Meeting Facilitation for Agile Teams

Posted on August 28th, 2007 in Agile, Management, Meeting, organisation by siddharta || 7 Comments

One of the more important aspects of general management is facilitating meetings. It’s rather surprising how boring most meetings are. Given the frequency of occurrence you would have thought that people would have gotten pretty good at it. But no, most meetings are dull, boring and go on for far too long.

The ability to have good meetings becomes even more important when doing agile software development, because there is a lot more emphasis on social interaction when compared to traditional processes. Indeed, one of the core skills of being a good Scrum Master, Coach or Project Manager in an agile setting is to be a good facilitator. Almost all agile processes have a meeting to plan the iteration (eg. Sprint Planning meeting in Scrum), a daily standup meeting and a closing iteration retrospective or reflection meeting. Key to the success of agile is the ability to keep these meetings short, interesting and productive and thats where the facilitation skill of the Scrum Master or Project Manager comes into the picture.

As a result, I’m always on the lookout for good, interesting articles and books on meeting facilitation. Here are some ideas, click the link name to go to the original article.

Meeting Facilitation

Meeting Facilitation: This is a nice link on meeting facilitation. Apart from the usual advice like keep an agenda, create action plans and manage the time, this link also has a few interesting snippets.

Pick a large, open spot where everyone can sit down in a big inclusive circle, leaving room for the inevitable straggler or two.

This is a good one. The arrangement of the seats has a big bearing on the type of discussion. A typical conference room arrangement is rectangular or oblong, and the project manager tends to occupy the head of the table. This arrangement will lead to a status report type discussion, where others ‘report’ to the head. On the other hand, a circle tends to lead to a more open discussion.

With the raised hand & speakers list system, it is a challenge to maintain order and efficiency without stifling the flow of discussions. An excellent tool to address this is The Levi Hand Signal Technique (LHST). The LHST allows meeting participants to register their intent to make two distinct kinds of comments: those that are directly in response to someone else’s comment (‘reactive comments’) and those that are separate thoughts (‘unique comments’). Intent to register a reactive comment is signalled by a different hand signal than is intent to register a unique comment. We used an index finger for the former and a full hand for the latter.

An interesting technique for maintaining the flow. In a meeting, it is very easy to go off topic as one point leads to another. Before you know it, you are far away from what you started with. At the same time, you don’t want to inhibit the discussion by repeatedly cutting off people.

Read the full article: Meeting Facilitation

Agile Retrospectives

Agile Retrospectives: This is a book actually. It’s about conducting the end of iteration retrospective meeting (also called reflection meeting). Retrospectives are used to assess the iteration that just ended and how the team can learn from it. Unlike typical meetings that have a fixed agenda, retrospectives are more exploratory and free form. Therefore you need more right-brain activities to bring out the data and analyse it. However, exploratory does not mean unstructured. The book presents a retrospective framework as follows:

  1. Set the stage
  2. Gather data
  3. Generate insights
  4. Decide what to do
  5. Close the retrospective

The book then goes on to describe a number of activities for each stage of the framework.

Read about the book at Amazon: Agile Retrospectives

Innovation Games

Innovation Games: Yet another excellent blog post by Mike Griffiths. I’ve linked to Mike’s blog before and he has a lot of good stuff on it, so head over and read the rest of his blog as well. Okay, coming back to the topic, this particular blog post deals with innovation games during iteration and release planning. Agile retrospectives laid a framework for the end of the iteration. This one has activities for the start of the iteration. The blog post presents three activities from the book Innovation Games by Luke Hohmann. The three activities are

  1. Remember the Future
  2. Shape the Product Tree
  3. Sailboat

Using these three activities, Mike shows how you can gain a deeper understanding of the project and how to break down features for releases such that they are logical and coherent.

Read the full article: Innovation Games

Patterns of daily stand up meetings

Patterns of daily stand up meetings: We’ve talked about general meetings, iteration retrospectives and iteration and release planning. That leaves the stand-up meeting. The team will be having this meeting every day of the iteration, so it is important to make sure that it is really short and useful. The last thing you want is for everyone to get irritated with a long, boring meeting every single day right? That’s why this article by Jason Yip is so useful. The article mentions several patterns and anti-patterns of the daily stand-up. If you think there is scope for improvement in your stand-up, take a look at this article and see how you can improve it.

Read the full article: Patterns of daily stand up meetings

Summary

Thats four ways to improve your meetings. One for general meetings and one each for the iteration plan meeting, the daily stand up and the retrospective meeting. Apart from these, there is a lot of literature on structured approaches to meetings, decision making, meeting facilitation, creative planning and problem solving. While these are aimed towards general management, they are often just as useful for agile teams as well. So if you see something that you think might be useful, don’t be scared to try it out a few times and then see how it works out.


Got any links to share on meeting facilitation? Post them in the comments below.

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7 Responses to “Meeting Facilitation for Agile Teams”

  1. Marlon Grech Says:

    Very good article and very good links… good stuff keep it up!!!!

  2. siddharta Says:

    Hi Marlon, Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. kellyd Says:

    very helpful. thank you!

  4. Steven Borg Says:

    Thanks very much for this post! The links are a great resource, and you’ve summarized them well!

  5. Dale Perryman Says:

    Interesting information. I enjoy learning and blogging about meeting effectiveness at MyMeetingPro. We have created a suite of iPad and iPhone apps that help run better meetings. Many need help in this area.

  6. Revino Says:

    Hi Siddharta.

    Thanks for this nice article. We figured out that standup meetings are great but needed improvement (they took a lot of time, de-focussed our colleagues and interrupted their workflows). Because of this we developed a SaaS tool to ʺautomateʺ the daily standupmeetings – with just a single email.

    If you like to take a look: http://www.30secondsmail.com.

    Best, Revino

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