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Agile Fluency Model & Retrospectives, Part 1: Focusing Zone

Agile Fluency Model & Retrospectives, Part 1: Focusing Zone

Collaborative team learning brings new ideas for improvement Photo by Credit:scyther5 on iStockphoto.

Agile coaches and consultants. Scrum masters. Team leaders. What does learning have to do with how we approach working with teams? How does learning in a group differ from learning as an individual? When groups learn, what happens? Why would a group of people strive for shared learning? What do they get out of it? Fluent proficiency. Mastery in professional skills. Routine high performance. That’s what.

The Focusing Zone

In the Agile Fluency Model, James Shore and I emphasize the business benefits. We describe what happens when a team devotes itself to increasing skill in certain areas. We explore the investments needed to grow in proficiency. We identified the skill areas that lead to successful deliverables.

The first zone we describe in our model is the Focusing zone. For Focusing teams, the pursuit of shared learning aids the team in developing skills in three areas. First, responding to business needs. Second, working effectively as a team. Third, pursuing team greatness.

“The Focusing zone represents agile fundamentals, and fluent teams provide noticeable benefits to transparency and teamwork. Although Focusing fluency doesn’t include sustainable technology practices, it’s a great way to demonstrate success and create buy-in for further investment.”

What does this have to do with holding team retrospectives?

An Agile Manifesto principle says, “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” Esther Derby and I wrote a book, Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. In it, we assert that “becoming more effective” is generally too broad a goal for successful group learning and skill building. Teams gain skill with tuning and adjusting their behavior faster when they pinpoint a more specific topic.

It works better to shine a spotlight on a subset of behavior that contributes to effectiveness. Wise facilitators choose a situationally relevant aspect of process, practice, quality, collaboration, and so forth. For example, “We’ve completed fewer stories these last two sprints than our former pattern. Let’s look at what’s contributing to that trend and what we want to do about it.”

Teams seeking Focusing fluency spotlight particular topics

Zone proficiencies give us clues about skill areas likely to improve effectiveness. These are great areas to mine for retrospective topics. For Focusing teams investigate and explore topic ideas like:

  • How are we doing at responding to business needs?
  • Specifically, how well do we understand the business value in the backlog?
  • How we are communicating our work to our product owner?
  • Are we completing work each iteration so we can change direction when business needs change?

  • How are we becoming more effective as a team?
  • Is our task sharing going as well as we’d like?
  • Are we committed to finishing all the work of the team and jumping in to help each other where needed?

  • How do we show our commitment to becoming truly great as a team?
  • Are we enhancing psychological safety on our team?
  • Is there anything about our physical work environment that’s getting in the way of our performance?

When teams first form, they tend to work through many of the Focusing zone proficiencies. It’s part of creating a team identity. Chartering establishes the team’s initial (and evolving) approach to the work as well. (See Liftoff: Start and Sustain Successful Agile Teams by Larsen and Nies.) Retrospectives provide a time and setting to iterate on the team’s charter as circumstances change.

Each of the Agile Fluency zones has areas for building fluency as a team. Shared learning is essential in these areas. Retrospectives contribute to team fluency in each zone.

To learn how the Agile Fluency Suite of materials supports Agile coaches and consultants, join us in an upcoming Agile Fluency Facilitators Workshop. We frequently publish new workshop schedules and details on our Workshops & Events page.