High Performance Tree

by Luis Goncalves

Luis Goncalves shares this exercise in his book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives  a book written by him and Ben Linders with the foreword from Esther Derby. The book can be downloaded by free in LeanPub.com or InfoQ.com, please download it and spread it within your network.

Originally, “High Performance Tree” was created by Lyssa Adkins. She explains this exercise in more details in her book “Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches and Project Managers in Transition”.

What you can expect to get out of this technique

“Metaphors are a core skill that are taught in professional coaching courses”, Lyssa Adkins refers in her book. The High Performance Tree is a exactly a metaphor to help teams create a vision and a path that leads to high performance. With this exercise teams may find next steps to achieve high performance.

When you would use this technique

This exercise can be used by any team in several different ways. The maturity of a team will affect the way this exercise is performed in a team. First you should define a maturity team level and then adapt the exercise. Teams need to have strong roots to be highly productive. When the roots are solid and strong, the tree can grow and flourish.

This exercise can be used in three set-ups:

  • Team startup
  • A team that faces a lot of problems
  • Good team that looks for next steps to become a high performing team

How to do it

A coach draws  a tree of 5 Scrum values as roots. This is a good opportunity for the coach to teach or refresh the meaning of Scrum values.

Commitment is the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. A commitment should never be broken and if it is broken, it was not a commitment but an empty promise and a lie. In the Scrum world, this means that everyone involved in developing a product is committed to working towards a common objective.

Courage is the ability to confront a fear, pain, a danger, an uncertainty, or intimidation. In software development, all these feelings will be always present and it is up to team members to try to resolve anything that prevents them from being successful.

Openness is the ability to be open to new ideas, new approaches and new ways of working. This is a principal state in Agile software development, because every day teams encounter different problems that need to be approached differently; being open is mandatory for achieving success.

Focus is the process of concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. In software development, this means that teams should completely concentrate on one topic at a time, they should not start a new topic before finishing a previous one.

Respect is a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. In Scrum all team members interact closely; respect is mandatory for such relationship to work.


After going through the Scrum values you can list characteristics of high performing teams. For example: Empowered, Consensus-Driven, Constructive Disagreement, Self-organised, etc.

By having this combination team can do anything, they can get great results, right business value, deliver value faster, etc. See an example on the right side.

This is a great tool to use in retrospectives. This tool helps new teams to be aware of the they need to achieve a high performance. Established teams can always come back to the picture and analyse what is missing on their journey to high performing teams.

Picture credits to: Luis Goncalves & Josua Davis

In case you are interested in Agile Retrospectives we´re at the moment preparing a 10 Days FREE AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM. This is a complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator.

If you are interested in sharing your Agile Retrospective exercise with us please contact us: info@oikosofy.com.


Sailboat is a tool for agile retrospective exercise. This exercise allows a team to think about their own objectives, impediments, risks, and good practices, in a simple piece of paper. This technique acknowledge both positive and negative things performed by a team. The Sailboat exercise is suitable for any team regardless the level of maturity.

What can you expect to get out of this exercise?

This technique is quite appreciated by teams because of its simplicity. It helps teams to define a vision of where they want to go as well as identify risks during their path. The exercise is useful for identifying what slows down in teams and what actually helps teams to achieve their objectives.

When would you use this technique?
This technique is rather simple and does not require a team to have any special occasion. Although, it can be interesting for situations when a retrospective is carried out with more than one team. For example, two teams that work together decide to conduct a common retrospective together because of their level of dependency on each other and because they have some ongoing issues. In this case, using the Sailboat exercise can be very interesting, because two teams are on the sailboat leading the same direction.

How to do it?

First draw a Sailboat, rocks, clouds and couple of islands, just like on the picture below.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 6.53.18 PM

The islands represent teams´goals and/or vision. They work everyday to achieve these islands (goals). The rocks represent the risks they might encounter towards their goals. The anchor on the Sailboat is everything that slows them down on that journey. Lastly, the clouds and the wind represent everything that helps them to reach their goals/vision.

When you draw this picture, stick it on the wall. Write a team goals or a vision on it. Afterwards, let the team start brainstorming and ask them to write their ideas. Give them ten minutes. Later, give five minutes to each person to read out loud their ideas.

Now, discuss together with the team how can they practice what is written on the “clouds” area. These should be good ideas to help the team. Then discuss the ways for a team to mitigate risks that were described. At the end, together with the team choose the most important issue that slows the team down. If you do not find any agreement, use vote dots. At the end you can define what steps should they follow to fix the problem. This way you can close the retrospective.

If you perform this exercise in a collocated team you can use tools like Lino. This tool allows a team to do everything what they need in order to run this exercise.

This exercise is taken from the book “Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives”. written by Luis Goncalves and Ben Linders. The book can be downloaded for free on leanpub.com or InfoQ.com.

Picture credits to: Luis Goncalves & David Hamilton

In case you are interested in Agile Retrospectives we´re at the moment preparing a 10 Days FREE AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM. This is a complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator.

If you are interested in sharing your Agile Retrospective exercise with us please contact us: info@oikosofy.com.

The 1 Thing You Must Do To Be Better At Scrum

by David Horowitz

Scrum is not a quick fix. It won’t make your software better overnight. It won’t increase trust between your team and its stakeholders in a flash. And, especially at first, it will seem like it causes additional overhead, not less.

But there’s a secret to making Scrum work for you, and it’s not hiring an agile coach or getting a certification.

Bruce_Lee_as_Kato_1967Let’s Start With Bruce Lee

You’ve probably heard of Bruce Lee, American-born and Hong Kong-raised martial artist and actor. In addition to founding the “neo-classical” Jeet Kune Do fighting style, he’s famous for his martial-arts related movies, such as Enter The Dragon, Fist of Fury, and The Big Boss.

Beyond Hollywood and his martial arts career, Lee was also a philosopher, and to a certain extent his sage advice is the most powerful part of his legacy. Here’s one thing Lee said: I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”


Let’s Continue With Jeff Hoffman

Jeff Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur, motivational speaker, film producer, and jazz artist. He’s has been involved in many highly successful companies, including Priceline.com and UBid.com. In a post on Inc.com, Mr. Hoffman tells the story of a pair of startup founders who were pitching him on a new business idea. Mr. Hoffman describes the founders as bright, motivated, and passionate — all necessary character traits in the startup world.

In their pitch, the founders started with a brilliant idea that excited Mr. Hoffman and made him interested in hearing more. But by the end of their pitch, the founders had also tried to sell Mr. Hoffman on second and third ideas. Big mistake.

According to Mr. Hoffman, What do you think happens when you try to launch three ideas at once? Nothing.”

What Do They Have in Common?

Bruce Lee and Jeff Hoffman may be in different fields. They might have different talents. But they also have something important in common. They both are big believers in an important truth: to be good at anything, and I mean really good, you have to focus on a single thing at a time.

18Coming Back to Scrum

Which leads us to Scrum. Scrum is not a “set it and forget it” project management framework and, I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t have all answers to all of your team’s problems. (In fact, it’s not really a project management framework at all! It’s much more of a state of mind, though that’s a story for another day.) Scrum is, however, a great starting place for your team. But after you’ve internalized its principles and realized its shortcomings, what then?

Fortunately for you, Scrum provides a method for inspecting, adapting, and improving your team’s processes: the retrospective. Retrospectives are a chance for your team to go over what’s going well, what’s going not well, and what it can do to improve.

But you’ve probably been running retrospectives already, hopefully with some amount of success. Is there a way we can apply the principle of “being good at one thing” to retrospectives?

Action Plans and Follow Through

46Let’s focus on the outcome of a retrospective — the action plan. Action plans are a list of things the team has agreed to try to change, fix, and improve upon. Action plans consist of one or more action items, each of which should be written in an actionable format. Some teams choose to follow the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-related). Others follow the Who, What, When paradigm (who will be responsible, what will be done, when will it be done by). Both work well.


As a former Scrum Master, I’ve come across many teams that have a tendency to create lengthy action plans consisting of 5, or even 10, action items. These teams finish their retrospectives excited and energized, only to discover at their next retrospective that nothing’s really changed. Why is that consistently the case?

Here it is: The 1 Thing You Must Do To Be Better at Scrum

Let’s go back to Bruce Lee and Jeff Hoffman, both of whom tell us that to become really good at something we have to focus on it alone, at the exclusion of everything else. Applied to Scrum and retrospectives, their advice means that the action plans we create should have a single action item. That’s it. Just a single thing that the team has agreed upon, prioritized, and committed to fixing.

Focusing on a single action item means that there will be a much higher probability that the team will follow through on implementing it. Let’s face it: change is hard. The default state of the world is to remain constant, and most people have a natural inclination to stay with what’s comfortable. How likely is it, really, that your team will be able to change 10 things at once? Slim to none. How likely is it that your team will be able to change a single thing within a specific time period? Much, much higher.

And therein lies the secret to being better at Scrum. It’s not running retrospectives; your team already does that. It’s not producing action plans; your team already does that too. It’s having a laser sharp focus on a single action item that will have a measurable impact on the team’s performance.

If you follow this advice, you will soon discover the true power of Scrum and agility. It’s not that Scrum has all the answers — it doesn’t. It’s that it provides the conceptual framework for continuous improvement, which enables your team to get better and better over time.

All you have to do is focus on the one thing.

About David

David Horowitz is the CEO and Co-Founder of Retrium. Retrium makes retrospectives easy and effective for distributed scrum teams. It provides simple interfaces to some of the most common retrospective techniques, including 4Ls, Mad Sad Glad, and Start Stop Continue. If you have any questions related to this blog post, you can contact David on Twitter @ds_horowitz

Picture credits go to: Wikipedia.org and Startupstockphotos

In case you are interested in Agile Retrospectives I am at the moment preparing a 10 DAYS FREE AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM. This is a complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator.

If you are interested in sharing your Agile Retrospective exercise with us on the format of Guest Blogging please contact us: info@oikosofy.com.

Speed Dating – Agile Retrospective Style

by Jessica Long

Around the time that the Agile Manifesto materialized, another fast paced and sleeker model of partnering and collaboration was popularizing – speed dating! It only seemed fitting that the two could somehow co-exist, even if just in a playful and platonic manner. This is a fun twist for teammates that have established a good connection but might need a break from the more traditional retrospective ceremony.

What you can expect to get out of this exercise

While you may encounter a lot of baffled looks upon introducing this exercise, you can rest assured that the end result will liven the room and afford heightened relationships. The activity is unique in the sense that teammates will have an opportunity to discuss their thoughts one on one.

How to do it

Setting up the venue – 5 minutes

Before the group enters the space, place sets of chairs facing one another throughout the room. Explain the rules to your team and have them divide into two groups. Group A will remain stationary. Group B will rotate clockwise upon hearing the buzzer or bell. Each individual within both groups should be given a card that contains their name.

Speed Dating  – 5 minutes per pair

Assuming you have 10 teammates, there will be 5 rotations in total. Each encounter should be time boxed to 5 minutes. This gives each teammate the chance to voice their thoughts around the iteration and have open dialogue around opinions they may share or even differences of opinion. As the host, it is your responsibility to sound a buzzer at each 5 minute interval so that Group B can rotate to the next pairing and begin their discussion promptly.

 Speed Dating Retrospective – 5 minutes

By now, the rotation has completed and each member of Group A has had a conversation with each member of Group B. Instruct each teammate to write the name of someone in the opposite group whom they felt either the most in sync with in regards to their iteration thoughts, or someone that shared something of great value. Once you collect the cards, you will take a few moments to hopefully find a few that match.

Speed Dating Results – 15 minutes

Invite the matches up to the front of the room and congratulate them for recognizing and appreciating one another’s opinions. Have each one of them take a moment to explain something that stuck out around their conversation.

Speed Dating “Duds” / Wrap up – 15 minutes

While not everyone may have established a “match”, we know there was still a lot of great dialogue. This is an opportunity for people to talk about meaningful conversation points that they shared during the last hour. Encourage your teammates to share points that were discussed by others vs. those that they initiated themselves.

About Jessica

Jessica Long has driven multiple Agile Transformations within several large financial institutions. Her love of coaching has enabled her to be a servant leader to many teams and provide individual direction to each of the specific roles that make up a successful Agile alliance. While she values each ceremony that goes along with an iteration, she embraces the sprint retrospective most of all.

If you have questions related to this article, please feel free to contact Jessica on Twitter @ScrumAndGinger

Picture credits go to: Stuarts


In case you are interested in Agile Retrospectives I am at the moment preparing a 10 Days FREE AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM. This is a complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator.

If you are interested in sharing your Agile Retrospective exercise with us on the format of Guest Blogging please contact us: info@oikosofy.com.