Celebration Grid!

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”.  

Celebration Grid - Updated

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 or spreadsheet along with an online random die roller.  Have fun with it!  After all, it is a Celebration Grid!

Celebration Grid Retro

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.

No thanks we are too busy

Remember, it’s all about continuous learning!  Progress is dependent on learning. Develop a learning mindset and follow the path to knowledge!

Agile Open Florida


Have you ever been to a conference where you don’t know the specific topics of discussion until the morning of the conference?  That’s what Agile Open Florida and other OpenSpace Conferences are all about.  OpenSpace conferences rely on the attendees through self-organization and spontaneity to create the agenda as part of the conference’s opening ceremony.  An overall arching topic is designated for the conference.  Meeting rooms are allocated and time slots are defined.  At the beginning of the conference, any attendee can write their discussion topic on a piece of paper, get in line, announce it on the microphone to the group and then tape their paper on the big board in an available time slot and room of their choice.  You may be an expert on the topic looking to educate others or someone who knows little about the topic and is seeking to draw others opinions to the discussion.

There are four rules and one law of OpenSpace:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time.
  4. When it’s over – it’s over.

Law of Two Feet:  Use your two feet to take you where you can contribute, share and enjoy and feel free at any time to leave and join a different discussion.  It’s OK to move around.  It liberates you and keeps the energy level high.

Agile Open Florida has been utilizing this format in the past and this year was no different.  The conference was energetic.  Attendees were meeting new people, catching up with old colleagues and exchanging ideas both in and outside of the sessions.  You learn so much from hearing others situations, ideas and remedies and just being part of the community outside of your own workplace.

Agile Open Florida was one of many events in the community that allows you to draw from different people’s experiences and expertise. There are also Meetups, Guilds, Slack channels, etc. that are open to all with little to no fees.  So if you’re not involved in your community, think about doing so.  Find out what’s available in your area.  You’ll find you have a wealth of knowledgeable people out there willing to share their experiences.

Consider Innovation During Capacity Planning

Innovation Turtle

What I’ve learned is that “Innovation happens when and where it happens”.  You can’t schedule innovation and you can’t create innovation by committee.  Think about it … when do innovative solutions pop into your head?  A moment of time when your mind is free?   During an impromptu discussion with co-workers?  These are the times that innovation happens and although they are not scheduled we need to have time in our day for it. If people are fully tasked with assigned activities throughout the sprint then innovation dies. Even if an innovative idea surfaces, it is immediately squashed by the all ready full plate of commitments and is not given another thought.  Innovation is responsible for the features that will “WOW” the customer.  If your product doesn’t include any of these then you’re going to have a tough time rising above your competition. Collaboration and being a good corporate citizen requires time also.  If you’re having difficulty establishing sprint capacity and at the same time allocating time for innovation, collaboration, learning and good corporate citizenship then take a look at the formula below.  This example is for a 2 week sprint (each developer does this):

  1. Total the number of hours needed for meetings, other scheduled events (scrum events/ceremonies count here), vacation, career building activities, etc. We will call that “Planned Interruptions”.
  2. Potential Available Time = Total hours in the sprint minus Planned Interruptions.
  3. Determine a “Load Factor” which is the percentage of “Potential Available Time” you will allocate to assigned work (planned tasks within the sprint).  Let’s go with 85% for your first iteration and adjust it as needed for future sprints.
  4. Available Time = Potential Available Time * Load Factor.
  5. Unplanned Interruptions = Potential Available Time – Available Time

So if we had determined 12 hours of Planned Interruptions for this developer for a 10 day (8 hours/day) sprint/iteration with a Load Factor of 85% then we would come up with:

Potential Available Time = 80 -12 = 68 hours
Available Time = 68 * .85 =  57.8 = 58 hours (rounded)
Unplanned Interruptions = 68 – 58 = 10 hours

Load Factor Table Image

This would mean with a Load Factor of 85% this developer has an average of 5.8 hours/day to allocate to assigned sprint tasks. Remember, you determine/adjust the Load Factor as you gain experience with your sprints.  Hopefully, this formula can assist teams just starting out on how to assign initial sprint capacity or use it for the long haul if you like.

Unplanned interruptions is where innovation occurs, because it is dedicated to collaboration and collaboration breeds innovation.  It is allocated for any collaboration work that needs to be done outside of assigned tasks and planned interruptions. So, don’t squash innovation and good corporate citizenship at your organization.  Allow for unplanned interruptions, team empowerment and trust to drive innovation forward.