What should we celebrate? Previous management practices had no tolerance for failure and concentrated only on celebrating successes. Lately though, the pendulum has been swinging in the opposite direction, wanting people to understand that it’s OK to fail and to celebrate their failures. People will say “Fail Fast”. We really need to understand the full intent here though because it’s not that we want to concentrate on failure, but more on learning. A better and more accurate phrase would be “Fail Fast to Learn”. After all, failing without learning really provides no benefit.
If we do the same thing over and over again and continue to fail this is not beneficial and we have certainly not learned anything. Albert Einstein dubbed this “the definition of insanity”. We can be successful by following a standard practice, but again we have not learned anything since the successful outcome was expected. So these are examples of when we have failed and succeeded, but have not learned. We can sometimes, however, learn from failure, such as the way post-it note adhesive was produced while trying to produce a super strong adhesive (see the story here). We can also learn when a standard practice which has led to much success in the past then suddenly fails us and becomes obsolete. These types of learning occur, but are certainly less likely.
The most likely way to learn is to experiment. When conducting an experiment we learn if it fails and we learn if it succeeds. No matter what the outcome, conducting experiments increases our knowledge. Hence it would behoove us and our organizations to place more emphasis on experimentation and to celebrate learning.
A good way to gauge the level of experimentation and learning within your team or organization is to use Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0 “Celebration Grid”.
The first way I utilize the “Celebration Grid” is for retrospectives. This gives my teams a break from the ordinary “What went well?” and “What needs improvement?” retrospectives and changes their mindset from concentrating on failure and success to one of learning. Sometimes during retrospectives you can have participation challenges. Conveniently, there are 6 areas on the Celebration Grid, so when I run into a participation challenge I number the areas of the grid and have each person roll a die. They are then to identify an item for the corresponding numbered area of the grid that they rolled on the die. This leads to more engagement because then conversations even start such as “oh wow, I rolled a 4 – I can’t think of one for that – I think I’ll do area 2 though”. I have also implemented this with distributed teams using Google draw.io or spreadsheet along with an online random die roller. Have fun with it! After all, it is a Celebration Grid!
You don’t necessarily have to use the Celebration Grid during a retrospective. I have also created a giant poster of the grid in the team areas and let them add stickies to it. We can make observations and have discussions surrounding what is posted. Are we conducting enough experiments? Do we feel we are learning? Are we being innovative? You can have ad hoc discussions or carve out some time to discuss the grid. More mature teams will refer to the grid and discuss impulsively. If you wish, you can have team members initial their stickies to facilitate conversation.
I also use the Celebration Grid to bring awareness to continuous learning and the growth mindset. I use it at the organizations I work with, at meetups and lightning talks. I feel it is a good illustration which can assist agile coaches in explaining the different opportunities for learning and how important it is to experiment. I show and explain the different areas of the grid and provide stories of what I’ve experienced in other organizations. This helps bring experimentation and innovation to the forefront for people and organizations that just say they have no time for experimentation.
Remember, it’s all about continuous learning! Progress is dependent on learning. Develop a learning mindset and follow the path to knowledge!