Wednesday, January 23, 2013

PMI-ACP® PREP: Agile Retrospectives


Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen

What's On the Exam

First, review my favorite ideas from the book, published previously. The following is what's important for the exam.

Know the phases of a retrospective, and what a retrospective facilitator does in each phase
  • Set the Stage (sets scope & timebox of meeting; helps people warm up to the space & get present)
  • Gather Data (collects multiple perspectives in a way that no one dominates)
  • Generate Insights (asks the team to interpret what they see)
  • Decide What to Do (asks the team if they'd like to propose any changes based on what they've just discussed; limit this to 3 changes or less until the next retro!)
Know this acronym and when it's used (SMART goals are proposed changes during Decide What to Do; the criteria for evaluating whether it's an attainable goal are below):
     SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely

May be on the Exam, in a General Sense

Facilitation Tips
     begin by asking everyone to speak
     notice who didn't chime in, and ask for their opinion
     "if we had that, what would we gain?"
     observe: "I'm hearing labels and 'you' language"
     observe: "I'm hearing side conversations"
     steer: "can you say that using 'I' language?"
     "What just happened?"
     at the board: write down the exact words of the speaker
     once it's written down, some people drop an issue; remind them to own it
     if the leader speaks, it "quashes group discussion"
     set up deliberately, simple instructions, ask for questions
     debrief every activity
     ask the team to monitor their own working agreements
     point to a working agreement posted on the wall rather than interrupt verbally
     your primary responsibility is to the needs of the team, not to individuals
     examine both facts and feelings

Retrospective Tips
     avoid the F word ("feelings")-- ask about high points & low points, excitement & dread
     do your homework before a retro -- check your assumptions, find out what to focus on
     plan for shuffle time (unusable time between activities as people move to another seat or stand up)
     change rooms for a fresh perspective
     change seating arrangements -- semicircle to open, small circles for working groups
     do pair interviews
     we want to break habitual thinking, so change the format
     take time to develop concrete plans for achieving any retrospective actions--plan together!
     pick only 1 or 2 experiments for the next iteration
     Change pattern: loss, chaos & disorientation, idea clicks, practice & integration

Not on the Exam

The following isn't likely to show up on the exam, but I've included it as a guide to remember what's in the book. Brief game descriptions follow this next block quote; refer to the book for more detail.

Set the Stage: (check in; focus-on, focus-off; ESVP [explorers, shoppers, vacationers, prisoners]; working agreements)
Gather Data (timeline; triple nickels; color code dots; mad sad glad; locate strengths; satisfaction histogram; team radar; like to like)
Generate Insights: (brainstorming-filtering; force field analysis; five whys; fish bone; patterns & shifts; prioritize with dots; report out with synthesis; identify themes; learning matrix)
Decide What to Do: (retrospective planning game; SMART goals; circle of questions; short subjects)
Close the Retrospective: (+/delta; appreciations; temperature reading; helped, hindered, hypothesis; return on time invested)
Focus On / Focus Off
     Inquiry… rather than Advocacy
     Dialogue… rather than Debate
     Conversation…. rather than Argument
     Understanding… rather than Defending

Triple Nickels
     (break out into groups of 3-5 people)
     5-min: Silently, on a sheet of paper, brainstorm on what to do.
     5-min: pass it on, build upon the ideas on your neighbor's sheet
     5-min: repeat up to 5 times

Color Code Dots
     do a Timeline, then use color to indicate how you felt about those events

Mad Sad Glad
     write on color coded index cards, add to wall

Identify Strengths
     pair up; interview the other party
     ask about the high point(s) of something big--the release, a person's career

Satisfaction Histogram
     on a scale of 1-5, dot how you feel our team is doing

Team Radar
     similar to a Blond ROTI
     scale of 0-10, name several axes

Like to Like
     everyone writes 3 cards each (9 total): keep doing; stop doing; start doing
     take turns; do apples to apples judging; give winner the cards

Force Field Analysis
     list enablers and detractors to this change
     draw arrows towards the center line, thickness indicates strength

     Problem, who, what, when, where, why

Patterns and Shifts
     (after a timeline or mad sad glad)
     ask: where do you see patterns?
     where did things shift?
     do you see connections between events?
     how do these patterns or shifts connect to our current problems?

Dot Voting
     quantity of dots should be about 1/3 or 1/2 total choices available
     (greatly influenced by the question):
     What is most important?
     What will have the greatest impact?
     What do you want to work on most?

Circle of Questions
     use it to decide what to do.
     clockwise talking stick; first person asks 1 question, next person answers
     after answering, become the questioner, on a follow-up question or new topic

Plus/Delta Variants

Temperature Reading
     Explain each of the following sections; pause for people to respond.
     Complaints with Recommendations
     New Information
     Hopes & Wishes

PMI-ACP Study Notes

If you're studying to become a Project Management Institute Agile Certified Professional (PMI-ACP®), or intend to take my 3-day public prep class in March, the next few blog entries are for you. Every single question on the ACP exam must be a direct quote from one of the following books:

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen
Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game – 2nd Edition by Alistair Cockburn
The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility by Michele Sliger, Stacia Broderick
Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins
Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products – 2nd Edition by Jim Highsmith
Becoming Agile... in an imperfect world by Greg Smith, Ahmed Sidky
Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn
The Art of Agile Development by James Shore
User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development by MikeCohn
Agile Project Management with Scrum by Ken Schwaber
Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility by Alan Shalloway, Guy Beaver, James R. Trott

Why would you study to become a PMI-ACP®?

It's a process and framework-agnostic program that touches everything agile, from people & interactions to processes and tools, such as Scrum, XP, Crystal, Lean thinking, and Kanban. Preparation for this exam will help you learn to apply modern product development thinking (as Highsmith puts it, innovation lies at the edge of chaos). It will also help you understand what parts of your job will change, and what will remain the same.

Preparing for the Exam

The PMI has set a high bar before you're permitted to take the 3-hour multiple choice test: 2,000 hours of project management experience, 1,500 (overlapping) hours of agile project experience, and 21 Category A PDUs of Agile Training, as well as other requirements. It's a significant investment as well--PMI fees, classes, and exam fees. Read on at the PMI site.

In my opinion, the greatest way to cram for the exam is by going to in study mode. They'll help you learn to think like the test authors, and to review tons of content. If you don't have the background to answer the questions, though, you'll need to do some more work. You can read the 11 books, take an online prep course, or a face-to-face course, or you can study an exam prep guide (I recommend Mike Griffith's guide).

If you're looking for more than a certification, though, I want to work with you. I'm running this prep course because I want to help agile practitioners (this is NOT an introductory course) get to the next level in their agile adoption. This 3-day course is designed to help you learn how to apply these concepts at work AND pass the test on day 4, if you're so inclined. About half of my clients have taken the test immediately afterwards; others waited a couple months. In any case, it looks to me like half the people that pass the exam study a couple hours a week for 3 months. I have had experienced practitioners come through my class with no prior preparation and pass immediately afterwards--but if Agile is new to you, or you've been solely in the Scrum world--it will take more time for you to study.

About the Study Notes

This series will highlight key concepts in each of the 11 books--concepts that are likely to show up on the ACP exam. If you've got a copy of the book handy, whenever possible I'll give page numbers so you can read the full context.... so stay tuned!
Here's what's published so far: