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.  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 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!

Grow Your Organizational Structure


Many experts would agree that structure plays a crucial role on how people in your organization communicate. Melvin Conway, a computer programmer, introduced the idea in 1967 that “organizations which design systems will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure”. In other words, how you structure, disseminate information and influence communication paths will have an impact on how you design and produce your systems.

Two chapters in an excellent book, Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo, is devoted to the theory and practice of growing organizational structure. Jurgen synthesizes thought leaders’ conclusions and adds a bit of his own. I mention some of the messages I got out of these two chapters below along with a later reference to a tool called “Meddlers” which was created by Jurgen to assist in growing your organizational structure.

We say that communication is a prerequisite to collaboration.  Communication, however, is miscommunication unless it is correctly interpreted. Alistair Cockburn would say that a one-way communication doesn’t constitute communication and that communication requires that the recipient understood the message as the communicator intended.  

Many things can disrupt communication along its path. It would behoove us to create an environment and structure that would minimize this.  You can see, several environmental factors could impact communication. The number of hand-offs and the medium utilized before reaching the message’s final destination could increase the probability of miscommunication. That is one reason why most experts advise we limit hand-offs, dependencies and long communication chains and would look to create structure and teams that would also limit these factors.

How we grow our organizational structure is influenced by several factors though and is in itself complex.  How mature is our organization? What types of products/solutions are we creating? How big is our organization?  Do we have a substantial amount of new people? These are some of the questions we can ask ourselves.  And no solution can ignore time and context. This is why it may be all right to frequently change structure, as long as it is driven by a purpose.

Management 3.0 lists some heuristics to consider:

  • A preference towards generalizing specialists which are people who have one or more specialties and also general knowledge in other useful areas.
  • Widen people’s job titles and don’t pigeon-hole them into a specific skill set via title.
  • Cultivate informal leadership outside of line managers.
  • Depending on maturity, draw constraints and then let the team self-organize.
  • Limit/exclude multi team membership.
  • Keep team size small with a guideline of 4-7 people. Communication increases exponentially with additional team members.
  • When choosing whether to form a functional or cross-functional team determine the most important path of communication.  Do the people need to communicate more with others with their same skill set or with the people working on the same product?

As we think about these questions and others, we can best grow our organizational structure.  A tool from Management 3.0, “Meddlers”, assists us in designing our teams. Meddlers allows us to represent our people and their skill sets.  Hats represent skill sets and we can label the people with names if we want. We can then place them on teams and position the team hexagon with their sides against other teams they frequently collaborate with.  This helps us visualize the structure. Personally, I’ve used Meddlers to first show the existing team organizational structure, noticing the cross-team dependencies.  The visualization really helps and most of the time you would not think there were that many dependencies.  Once seeing these dependencies, we could work to understand them and work on reorganizing the team using Meddlers to reduce the dependencies.  There are other creative ways people are using Meddlers and you can feel free to invent your own.

Take a look at the meddlers web page to see more information and start growing your organizational structure!

Using Kudos Cards !

Kudos 2

The Harvard Business Review cited a study by Losada and Heaphy evaluating team effectiveness measured by financial performance, customer satisfaction and 360-degree feedback of team members and found that the most effective teams had nearly six positive comments for every negative one. Medium performance teams had almost twice as many positive vs. negative comments and low performing teams had an average of almost three negative comments for every positive one.

In light of this and other studies, a great way to increase positive feedback within teams is the use of Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0 “Kudo Cards”.  I’ve had my teams use the cards to thank others on the team.  They fill out a Kudos Card and post it on the Kudos Wall.  Team members also announce any new cards at the beginning of their retrospectives, putting the team in a very collaborative and positive mindset.

Everyone wants to have a feeling of autonomy, mastery and purpose.  It provides intrinsic motivation.  Providing sincere positive feedback to your teammates can increase their feelings of mastery and purpose and make them more happy at work.

So why not grab some Kudos Cards for your team, create your Kudos Wall and watch the people on your teams smile more!