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Agile Fluency Model & Retrospectives, Part 3: Optimizing Zone

Agile Fluency Model & Retrospectives, Part 3: Optimizing Zone

Working together to create a human tower. Photo by Credit:HconQ on iStockphoto.

In Part 3 of this series, we continue to explore Retrospectives in the Agile Fluency Model zones. We’ll look at the “why” and the “how” in the Optimizing Zone. For context, we’ll reference the eBook, “The Agile Fluency Model: A Brief Guide to Success with Agile.”

To recap the series so far, we know that setting aside time for group learning inspires continuous improvement. We can view team retrospectives through the lens of the Agile Fluency Model zones. Doing so offers clues to focal areas for continuous team growth, learning, and improvement. Teams become stronger, higher performing, and more capable of contributing to business success. Team members gain in technical expertise, domain and customer understanding, and in effective collaboration. They develop extraordinary team skills for collective learning, shared analysis, and jointly-owned, jointly-implemented decisions. Fluent proficiency grows. Mastery grows. Trust in performance increases.

The Optimizing Zone

In the model, we emphasize the interdependent link between business, product, and team. The third zone we describe is the Optimizing zone. Optimizing teams build on a broad grounding in the Delivering and Focusing zone proficiencies. To that base, they add new proficiencies in the pursuit of product market share.

The Optimizing team demonstrates additional skills in three areas.

  • First, responding to business needs.
  • Second, working as a trusted, autonomous team.
  • Third, pursuing product greatness.

“Fluent Optimizing teams understand their market. They know why they’re building something, not just what they’re building.”

We distinguish Optimizing teams from Delivering teams by their broader cross-functionality. We also notice their ability to understand their market. With that understanding, they make decisions about their product. They decide what to fund and where to focus their efforts.

What does this have to do with holding team retrospectives? (a review from Part 1)

How do Optimizing teams accomplish reflecting, tuning, and adjusting? Optimizing teams need to boost the course, direction, and speed of their learning. They need to keep up with changes in the market and changes in technology. Like Focusing and Delivering teams, they will adjust topic focus. Besides, Optimizing teams will adjust their retrospective cadence and their format. Both shifts help them better serve their product needs.

Productive Optimizing teams have begun holding very short, very focused, very frequent retrospectives. It’s not unusual for a team to hold “micro-retros” twice a day. What happened in the last few hours? Was anything inhibiting our progress? How can we improve it? Ruthless investigation and rigorous honesty about the work rules the day. One team member told me, “If we hold a 15 minute retrospective and there isn’t at least one awkward moment, I begin to worry that we are missing something.”

Along with their daily retros, they schedule a time to step back and look at the patterns in their work. Longer retrospectives may fit a monthly cadence. Optimizing teams learn to adapt the retrospectives to ensure continuous learning and continuous progress.

Why might the retrospective spotlight be different for teams seeking Optimizing fluency?

Zone proficiencies in the article suggest skill areas likely to improve effectiveness. These are areas teams can examine for retrospective topics. For Optimizing zone topic ideas consider:

  • What blind spots have emerged in our understanding of product-market fit?
  • How can we stay current with emerging market needs?
  • How well are we considering the various perspectives in our cross-functional team?
  • Can we optimize our collaborative focus?
  • Have we made the best use of user and market feedback?
  • What assumptions are we making? How can we leverage double and triple loop learning?
  • What new technologies are we excited about?
  • Are we paying attention to the basics? How can we improve our team members psychological safety and drive for learning?
  • How is the style and timing of our decision making supporting our work?
  • Where is distrust creeping into our relationships with parties outside the team? How can we heal it?

Optimizing teams have immediate access to the skills and perspectives their product development requires. When they gain proficiency, their market and product expertise flourishes. They understand all aspect of their marketplace. They empathize both customer and business needs, and optimize the blend. Technical excellence continues to strengthen and broaden. When team members produce an innovative product that disrupts their market, they feel invincible as a team. They are ready for the next challenge.

The big question

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.

If you’ve followed this series of three posts, you may be ready to answer the next big question. Consider the final Strengthening zone. How do you think group learning and retrospectives will be the same and different?

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.