Agile Coaching, Meeting Facilitation

DIY Flipchart for less than 15€

Most of the or rather all Agile folks love to work with flipchart when presenting or workshoping. Some are so obsessed with the “flipchart-marker-visual-facilitation-universe” that you could think they have a Neuland tatoo.🙂 Or they want to have a flipchart even at their home. Like me!😉

In this post I will write about building your own flipchart: a very low-budget version for less than 15€, an advanced version for less than 45€ and, with a little more effort, an awesome version.
I created an Amazon wishing list with all material you could use:

1) DIY low-budget flipchart for less than 15€

Very easy, indeed: Buy a set of over the door clothes hanger, find a flat door in your home, hang the hanger and the flipchart paper. Ready to go. No tools needed.

door clothes hanger 
2) DIY advanced low-budget flipchart for less than 45€

Buy 2 pieces of plywood and stick them together. Drill 2 holes for the door clothes hanger. Find a door in your home, hang the hanger, then the plywood construction and finally the flipchart paper. Basic crafting tools needed here.

door clothes hanger for flipchart   DIY flipchart 

 3) DIY awesome low-budget flipchartDo the same as with 2). Additionally, saw a stripe off of the plywood, drill well-fitting holes for big and small markers and glue or attach the strip to the plywood. And your awesome flipchart for your home is ready!

marker holder 
If you have DIY flipcharts as well, please let me know and send me a photo!

Agile Coaching, Scrum

Checklist for Scrum Masters

You are a Scrum Master and you have the feeling, that your team “actually works fine” OR You are a Scrum Master and you would like to check what else there is to do to help your team to improve? OR You are a Scrum Master and you are looking for confirmation that you are doing the right thing?


Then  Michael James’s Scrum Master Checklist will help you.

The checklist offers questions that will challenge you:

  • Part 1 – How is my Product Owner doing?
  • Part 2 – How is my Team doing?
  • Part 3 – How are our Engineering Practices doing?
  • Part 4 – How is the Organisation doing?

Additionally: My colleague Urs Reupke and me were doing the translation for the ScrumMaster Checlist in German.

Please comment if you think that a question is missing.
Please comment if you could check all items on the checklist.

ScrumMaster Checklist »


Using Scrum on our Trip to Barcelona

My partner Mel and me went on a short trip to Barcelona. We created a backlog with things to do, used backlog refinement and 1-day sprints to manage ourselves in the 3,5 days there. The following post describes our experiences.

Backlog and Sprint Board at our hotel room
Backlog and Sprint Board at our hotel room

A backlog for the trip?
Similar to an Agile software development project you normally want to get the best possible ROI (Return of Invest) from your holiday. The holiday ROI, of course, is different for everyone and not neccessarily connected to a monetary value.
Similar to a lot of projects out trip had a fixed time (in our case 3,5 days).

Mel and me have never been to Barcelona before, so we populated our backlog with sightseeing tips and places to eat from a city guide book as well as asking family and friends who have been in Barcelona before. (Asking my Facebook friends resulted in at least 15 Backlog items…\o/) And that was already the first version of the backlog! A very rough list with items on Post-Its like “Stroll through Barri Gotic”, “Eat Churros” or “Familia Sagrada”, but good enough to start our trip.
I experienced a lot of Agile projects that started the same way: An appropriately detailed list of user stories with no guarantee of completeness or sufficiency. That’s why we want the backlog to be emergent. For Mel and me this provided the best flexible way to travel and also the chance for serendipity.

Setting up first backlog
Setting up first backlog

Some of the backlog items were described with more details, information or restraints (our “acceptance criterias”) like “Get tickets online to avoid queues.” or the adress of the restaurant; mostly as a result of talking with each othet or reading the city guide. We also used diffferent Post-It colors for different types (sight, eating place, transport, …).

The first prioritization of the backlog and Sprint Planning was done at the hotel bar after we arrived late night in Barcelona.
Our Scrum Flow in a way then was then every night: Review (“What did we do today?”, “What was your highlight?”), Retrospective (“What can we do different tomorrow to have an even more awesome trip?”), Planning (“What do we want to do tomorrow.”). Backlog Refinement took place almost all the time, either because we read new stuff or liked places we wanted to re-visit (definitely El Born, “Looks like a nice restaurant/bar.”) or recognized we will not have enough time to do it and therefore threw away the Post-It.

Stakeholder, Product Owner, Scrum Master, Dev-Team
In a way the Scrum roles were implicitly realized:
Mel acted more like the Product Owner because she read the city guide more seriously than I did. Therefore she had better arguments on he ROI. I was more the Scrum Master because I pointed out several times that we can’t do all of the sights or made clear the consequences.
The Dev-Team was the people and the city of Barcelona. At least in a way: They not only offered us a wide range of possibilities on how to maximize our ROI but also “delivered” awesome sights.🙂
Stakeholders or users were Mel and me ourselves, but also our family and friends (“Have you visited the place I told you to?”) or our employer (“Have fun and relax to be happy back at work.”).
[OK. The role comparison is a bit lame.]

Lessons learned
Mel an me had a great time in Barcelona. It was the first time that we organized the things we want to do with a backlog, but both of us really loved it. Every evening we were happy and sometimes astonished how many sights we visited (moving Post-Its in “Done”). We gained very clear insights that we can never see all sights within those 3,5 days and felt OK with that.
We also understood that we should do a little more planning next time to avoid standing in front of a closed museum (although it was mentioned in the city guide… :)).

Molt de gust y fins ara!

Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

How to Set Off a Brown Bag Session in Your Company – In 60 Minutes

First of all: What’s a Brown Bag Session? “A brown-bag seminar, session or lunch is generally a training or information session during a lunch break. The term “brown bag” refers to the packed lunch meals that are either brought along by the attendees or provided by the host.” (Wikipedia) At my current employer it is called Feed Your Brain and at my former employer it was called Pizza Driven Development.

At my current employer I successfully set off a “Brown Bag Session” with minimal effort (60 minutes), so I like to share this experience with everyone who is thinking about setting off a Brown Bag Session at her company but doesn’t know where or how to start.

This is what I did:

1) Find a sponsor – 10 minutes
“Do food” is always good and it is even better if you have a sponsor who is willing to pay for the pizza (or salad or sandwiches or…).
Adequate sponsors for your Brown Bag Session could be HR, CTO or CEO. Those people are interested that company folks get together and learn: Personal development and team building are the magic words. And both can be achieved very low priced with a Brown Bag Session. (The average costs for food for 30 people are about 180 €.)

2) Find a suitable day and room – 5 minutes
Check Outlook (or other tool) to see which convenient room is available over lunch in the next months. Block the room.

3) Find initial speakers – 10 minutes (2 minutes per speaker :))
This maybe the hardest part: Inspire some of your colleagues (you will know who to ask) about the idea of Brown Bag Sessions, offer yourself for the first sessions, ask external friends or ex-colleagues, … If you’re really having problems to fill the speaker slots for the first 3-4 sessions you could even show some TED talks or other conference videos (LKCE, SmashingConf etc.)

4) Inform everyone about the first session – 15 minutes
Depending on your company culture there will be different options how to do this: E-Mail, Intranet, Wiki, Flipchart… Even better a combination of those options.
You should provide at least the following information: What is a Brown Bag Session? Why are we starting this at our company? What is the first session about? Where will it happen (room)? What time? What will be future sessions be about/Who are your speakers? Who to contact if someone is interested to be a speaker in a future session?
Use an easy Google form (or other) to get information with a deadline: Who wants to attend? Who wants which pizza (veggie or non-veggie)?

5) Find a Pizza delivery service (or other) & talk to them – 10 minutes
Exactly. Find it and then talk to them. In my case I stopped by and explained that there would be an easy way for them to earn around 180 € on a weekly basis if they will deliver on time. They liked the idea…😉
Maybe you even have an in-house canteen or cafeteria? Maybe you have a good reason not to ask them…

6) Order Pizza (or other) – 10 minutes
With the Google Doc (see 4) you know who will attend and who wants which food. Order on time because there is nothing worse than hungry people in front of a speaker. In my case I order already in the late afternoon on the day before the Brown Bag session.

That’s it. Start like this and then inspect & adapt…

Advanced ideas:

  • Think about how to document your “Brown Bag Sessions”:
    We record every Brown Bag Session with a camera and then provide the video plus PDF-presentation in our Wiki. It’s cool to review and there may be people who missed a talk.
  • Ask people what topics they like to hear about:
    Either at the beginning of a session using Post-Its or again via a Google form.
  • Have a shared Brown Bag Session:
    Some people are afraid of or think that they do not have enough to speak about for 1 hour. It is fun to have three different speakers with three different topics in 1 hour. Alternative: Do it like a world cafe with three groups. In that case the initial speaker stays at his table and repeats his talk for three times.

Let me know what you are thinking about Brown Bag Sessions and comment if you’re having trouble to set one off.

Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
Meeting Facilitation, Training

Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts

What are Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts (IFMAs)? 
IFMAs are artefacts that help meetings to get instant feedback in meetings from participants.

Why would you use IFMAs?
All participants should feel responsible for a successful and meaningful meeting; it is not the sole responsibility of the meeting moderator or facilitator. Most reasons why meetings do not produce successful and meaningful results are either endless discussions, lost focus or dwindling concentration.
IFMAs can help to address those causes in an entertaining and easy way by participants themselves.

How to use IFMAs?
IFMAs are introduced at the beginning of the meeting or the workshops. Each IFMA has a name and a meaning. Whenever a participant feels the urge to use the IFMA she grabs it, holds it up high and shouts the name of the IFMA.

Example, please…
Here we go! I experimented with different IFMAs in the last years. Those are my favorites:

Instant I need a break clown Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I need a) Break-Clown

Instant Focus-Police Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I need more) Focus-Police

Instant I'm lost - Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I am) Lost-Professor (please rewind that conversation)

It is important to introduce the IFMAs at the beginning of the meeting. It will raise the willingness of the participants to ask for breaks, focus and orientation and thus help your meeting or workshop to be more successful. You will most probably earn some smiles as well, when holding up those Playmobil® figures when explaining their meaning.

Of course, you don’t have to use Playmobil® (although those are fun). LEGO® might be a bit small here, but a buzzer (on a mobile phone application) or a hotel bell or simply some colored cards will work as well.

Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts

Conference et al.

#p4a14 – Play 4 Agile – My Highlights

For the third time in a row I had the pleasure to participate at Play 4 Agile (Un-)Conference at Rückersbach. Three years ago Play 4 Agile 2012 was my first experience with Open Space technology and even my first encounter with the Agile “Play” Community. (Thanks to Sebs for introducing me back then!)  In review this year’s Play 4 Agile was intense and  enlightening as ever.

My personal highlights from #p4a14 (un-ordered):

Gamification Pre-Event
I felt honoured to be asked to help facilitate the “Gamification” Pre-Event together with Katrin and Thorsten. None of us are Gamification experts, but we were holding three sessions about “Gamification and Agile” at Play 4 Agile 2013 together with Birgit. In the last year Katrin attended the Gamification Class at Coursera, whereas I read some books and articles about gamification and made some real-live experiences with a team at CHIP.🙂

pre-event Gamification p4a14The Pre-Event was mainly based on Kevin Werbach’s Gamification Design Process. Some results after only 3,5h were amazing and could actually work for real. My 2 favorites were Carpe Diem (Objective: “Experience more life to prolong your life.”) and a prototype on how to make house-cleaning more fun (Objective: “We want a clean and organized house.”). But I think all groups turned out with a valuable result.

“Show Me Your Data”
My session “Show Me Your Data” was about understanding and loving Kanban Metrics. (See my blog post here.) As I played it on several occasions last year (Limited WIP Munich and my new employer) and got lots of feedback on how to improve the game, I tried to bring “Show Me Your Data” to the next level. And I failed!🙂
After 5 minutes I knew that the changes I introduced were not going to work. So the participants (and me) struggled hard and I stopped the actual game. But then started a (for me) fruitful discussion on how the game could work or could have worked.
Thanks for every participant for their input.
I personally was surprised that I got along with the failure pretty well and saw more the new opportunities that the failure created. (“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”)

Buy me a Feature
It was great to find my new colleague Tom among the #p4a14 participants. At our company we are struggling with prioritization on what to do next (or rather first, as the backlog is overfilled…). To have a common understanding in the company on how hard it is to decide and to reach at least some kind of agreement among managers, Tom introduced “Buy me a feature” to prioritize what should be done next about 9 months ago. We thought it was a good idea to get feedback on this approach. So Tom held a session on how and why we are using “Buy me a Feature” and how the process evolved over time. The participants were curious and gave some very valuable feedback and suggestions on how to improve. Loved it.

buy-me-a-feature p4a14

Creative Suitcase
creative-suitcase p4a14This was probably the best session I attended at #p4a14. Katrin helped us packing our “Creative Suitcase” and selecting reminders on how to stay creative. I have my suitcase with me most of the time and opened it already some times in the last week…

LEGO Serious Play “Time Capsule”
I was happy to co-facilitate a LEGO Serious Play Session together with Katrin, Melanie and Sabine. The goal was to create a Time Capsule on “How I have changed my World in 6 Months”. The participants will get a photo of their model in 6 months time. I was messing around with my GoPro during that session and you can get an impression here:

This year I felt that there were quite a number of spiritual and coaching sessions proposed, and less “play” sessions. I’d loved to have more focus again on “play” next year, but I know it always depends on the people and their interest and energy.

Play 4 Agile is always about people and talking and discussing and laughing. With my life partner Mel (who was attending this year for the first time) we set as a goal for #p4a14 to have as many laughing fits as possible and we think, we did quite well!😉

Play 4 Agile 2015 will take place on February 20-23, 2015. Can’t wait.

Good Question!

Helpful Questions For Deciding On The New Job

In November I switched jobs. This post features a list of questions I asked myself and the possible new employers before I decided on the new job.

Switching jobs can have different reasons. I was lucky as I decided for myself to switch, so I could take my time to find a new employer and tried not to rush myself. I felt privileged because I didn’t have any difficulties to be invited to job interviews.

Nevertheless, job interviews mirror only a small extract of the working reality: Normally both sides try to represent themselves as glory and shiny as possible. Consequently, it will always be a bet when deciding on a new employer (or a new employee). The whole truth mostly reveals only 6 to 9 months after starting on a new job.

There is nothing much you can do about that.
Accept it, try to ask the right questions and carefully listen to the answers in the job interviews.

The following questions I either asked myself or the possible new employers during the job interviews. Finding the answers helped me with my final decision.

  • How was I treated as a job candidate? (How long was the reaction time on my application?
  • How was I treated before the first, second and last job interview?)
  • How is the company evaluation on What’s the general image of the company?
  • How big is the new challenge?
  • Could the company clearly define the expected job duties?
  • How much Change Agent vs. Project Manager vs. Agile Coach is asked for?
  • Is the company’s vision and mission clear and was it mentioned in the job interview? (Do I like it?)
  • Do I like the company’s product(s)? Do I understand them?
  • How much budget is there for future training?
  • How much fun can I expect?
  • What impression did I get from my future colleagues?
  • Can I get more inside information from ex-staff members? Maybe even the person who formerly executed the job?
  • How authentic was the impression of the company during the job interview?
  • How many leave days?
  • Is there a company pension plan or something comparable?
  • What’s my impression of the company’s building? About the working space? (Also a view of the restrooms can tell a lot…)
  • How much money will I earn?
  • What’s my perspective in this job in 1 or 2 years?
  • What’s the decision when I listening to my heart?

There is one outstanding question I would advise everyone to ask and then do:
Can I work for 1 or 2 days at your company?
The reaction on this question itself should already tell you a lot about the company…

I spent a day at two potential new employers and it helped me a lot with my decision: When spending a day or two with your potential new employer you will notice a lot of things you will never see during a job interviews. The observations help you to find better answers to the questions above…

During the time of the job interviews I also read “Decisive” from the Heath Brothers. They introduce the WRAP process to make better decisions: Widen Your Options, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, Prepare To Be Wrong.
Definitely a good reading when you are switching jobs…🙂

Please let me know if you found this post helpful. If you have any remarks or more questions that could help, feel free to leave a comment below.