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Learning Matrix

Object of Play
Iteration retrospective activities are tricky; it is often difficult to think of practical improvements, and reflecting on negative aspects of the project can leave your team feeling upset and unmotivated. A great way to prevent these from occurring is to play a game that focuses on the positives while also pointing out aspects that need to be changed. As described in Diana Larsen and Esther Derby’s Agile Retrospectives, Learning Matrix does just this. In this game, teams collaborate to identify what they liked and disliked about a past project, as well as point out whom they appreciated and what they believe should be altered for the future. Whether analyzing the results of a conference, product, or meeting, Learning Matrix can help you uncover your top-priority items to enhance your iteration.

Number of Players
5 – 8

Duration of Play
1 hour

How to Play
1. Before your meeting, create a 2×2 matrix. Draw a picture in each quadrant to represent a different aspect involved in your retrospective analysis:

Quadrant 1: Frown face for aspects you disliked, should be changed
Quadrant 2: Smiley face for aspects you liked, should be repeated
Quadrant 3: Light bulb for new ideas to try
Quadrant 4: Bouquet: people you appreciated

2. Provide players with plenty of sticky notes and markers. Allow 5-10 minutes for participants to individually write down their ideas for the four topics on separate notes.

3. After all players are done writing their ideas, ask them to present their sticky notes to the group and post them on the designated sections of the chart.

4. Narrow down the notes to a few requiring immediate attention. Give each player 6 – 10 dot stickers, which they will use to dot vote for the ideas they believe are top-priority. Resolve ties by discussing which note is more pressing or having another dot vote. Count all the votes to determine which ideas should be focused on. Narrowing ideas down is important, as it allows the team to concentrate on priorities and increases the chance of effective improvements being made.

5. Move the notes around to reflect the order of priority. Collaborate to evaluate how these ideas can be used to enhance your next iteration and discuss where you can begin making improvements.

Online Learning Matrix

Clicking on the image to the right will take you to an “instant play” game at innovationgames.com. Here, the picture will be used as the “game board” and you will find four icons in the top left corner. As with the in-person game, the each icon represents a different topic:

Frown face – aspects you didn’t like
Happy face – aspects you liked
Light bulb – new ideas
Bouquet – people you appreciated

To add the icons, simply drag them to the board and describe what they represent. Everyone can edit the placement and description of each icon, which can be seen in real time. Collaborate through the chat facilitator to build from each other’s ideas and improve your past project.

Strategy
Encourage players to continue thinking of ideas for each quadrant, even after all the sticky notes have been posted or the quadrants have filled up. Write the additional comments around the topic images to maintain the positioning of the original notes.

A good facilitator is necessary for this game in order to keep everyone focused. If the project team leader does not feel comfortable in this position, it is best to hire a neutral facilitator. This must be someone who can gain the team’s trust and create an environment in which participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas.

Key Points
This exercise allows you to perform iteration retrospective analysis while maintaining a positive environment. By organizing your thoughts, you can lay out your plan for improvement and discover how to enhance your project for the future. Collaborate to identify what should be repeated, changed, or tried, and to congratulate team members for a job well-done.

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Circles and Soup

Object of Play
The goal of game, introduced by Diana Larsen, is to efficiently form high-quality plans through retrospective analysis by recognizing factors that are within the team’s control.  During retrospective activities, it is easy to hit a wall of unproductive blame. The moment the group reaches this barrier, “someone shoulds” and “if only you coulds” bounce around the room, knocking out any practical ideas for future advancement. Before determining what you can improve, you must first be clear on the dimensions you are able to regulate and what you need to adapt to. By identifying factors your team can control, influence, or cannot change, you can collectively discover how to respond to and overcome various situations.

Number of Players
5 – 8

Duration of play
1 hour

How to play
1. Before your meeting, collect sticky notes or 3×5 notecards. In a white space (a poster, whiteboard, etc.), draw three concentric circles, leaving enough room between each one to place the notes. Each circle represents a different element:

  • Inner circle: “Team Controls” – what your team can directly manage
  • Middle circle: “Team Influences” –persuasive actions that your team can take to move ahead
  • Outer circle: “The Soup” – elements that cannot be changed. This term — explained further by James Shore – refers to the environment we work in and have adapted to. Ideas from the other 2 circles can identify ways to respond to the barriers floating in our “soup.”

2. Hand out the sticky notes to your internal team members and describe the significance of each circle.

3. Allow time for each person to write their ideas on sticky notes. Once finished, ask them to post their notes into the respective circles.

4. As a group, collaborate to identify how each idea can be used to improve your project. Ask team members to expand on their ideas in order to further develop potential plans.

Strategy
In earlier stages of your retrospection, it is best to concentrate on “Team Controls.” This allows you to identify immediate actions that can be taken. As you see what works, you can alter potential plans and respond to any restraints.

A neutral facilitator is recommended to keep the activity from becoming too emotional. Evaluating negative aspects of your project is a sensitive but necessary exercise, and can leave people feeling upset or hopeless. Avoid any discussions about blaming people or wishing something would happen. This frame of mind places the control out of the team’s hands, both halting all forward motion and creating a negative environment. Keep the atmosphere fun and enjoyable so people will feel comfortable sharing their ideas.

Online Circles and Soup

You can instantly play the Circles and Soup online with as many members as you would like! Clicking on this image will start an “instant play” game at innovationgames.com.

As facilitator, email the game link to your staff to invite them to play. In the game, this picture is used as the “game board,” and you will find an icon of blue squares at the upper left corner. Each square represents an idea, which players describe and drag onto the respective circle.  As with the in-person version of the game, the game board is organized into three concentric circles, representing “Team Controls,” “Team Influences,” and “The Soup.”

Players can edit the placement and description of each square, which everyone can view in real time. Use the integrated chat facility and communicate with your players throughout the game to get a better understanding of each move.

Key Points
Negative self-evaluating activities often end up emotional and unproductive. Take advantage of this game’s visual organization and extensive collaboration to avoid the blame and hopelessness that cover up ideas for future improvement. By identifying factors your team can control, influence, or cannot change, you can collectively discover how to respond to and overcome various situations. Play Circles and Soup to determine what you can do to avoid barriers and gain insight on what actions will most effectively enhance your project.

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Actions for Retrospectives

Object of Play
Analyzing past events can get repetitive, leading to a lack of creative ideas and dulled critical thinking. Without an engaging strategy, you could get stuck in a pit of unproductive ideas, causing you to lose all sense of direction and become blind to areas needing improvement. To resist this useless slump, Actions for Retrospectives, based on Nick Oostvogel’s Actions Centered, allows teams to examine multiple aspects of an event or project in order to form original ideas on how it can be enhanced in the future. Break free from the barriers of boring retrospective analysis strategies to discover how you can make your next project, meeting, conference, etc., a success.

Number of Players
5 – 8

Duration of Play
1 hour

How to Play
1. Start by drawing a large 2×2 matrix with a square labeled “Actions” in the middle; this is designated for the changes that the team commits to making as a result of the retrospective. The four quadrants surrounding it represent different aspects of your event:

  • Puzzles: Questions for which you have no answer
  • Risks: Future pitfalls that can endanger the event
  • Appreciations: What you liked during the previous iteration
  • Wishes: Not improvements, but ideas of your ideal event

2. Provide the players with pens and sticky notes, preferably different colored notes for each quadrant. Have the participants write their ideas for “Appreciations,” “Puzzles,” “Risks,” and “Wishes” one category at a time, allowing 5 – 10 minutes for each section.  
3. Once players have written all their thoughts, ask them to post their notes on the chart. As a team, go through the ideas and cluster related ones together.
4. Discuss the novelty, feasibility, and impact of the ideas, and collaborate to analyze how they can be applied to the next event. Use this process to create practical, efficient “Actions” in the middle.

Strategy
There are many techniques you can use to amplify the benefits of this game. For instance, making players feel comfortable sharing their ideas is crucial to attaining high-quality results. One way to do so is to describe “Risks” as possible improvements, rather than negative aspects that could ruin the event. This will encourage participants to share their ideas about what should be done to ensure the success of the event without them feeling as though they are criticizing others. Also, to increase players’ concentration, you can wait to write and describe the titles of each section until just before it is time to think of ideas related to them. This will force players to focus on one category at a time. Don’t forget to create a playful environment so participants will let their thoughts flow and form higher quality ideas.

Actions for Retrospective has many applications in the business world. It can also be used for any product, service, or section of your company to identify how they can be improved. Take advantage of the game’s organized format and extensive collaboration to advance toward your potential.

Play Online
Clicking on this image will start an “instant play” game at innovationgames.com. Here, this image will be used as the “game board,” and there will be five different icons that players can drag onto the chart and describe to capture their ideas.

  • Puzzles = question marks
  • Risks = bombs
  • Appreciations = smiley faces
  • Wishes = stars

As with the in-person version, the chart is divided into five quadrants for the five categories of thoughts.

All moves can be seen in real time by each participant, so everyone can collaborate to edit the ideas. Also, you can use the integrated chat facility to encourage the players to expand on their ideas and come up with fresh insights.

Key Points
This unique strategy involves teamwork and spatial organization so your group can think differently about retrospectives and brainstorm changes for progress. Also, by writing thoughts down and working together, participants will be more comfortable providing ideas for how to improve the event rather than feeling as if they are criticizing past ideas. Play Actions for Retrospectives to reflect on the past in order to advance toward the future.