To help you all out though I thought I would provide a high level summary of the chapters to wet your appetites.

  1. “It’s all invented” In everyday life we make assumptions about pretty much everything. We make these assumptions many times without really acknowledging or understanding it. By our nature we focus on ourselves. We need to learn how to read and look outside of the assumptions and think bigger than what is in place already.
  2. “Scarcity thinking” – Glass half empty or half full?
  3. Self-fulfilling prophecy - If you assume that people will do well and help them to see how they can, they will. Zander gives every student an “A” in his class, and simply asks them to write a paper to tell what they will do to deserve that A. This gets the students focused on excellence, and takes away the tension that gets in the way of real results.
  4. Mind-set - “being a contribution - you are a gift to others”. How could that change what you do – to focus on the external perspective?
  5. Involve everyone! Zander asks his players to write down how he could improve practices and performances, and pays attention to the suggestions genuinely viewing leadership from all levels.
  6. “Don’t take yourself so seriously – to lighten up”.
  7. ‘Be present to the ways things are’  Many of us are disconnected from reality. By getting back to it, we can see more possibilities.
  8. ‘Give way to passion’  Going with your feelings allows you to be more real, and to go to new heights of accomplishment. Allow yourself to let go.
  9. ‘Light a spark’ See you role as creating a spark of possibility to be lit that others can see. Act as a catalyst for yourself and others.
  10. Be the framework!
  11. Create a vision - “frameworks of possibility”
  12. ‘WE’ - Focus on being inclusive and considering what is best for all.

Final Thoughts

All good systems need to be re-calibrated from time to time and I don’t see us being any different.
I recommend you get this book and read.  it will change your perspective! (note: I am not on commission)

Ask yourself these questions today

‘What assumptions have I made today?’

‘Were they right for the context I used them?

‘Is there a better way?’


Tuesday, October 29, 2013 3:52:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Had another glorious day out with my nephew last week. This time I took him to Blakeney for a picnic, more crabbing and then we went out on Beans Boats to see the seals at the point. I love animals and going to see the seals has become like a pilgrimage each year for me. Disappointedly we did only catch 5 crabs, but I blame my brother who forgot the bacon. Fish heads just did not cut it!

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We also had the Agile Coaching Exchange (ACE) with Nigel Baker who presented his Optimus Prime and Change session. It addresses organisational evolution towards a Scrum Method. Nigel is one of the funniest people in Scrum I know and he didn’t disappoint me on the night, his humour was on form. Most amusing had to be the teaching of the pisello technique. Well you have heard of the pomodoro technique of time boxing for 20 minutes, well this is the time boxing of 20 seconds. It translates to Pea!

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So on the topic of changing organisations I want to talk about one of the key challenges that I tend to come up against.  When people ask me what the best part of my job is I say ‘people’. Ask me what the worst is and I say ‘People’

Every coach has faced people who are happy with status quo and don’t outwardly support the way the organisation is heading with its delivery method. So as coaches, how can we help them on the journey?

A few years ago I was introduced to the 3 zones model.


The Comfort Zone

The comfort zone is where we are the majority of the time. It’s the location of the skills and abilities we’ve built up over our career. In the comfort zone we are the most ‘comfortable’ . However we cannot develop ourselves and build new skills when we are in this zone. It consists of the abilities we can already do easily.

The Panic Zone

Have you ever become so worried you can’t focus? Then you’ve probably been in the panic zone at some point of your life.  Activities in the panic zone are so tough that we don’t even know how to approach them. The overall feeling of the panic zone is that you are uncomfortable and possibly discouraged. Like the comfort zone, we can’t make progress or learn in the panic zone.

The Learning Zone

Between the panic zone and the comfort zone is the learning zone. You only develop yourself further by embracing activities that are in the learning zone. The skills and abilities that are just out of reach are in the learning zone; they’re neither so far away that we panic nor close enough where they’re too easy.

So how does this relate to organisational transformation?

When we go into organisation as coaches and come across resistance, it means that we have possibly pushed people into the ‘Panic’ zone. We have to identify what their panic is and then work with them to resolve it. Here are a few examples of ‘panics’ that I come across most frequently:

  • What does this mean to me? Will I still have a job?
  • What if I cannot do this new role?
  • I do not want to dilute my skills
  • I was a manager, am I not anymore?

There are many more examples, but we need to consider how we approach the change and not push people into ‘Panic ‘ and shut themselves down. We need to articulate the change through a vision and ensure that we know what the current end state is anticipated to be, and how people fit into that picture.

We need to anticipate that certain people will need 121 coaching to help support them through the change and consider how they can be incorporate into the change to help influence others.

People are at the core of our business and so we need to invest the appropriate time and effort supporting them through the change and our lives as coaches will be easier.

There is another category of people who do not openly show their fear with reluctance or negativity. These are the ones who claim to get and support Agile, but their behaviours tell you otherwise. They think they are being cunning to disguise their true feelings, but it’s pretty apparent. The above won’t work for them, but I reckon that's another blog in itself!

Final thoughts

I want you to consider your approach to working with individuals, teams and organisations and how you can coach them to be in the optimal place of the Learning Zone.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013 2:06:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]

# Sunday, August 11, 2013

As a child my parents used to take me and my brother to Wells next the sea for holidays. I have to say it is my favourite beach and it brings back many fond child hood memories for me.

Faced with what to do with my parents, my nephew and the dog for 4 days recently, I happened to be cruising the internet and came up with the brainwave to relive my youth and booked up a caravan for us all at the very same site. This was my opportunity to take my nephew on the same adventures his dad and I had when we were younger.

Now, those that know me wouldn’t expect the words Helen and caravan to be in the same sentence, but I took the risk and ensured that I ordered the luxury version. I must say though that caravans have significantly improved since my child hood!

Wells has a fantastic beach, pretty woods and a little train to take you to the quaint town centre. Once in town, there’s time for the rock shop, fish and chips and a spot of crabbing. I whole heartedly recommend paying a visit if you have never done so.


So whilst I was reminiscing and retrospecting with my nephew,  a couple of my friends were struggling to retrospect with their own teams. One was advised that ‘The team didn’t need a retrospective as nothing has happened’ and the other was encouraged to squeeze it into 30 minutes. Even the most mature teams would struggle in 30 minutes, but this team was only on sprint 3 and most certainly needed to discuss their issues.

This is not the first time I have seen these behaviours. Teams are not always seeing the value of retrospectives, and from my experience I would say the reasons are in the following areas:

  • They are not engaging for the team
  • Improvements or challenges get discussed, but nothing ever get resolved
  • Not facilitated well so the lose momentum and focus

Let’s tackle these one at a time.

Making your retrospectives engaging

It never ceases to amaze me how many people I meet who don’t vary their retrospective techniques, and still use the classic (What went well, didn’t go well, etc).

I encourage 3 types of retrospectives;

  • Team retrospective – A look at the last iteration from the Scrum Team perspective
  • Release retrospective – A look over a release or period of time and could include people external to the Scrum Team
  • Deep dive – A targeted retro to tackle a specific problem e.g. Why do we never complete all the stories?

There are great books and websites out there that host a whole plethora of techniques for every possible situation you find yourself in. Each team is different and will have their favourites, but variety is the spice of life. One of my earlier teams were extremely creative and so they got the most out of the drawing, word association and improve types. Others were more data driven around milestones.

Never be afraid to try out new techniques and if they don’t work, move onto the next. No one wants to be doing the same one forever! I also encourage that you get people up and active, no one wants to be glued to a seat.

Continuously Improve

Why wouldn’t you get demotivated if you are raising issues or improvements that never get actioned, and are talked about sprint after sprint. As ScrumMasters and Coaches we should be encouraging the teams to discuss these items, find solutions and take the actions into the sprint. We cap these at 2 or 3 per sprint to ensure that they are committed to and can be resolved. We need to ensure that we allow time to complete these activities as part of the sprint planning meeting.

We should also be encouraging those larger action items to be raised as user stories, and discussed with the Product Owner for scheduling as part of the Product Backlog.

Regardless of how we action them, all of the issues or improvements need to be stored, visible and brought to each of the retrospective meetings so they aren’t forgotten, and can be brought into play at any time.

Also as a ScrumMaster consider whether it makes sense for you to resolve any of these for the team yourself  E.g. Getting super sticky post it notes as the others fall off the wall.

Ultimately if the team see that issues are resolved and improvements implemented, it will encourage them to raise and resolve more. Leading to high performance  and self organisation.

Get organised

It is not acceptable to rock up unprepared. You need to prepare! Even seasoned professionals need time out to think about how they are going to facilitate the session, and help to drive out learning and information.

I usually book a timeslot of 2 hours for a retrospective and look to reduce this as the team matures. Conducting a release retrospective can take up to half a day depending on complexity of the release. Either way, leave yourself plenty of time to achieve the goal.

The book Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen gives a good structure for us to follow and the percentage of time suggested for each section.


  • Set the Stage 10-15%
  • Gather Data 15-20%
  • Generate Insight 15-20%
  • Decide What To Do 20-25%
  • Close 10-15%
  • (Breaks 10-15%)

Using this structure,  slot in the format of the retrospective and maybe an ice breaker or closing game for the team enjoyment. Icebreakers are a great way to get people talking and can be used on teams that have been together for a while also. It is a fact that if you can get people to engage and speak in the first 5 minutes of a meeting, then their contribution to the meeting will be increased compared to those who did not speak.

Facilitation of this meeting is another important aspect. ScrumMasters need to be reading the unsaid word in the room through looking at the teams body language, and listening to what they are saying. Using these observations you can then interject with powerful questions to help draw out more information or feelings.

Sometimes I come across very laissez-faire ScrumMasters. There is nothing wrong with having a laissez-faire style of leadership, however some use it as an excuse to take a back seat. They can sometimes hide behind saying they want the team to solve their own problems. I agree that teams need to solve their own challenges, however sometimes the lack of facilitation by the ScrumMaster is not laissez-faire but lack of interest or they don’t understand the problem. Never be afraid to give options on how you have seen other companies solve similar problems. This can point them in the right direction, but ultimately they will implement what’s best for them.

Final thoughts

Retrospectives are a must have part of any team and the appropriate time and consideration need to be given to them.

I challenge you to take a look at your own practices in this area and see where you can make improvements.

Get in contact if you need any help or want to brainstorm techniques.


Sunday, August 11, 2013 11:42:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]