Positive retro: what happens if you look forwards, rather than back?

@ZoeFCunningham did a talk on an alternative approach to how to do Retrospectives in agile development at the last GeekGirl Meetup breakfast. Below is a write up from her covering what she talked about.  Very interesting talk! 


In Agile software development, a retrospective is a meeting held at the end of a regular period (e.g. every fortnight or month) where you look back on work done in the last work period and assess what went well, what went badly and what you want to change for the next work iteration. Retrospectives are a great tool, as they help the team to think about how things are going at a high level and to spot and fix common issues that can help them to work more productively.
However when teams are used to running lots of retrospectives they can slow down and become less useful. Sometimes the team treats them as a box ticking exercise and new insights are rare, or the meeting can get derailed by repetitive discussion of the same old problems that the team don’t know how to fix.
In my role as Managing Director at Softwire, I spend a lot of time thinking about our culture and how to make it totally awesome. One area that I am really interested in is positive psychology, for example in ways of feeding back to people. Did you know that you should give five pieces of positive feedback for every single piece of constructive feedback?
Having been impressed when I saw Paul Z. Jackson speak at TEDxRussellSquare I took a look at his book applying positive psychology to business, The Solutions Focus. This book highlights that when dealing with people it is more productive to discuss solutions, rather than problems. Often a problem can be solved by applying ideas that are working elsewhere in the business, or have been working at a different time.
The Solutions Focus contains a four step coaching format that works really well for retros.
1. Describe the Future Perfect. This is such an amazing way to start a retro. Rather than looking at what is broken now, ask the team to describe what the situation would be like if everything were working perfectly. The aim is to describe what it is like, rather than to work out how to get there. A great question to get people to start thinking in the right way is “Imagine that you woke up tomorrow and everything were magically changed overnight. How would you be able to tell the difference when you came into work?”
2. Scale where you are right now. Once you’ve agreed on the future perfect as a group, ask everyone to indicate where they think you currently are on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is that none of the future perfect happens and 10 is the future perfect. It is not important that everyone agrees, or that this is an accurate number.
3. Look at what makes you that high (e.g. a 4, rather than a 0). This next step is about finding out what parts of solutions are in place already. Does one team have a working build server? Is there some new code that is a joy to work with? Try to tease out here what people have actively done to make these things come about – these are steps that they can use again in the future.
4. Find the next small step. The final step in the coaching session is to take a small step towards the future positive. For example, if you are currently at a 4, what would you need to do to progress to a 5? In a group session I ask every individual to take a small action that they can implement themselves. This is important. If your retros are anything like mine, you will hear a lot of “we should”s and “someone should”s – these do not help us. What can each individual take away to do themselves? This choice does not have to be the “most efficient” or “best” action in anyway. Why not pick the easiest or most fun action? Or, best of all, why not use this session as a way to give yourself an excuse to make the changes that you really want to make but can never find time for?
If you are running a series of sessions, add another step in at the start of the next session to discuss what has improved. There is no need to link this to actions that people took (or to “check up” on people) but do try to find out what people did that caused the changes.
I love using this retro technique. I find it to be engaging and inclusive, since the first job is to describe when things are perfect, not to find a new way of undertaking a difficult challenge. By thinking about everything working, our minds are freed up from trying to find implementations and we uncover more options.

What do you think? If you like the idea, why not help me on my quest to help all software developers work in a positive manner! I’ve spoken about this technique at the GDS Agile Tea meetup and Girl Geek Meetup – do you know anyone else who would like it explained in person? I’ve run sessions for most of our teams at Softwire and for the tech team at Just Eat. If you’d like to have a chat about how to implement this in your company, or you’d like me to come and run one for you, let me know. 

(You can reach Zoe on Twitter.) 


Reporting back from the awesome GeekGirl Meetup in Stockholm

This weekend was the fifth GeekGirl Meetup unconference at the Technical Museum in Stockholm. A great success with nearly 230 geek girls gathering to discuss web, code, startups and, of course, this years theme: SPACE. With 37 speakers, a record high, the programme for the weekend was without a doubt going to be overwhelmingly interesting.

The Technical Museum is located only 10 minutes from the city centre but surrounded with green fields it makes you  feel like you're far out in the countryside. The museum is filled with gadgets and advanced technology. It's a collection of the many clever inventions that has made life easier for us humans. Strolling between talks and workshops you could learn more about robots, washing machines, computers, bicycles, the list could go on.

It's a challenge to summarise a weekend of this magnitude. Saturday morning as geek girls were arriving, grabbing a coffee and a sandwich, there was a buzz of excitement in the room. Some girls had been to GeekGirl Meetup's before and for some it was their first time. There is always a few that are a bit nervous they won't fit in because they're not 'techy' enough. This is however, something everyone eventually will get over as it is clear that everyone is there to learn from each other.

With the theme being Enter.Space and with a number of speakers coming from the The Institute for Space Physics in Kiruna, it was evident that some of the technology that we were going to learn about was going to be above most of us.


Intro Sthlm GGM13

GGM13 kicked off with the video below and an introduction by the awesome team of organisers who made it possible for all of us to be there.


The first presenter on the main stage was Gabriella Stenberg. She took us through the challenges of travelling to Jupiter. You can imagine that there are some real technical constraints that you need to overcome when travelling to outer space and the technology that are taken on the space craft is often "outdated" due to the thorough testing it has to go through before it's taken onboard. And then there are logistic issues, how do you transport something 700 million kilometers? That's how far it is to Jupiter. It was an captivating story about space travel that most of us only dream of.

The Saturday proceeded with a talk from Petronella Turesson. She presented the history of TV and how our behaviour is changing with new technology. For example, are you one of those people stating: "I never watch TV". Then you're most probably lying. The definition of 'watching TV' is changing. The change is coming from that we no longer think about what channels to watch, but instead, what tv show we want to watch. As Netflix launched in Sweden they had 600,000 users within 6 months. Magine.com, a Swedish startup are looking to compete against the increasing number of streaming services online offering a wide number of tv channels streaming into one platform. And this is definitely an opportunity worth investing in as we won't stop watching tv, we are just changing how we do it.

What is a GeekGirl Meetup without talk about women and IT? Although the unconference main focus is on highlighting strong role models within technology there are still room to discuss how we can promote more women taking leading positions within IT. The discussion was introduced by the the Swedish Digital Commission and a number of interesting inputs and ideas were presented from the geek girls in the room. One point raised was how work descriptions are communicated for technical roles. These descriptions are often written in a sterile manner and might not appeal to women.  The way language is used in the IT industry and, especially when communicating technical positions, is important to understand as it will determine if the job role will appeal to different personalities. Saying that you will work isolated in a lab 70% of the time will only attract certain kind of people whilst pointing out the collaborative aspects of a role might be more appealing.

Looking at education there were two important aspects to reflect over. A number of participants had attended women only web design programmes, something they saw as valuable for their learning process. Furthermore, Heidi Harman, founder of GGM, strongly emphasised the importance of teaching code in school at an early age. Just like kids studying french or german, code should be mandatory as it equips kids with a tool to be creative. And if you look at the statistics we must be doing something wrong when promoting IT related subjects in school. At KTH (a Stockholm university) there is only 8% females enrolled in computer science, in India they are 49% and in Bangladesh 70% are female. So what can we learn from them? Is education were we need to start?


The 10 am start on Sunday was tough on many as there had been an after party on the Saturday. But never the less all participants came back as excited as in day one.

Starting with a workshop on the Marshmallow Challenge we discussed the importance of how to succeed when building products. It is proven that most successful teams in this challenge prototype and test quickly. Very similar to the agile workflow in development.

The day proceeded with a talk was from @zayera about user experience (UX) design and how it is an area that has been getting increasingly more attention over the years, however the role of an UX designer is not entirely clear to everyone. Balancing and establishing trust between client and designer is essential so the designer can confidently question what the user think they want. An insightful discussion around the way we build new products and services today.

Karina Töndevold Liljeholm, followed on nicely and presented the opportunities companies had to co-create products and services with their customers. She presented companies that had been successful and some that had been less successful in co-creation. She concluded that it worked best for simple products, e.g. bottled water, at least in terms of positive marketing effect. And if companies decide to go down the path of involving their customers they need to 'Giveashitability' and respond and respect their participation - otherwise it can hurt them more at the end of it.

Ending this years GGM was Maria Gustafsson great talk about arranging the Spaceapp Hackathon a collaboration with over 70 countries.

As this post is coming to an end it has no where near touched on all the interesting things that were going on this weekend. If you're interested in having a peek at what was going on you can check out the talks from the main stage (most of them in Swedish though). I will certainly keep busy with the ones I missed.

Right now I'm getting really excited to start planning for the next big GGM event in London. Maybe another successful unconference like the one at Google Campus last year. Or a GeekGirl Hackathon? Stay tuned for more info!


PS. Geek girls - if you're interested in getting more involved in GeekGirl Meetup's in the UK - send an e-mail to geekgirlmeetupuk@gmail.com


FounderBus UK 2012 is the ultimate 21st century road trip

25 handpicked participants will form teams and take part in an exciting journey from London to Paris. In just four days from November 29th to December 2th each team will develop a business concept and create a prototype. The best teams will pitch their idea on December 3rd-5th at Le Web in Paris. Sign up here! Travel, learn and create At every stop during the FounderBus tour you will take part in workshops run by well-known industry experts and get to know them personally at dinner and drinks afterwards. The workshops will cover topics such as ideation, marketing, design and fundraising.

GeekGirlMeetup & The GivingLab do Hack Days - aim to find new ways of giving with API's.

TheGivingLab continues it’s autumn collaborations with GeekGirlMeetup for two Hack Days at General Assembly on the 13+14th of October. Aiming to come up with new ways of giving with charity API’s and one launched idea by 2013, the Hack Days bring together talent in coding, ideas and design. WHY THE GIVING LABS API’S FOR NEW WAYS OF GIVING? Sometimes charity things can get a bit earnest and serious. We want our hack days to be creative wildcards that get deployed into the real world.

Eventbrite - GeekGirlMeetup Hackathon with The Giving LabThose new things could be new fundraising tools, charity betting apps, games, Facebook apps that harness social connections for good causes, or brand new products that deliver charitable benefits. Bringing different tones, modern branding and inspiration. There are no gimmicks, large prizes or freebies for attending – it’s all about making stuff people want, and that stuff making a difference.

SPORT A BADGE We just created a badge for all the participants to wear proudly on their blog or web. This is the code to use:

<a href="http://www.geekgirlmeetup.co.uk/2012/09/geekgirlmeetup-the-givinglab-do-hack-days-aim-to-find-new-ways-of-giving-with-apis"><img src="http://www.heidiharman.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/BAdgee-The-Hack-days-GGM.png" alt="" title="GeekGirlmeetup Hack days with the GivingLab" width="202" /></a>

WHO WILL PARTICIPATE? Developers, backend, UI/UX designers, designers, idea-makers of all creative sorts. Cross-disciplinary teams will be formed on location. Sign up here

PROGRAMME Upon arrival, the 50 female participants will be able to hear previous participants experience and inspiration, ideate new ideas, create groups and start working. The hack days will be facilitated with planned mentorship meetups to keep everyone up to speed and ensure no team is left behind. Eventbrite is sponsoring the lunch - yum! Time: Saturday 10:00-22:00, Sunday 10:00-17. More Prize and adress details: here.

API's Here are the two sets of API's that we support during the event. http://www.seethedifference.org/api http://www.thegivinglab.org/platform 

Hackathons run on adrenaline, we know that, the thrill is high and everybody aims to launch that app by next weekend. Well - thats is if wet wednesday doesn’t happen first, when you need to catch up with everything that you missed during the weekend from you “real life” and by friday your up to new adventures... Sounds familiar? Well, we’ve thought about that and that’s why we have chosen to actively support and award the winning team to launch their app/site/idea with a proper bootcamp from heaven to help you launch a track-recordable project to be proud of for a life time.

We are awarding the winners a bootcamp from heaven with:

  1. Cash prizes, nothing big, but enough to cover a few days work to complete and release the winning project.
  2. Education (by General Assembly) to help complete projects and to help market winning ideas.
  3. Coaching mentors, prior and after the event.
  4. A one year free pressroom from MyNewsdesk. Communicate that app, let the right tools do the work for you!

MENTORS Courtney Boyd Myers, Director of Audience Development for General Assembly in Europe focused on fortifying the future of technology through education.

Amy Whitney is an interaction designer currently working on gov.uk where she is helping transform the way that Government Digital Services work. Before then she was working agency side designing Win 8, native and web applications for the likes of Vodafone and 02.

Robyn Exton is the founder of Dattch, a location based lesbian dating app. Before setting up Dattch, Robyn spent 5 years at global brand consultancy Calling Brands working on clients from large corporates such as Sainsburys and Holiday Inn to startups such as In-deed.

Sara Kelly is the Policy and Development Manager at Coadec. She works with hundreds of entrepreneurs to take the message of growth and vibrancy in the digital startup sector to Government. She campaigns on policy and regulatory issues that affect the tech sector in order to better inform parliamentarians on how to encourage tech startups to grow. Sara has previously worked for a PR consultancy where she led the company's digital communications, and for a current cabinet member.

Itxaso del Palacio Aguirre, PhD, teaches entrepreneurship at UCL; is the co-founder of Founders Fit; and is an investment analyst at EC1 Capital. She is passionate for mentoring and supporting entrepreneurs while setting up their own companies. She has worked with entrepreneurs in Spain, Silicon Valley and the UK.

RIGHTS TO APPS? The initiators and creators of the apps will be credited. All apps and code created will be licensed and released under a CC (creative commons) license for charitable use.

PRIZES We're really keen to make things happen in the real world. So I've managed to get some great prizes for teams that want to go beyond the weekend, use TheGivingLab.org api's and get stuff released ....

1. £ 200 in cash - to take your team out for a great dinner (Thanks to ThoughtWorks) 2. Educational classes from Genreal Assembly to help you refine your idea. 3. A newsroom from MyNewsdesk to promote your project and make it a success.

ABOUT TheGivingLab.org

The giving Lab hack days want to bring together groups of passionate people with a variety of skills in coding, business ideas, marketing and design to create radically new ways of giving, based on charity API's.

The Giving Lab is a initiative by the See The Difference (Registered Charity: 1127980), aiming to create new ways of giving to charities. We are supported by NESTA, Comic Relief, The Baring Foundation, Cabinet Office, Nominent Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, Pears Foundation and Serene.

 GeekGirlMeetup.co.uk  is a un-conference for women about web, code & startups, creating new female role models, networks and active knowledge exchange.


SPONSORS General Assembly is a global network of campuses for individuals seeking opportunity and education in technology, business, and design.




ThoughtWorks develop technology and sponsor the cash prizes for launched apps.

 MyNewsdesk - Your digital press-room online.

Eventbrite - is a website that allows event organizers to plan, set up ticket sales and promote events of any size and publicize them across Facebook, Twitter and other social-networking tools directly from the site's interface.