Team Planning day

Once in a while, we decide to take a whole day with the team to look forward, but also to get some new inspiration. I’ve been running this workshop as a facilitator, and the format has been very appreciated, so I thought I would share it with you!


We separate the day into two parts, before and after lunch. The idea is to “zoom out” and get inspired before lunch, and then “zoom in” on the work closest in time for the team.

Before lunch

Before lunch the focus is to look ahead (maybe 2-3 years) to set out the direction for the team. All team members also get their chance to speak up on what they think are the most important things for the team to do in the near term future (1-6 months). Just before lunch, it’s time for some inspiration! That could be an external speaker coming in, some in the team that want to share an interesting topic or even watch an educational video together. The topic chosen shall be related to the team’s work, but not be about actual work (that is covered in the afternoon).    

After lunch

This blog post is mostly about explaining this section in the workshop, that will be done below. But first, let’s look at the agenda in total (so you can copy and use it yourself 🙂 )

Agenda for the day

  • 09:00-09:05 Welcome (Facilitator)
  • 09:05-09:50 Direction for the team, 2-3 years ahead (Manager from mid- or top-management, dependent on your company size)
  • 09:50-10:00 Fika break
  • 10:00-11:00 All participants to share (10 minutes each, again dependent on team size), what they see as the most important things to get done in the team 3-6 months ahead (All)
  • 11:00-12:00 “Inspirational talk” (External speaker, Team member or Youtube video)
  • 12:00-13:30 Lunch (All, take the opportunity to take a longer lunch to socialize)
  • 13:30-16:30 Planning for 1-6 months ahead (All + Facilitator)
    • With the information given before lunch, all things are listed on a whiteboard. Then we go through each item in the list and place them in a matrix (with “complexity” on the X-axis and “value” on the Y-axis).
    • When everything is placed out, what shall be part of the coming 1-3 months is decided.
  • 14:30 Fika break
  • 16:30-17:00 Summary and closing of the workshop (All)
    • Summarize what has been decided (see above).
    • Mini retrospective – Let everyone share their thoughts about what they have gotten out of the day.

Execution of the planning part

Ok, the team is inspired and not hungry anymore, let’s spend some time on how to execute the planning part of this workshop. 

List the work

With every team member given the opportunity to share their mind, it should be fairly easy for the facilitator to start to write down work items in a list on a whiteboard. The key for this part is to NOT go into discussion of each work item added in the list, that should be kept for later. Usually this step takes 20-30 minutes to perform. 

Example of list of work:

1. Work item X

2. Work item Y

N. Work item Z

Try not to add more than 20-25 work items. If you add more, you will not have the time to discuss them enough in the next section. 

Discuss each work item (“complexity” and “value”)

(Example of references to work items added to the chart) 

Now comes the tricky part, that needs to be carefully facilitated. Each work item from the list is added in a chart with:

  • Effort/Complexity on the X-axis – How easy (or hard) something is to do, is usually quite simple for the team to understand and have an opinion about.
  • (Business) Value on the Y-axis – Here the team has to give their opinion on the value the work item will bring. Value is very subjective, one rule of thumb is that it shall mean some sort of business value for the company. When you have added a few work items to the chart this part gets easier and easier, then you can ask “Will this work item Y bring more value than work item X?” (work item X already added in the chart). If yes, you will place work item Y higher up than X, if not, you place it lower and so on.   

Write the reference number to the list in the chart, if you have the work items on post-it:s, you can place them in the chart. If you are successful you should end up with something that looks like the picture above. 

Select work items for the near future

Final part, before wrapping up, is to discuss and decide on the work items to pick up for the near future (1-3 months). This is how you should think:

  • Upper left corner (“high value, low effort”): This is the “low hanging fruit” that you obviously shall pick first! These work items bring “high value” to a “low effort”.
  • Upper right corner (“high value, high effort”): Your next focus shall be to look here for work items that bring high value. Maybe you can also discuss them in a bit more detail to bring down the effort needed (start by doing small pieces of the work item).
  • Lower left corner (“low value, low effort”): You might want to consider work items here, since they are “low effort”, but not before any work items “above the X-axis” (giving “high value”).
  • Lower right corner (“low value, high effort”): Any work items ending up here you should not consider at all!

You can see above in the picture what we selected (circled) as next work items to do in the two coming releases of our product.


Did you find this blog post interesting? Here is another blog post I wrote about value. Our goal is to revisit this planning within 3 months, and update with new work items and to review what we should focus on next.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

The Unicorn Project

Today the book “The Unicorn Project” by Gene Kim is released! Since I had written a review about his previous book “The Phoenix Project”, I was kindly given the opportunity to read a beta copy to be able to provide you with a review. Here it is!

The Unicorn Project


In this new book Gene Kim re-visits the successful novel format from “The Phoenix Project”. Once again we are back at the company Parts Unlimited, and the main character of the story is Maxine Chambers, a Lead Developer and Architect.

Throughout the story, The Five Ideals are explained to the reader, with a lot of good examples. 

The Five Ideals are:

  1. Locality and Simplicity
  2. Focus, Flow, and Joy
  3. Improvement of Daily Work
  4. Psychological Safety
  5. Customer Focus

Back to the story, what happens during the 19 chapters this book consist of? First there is a major payroll outage, and the management needs to find a scapegoat, guess who? Maxine is punished by being reassigned to the Phoenix Project, which feels like a prison. Heck, Building 5 at corporate campus where they sit, even looks like a prison.

To start, Maxine wants to get a Phoenix build running on her laptop. But this seemingly easy task is nearly impossible, to get through endless layers of bureaucracy. Hope is almost lost when she meets Kurt Reznick (a QA Manager at Parts Unlimited) and joins the Rebellion (a group of likeminded people that wants to work in a different way, by living the The Five Ideals).  

They start off in small scale, overcoming some setbacks during the way, and in the end they manage to turn the company successful again! Read the book to find out how they did it.


My main takeaways from reading this book are: 

  • The Five Ideals are a nice addition to the “Agile arsenal”. Especially Psychological Safety, that I see as a cornerstone for innovation.
  • There is a lot of talk about unicorns (“A unicorn is a privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion”). This book shows that an old large company also can, and inevitable must, be like a unicorn to survive. 
  • A story based on good vs. evil never goes out of fashion. This particular one is also packed with references to things like Star Wars and Game of Thrones 🙂


Gene Kim have a very good sense for knowing what is going on, and to see the trends, in the IT business. That compared with his writing skills, creating a very interesting story, makes this book a solid recommendation! You have not read “The Phoenix Project”, and think it’s needed? No worries, “The Unicorn Project” can be read as a standalone book.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

How to eat an Elephant?

Hello, let’s talk about the Elephant. Which Elephant, you may ask? I mean the elephant in the room. First of all, what is meant by that? A quick Googling give:

“If you say there is an elephant in the room, you mean that there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.”


(Picture borrowed from


Have you had an elephant in the room? We have, for sure. For us it was building a new GUI. That task itself is possible to predict, plan and eventually execute. But given that the GUI is a very central piece in our product, there is tons of dependencies to it. So the impact a new GUI have on other components is very hard to predict, and “touching the GUI” becomes very risky. 

I was given the project that should, amongst other things, produce a new GUI. I had numerous meetings with people from all parts of the organisation, but got nowhere closer to a new GUI. We just went around in circles, until one day I realised, the organisation deems it’s almost impossible to build a new GUI. I, as being the project leader, was totally stuck… 


I have a former colleague, his name is Alexander and he will soon retire after a long and very successful career. Alexander is extremely intelligent, a person that you come across once, or maybe twice, during your entire work life. If there was a question, he knew the answer, no matter what the question was about. I’ve learnt a lot from Alexander, but maybe the most important wisdom is the one I will now tell you about.

How to eat an elephant?

Once, Alexander and me, had the following conversation:

  • Alexander: “Tomas, how do you eat an elephant?”
  • Tomas: “Well I’m not sure… Usually I don’t eat elephants.”
  • Alexander: “You eat it in pieces, Tomas. IN PIECES!”

This, for me, is the most crucial part in Agile! In the project we now have addressed the first piece that was deemed most crucial, now we are planning to work on the next. I, as the project leader, feel confident again, and we are making progress! 


The learning from the conversation above, is that the only possible way to attack a huge problem is to break it down into pieces, and to work on the individual pieces. 

When you have done this for some time you have either “eaten the whole elephant”, or at least so much that you are satisfied.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

P.S. I have never eaten a real elephant, and I never will… 🙂 D.S.

Salvation: The Bungsu Story

A few months ago I had the great pleasure to meet Marcus Hammarberg in person, when he came to my company’s office for a talk called ”The Bungsu Story”. This is an inspirational presentation how agile and lean principles saved a hospital in Indonesia. The speech was based on his experiences that are also covered in the book, that I’m now about to review: Salvation: The Bungsu Story

Salvation: The Bungsu Story - Cover

The book has six parts, 21 chapters and 326 pages. The subtitle is: ”How Lean and Kanban saved a small hospital in Indonesia. Twice. And can help you reshape work in your company.”


”This book is not based on a true story – it is a true story.”

We enter the story right after a major disaster happens to the hospital. During the rain period the partly renovated roof has fallen in. By all means everything is at risk from this moment on. Marcus and his small team from the Salvation Army steps up to the challenge to help the management team of the hospital. But first he digs in, literally, cleaning up after the disaster with the roof. Theory of Constraints is used to improve the process, when the buckets are given up for rice bags (to get rid of the debris).

Part II is called ”The rebuild”. Now the work starts to save the hospital using agile and lean. Example of things that are introduced:

  • The Not List (to keep focus during discussion)
  • Limit WIP (minimize the number of concurrent work in the process to enable flow)
  • Three stages of coaching.
  • Definition of Done -> Gives common understanding.

Things start to move in the right direction, but not as swift as anticipated, but a motivation speech (fully covered in chapter 5) takes care of that!

”Measure to learn – not punish!”

In part III, named ”The backsliding”  the momentum from the start ends up in the inevitable plateau or decline. The war cry from mob programming: ”Turn up the good”  is one of the tools used to push forward. At one point Marcus jokingly says: ”If only there was another emergency for us to handle. That would be great for morale!” You should be careful with what you wish…

Circumstances running a hospital in Indonesia forces the management team to lower the income at the same time as increasing the cost, it is time to get down to business again for Marcus and his team.

”What is the smallest step you can take to see if you’re moving in the right direction?”

Visualizations are used throughout the whole story in Bungsu. Marcus advice is not to overdo the board, keep it simple to let the visualization evolve over time! Chapter 18 is called ”Trust, Transparency, Accountability”. Here the lovely story of Ibu Elsye is told (she is the General Manager of the hospital, taking care of everything else but health care and finance at the hospital). She is totally stressed out over her situation, but with some encouragement and guidance she makes wonders…


I can totally recommend this book! Here are my main reasons why:

  • This book is authentic (see the first quote above), it shows that lean and agile principles works even in a hospital (a context outside of IT)!
  • This book is the perfect sequel to ”Kanban in Action” (which Marcus co-wrote together with Joakim Sundén), which is more theoretical.
  • The chapter with the story of Ibu Elsye (that alone is worth the money buying this book)!

I had the huge honor to help Marcus out as a beta reader for this book, and it was really rewarding to revisit the text when 100% completed!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Democratic retrospective

When a new member started in my team, he brought with him this interesting format for a retrospective. We have fine-tuned it together over a couple of iterations, and now there is time to write a blog post about it 🙂

Democratic Retrospective


This format for retrospective have five steps to execute during the meeting:

  • Warm up
  • Zoom in
  • Feedback
  • Voting
  • Discuss & Assign.

Below I will go through each and one of them, in some more detail.

Warm up

We always start with a short warm up exercise to “wake up our brains”. As a facilitator I will put out a statement, like the following, to the meeting participants:

  • “Think one minute for a movie character that, for you, represent the last two weeks.”
  • “Think one minute of a car manufacturer or car model that, for you, represent the last two weeks.”

After a minute or so I address each meeting participant individually, and they have to tell their choice + shortly motive it.

Zoom in

After we have gotten our brains going, we start to “zoom in” on the past time period that the retrospective shall cover. This we do using something we call “Pass the pen” (named as a homage to the good old “Pass the pennies”-game 🙂 )

Preparation: Draw a timeline, vertically (NOT horizontally!), on a whiteboard with three points: “Start”, “Middle” and “End” (see the picture above). The timeline is drawn vertically to make it easier for the meeting participants to write in events (from left to right) during this exercise.

Exercise: All team members are asked to stand in front of the whiteboard, with the timeline drawn onto it. A team member ask to  “pass me the pen” and write one thing/event that did happen during the time period. When done, he or she holds up the pen in the air, and another person can ask “pass the pen” and so on. Let this go on for about 3-5 minutes, or events are stopped being added.

This exercise is used to, as a group, remember what did actually happen during the time period that the retrospective shall cover. It’s very easy to forget.


This step is where most of the time shall be spent during the retrospective.

Preparation: The facilitator draws sections on the whiteboard (see the picture above) for the following five categories:

  • 🙂 – Positive.
  • 😦 – Negative.
  • ? – Questions without a solution.
  • <flower> – Positive words to share with a colleague, within, or outside of the team.
  • <lightbulb> – Ideas/solutions.

Exercise: The meeting participants are asked to spend 10-15 minutes on writing post-it:s fitting the five categories presented above.

When everyone is done, one meeting participant at the time, steps up to the whiteboard and puts up their post-it:s + give a short verbal description for each one of them.

Note! Different colors on the post-it:s can be used to separate out each participant, if wanted/needed.


The retrospective now starts to come to an end, only two steps remain. In this step post-it:s from 😦 , ?, and <lightbulb> are grouped together on the whiteboard. The positive ones are of course great, and we shall be happy of them, but we don’t need to bring them further in the retrospective. For the <flowers>, those are collected by the facilitator and handed out to the ones that received them, after the meeting.

For the voting, the famous agile method of “dot voting” is used. Each participants gets three (or any other suitable number) “dots” to use how they want on the post-it:s.

To not bias each other (that much), all the participants gather in front of the whiteboard, with one pen each, and place their dots “at the same time” (after a “Ready, Set, Go”-call).

The (group of) post-it:s are now rearranged a bit again. Place the one(s) with most votes at the top, followed by the second most votes and so on.

Usually it’s quite easy to sort out the top 3-5 ones. The rest is abandoned, democracy have spoken and they have been decided “not important enough to take further at this point of time” (of course they can, and will, emerge again in a later retrospective).

Discuss & Assign

Time is soon up for the meeting, and the last thing we do is to discuss the top 3-5 activities/tasks that we select to take forward. This is done by discussing them to find concrete actions, and also to assign them to persons (that will own them).


What do you think about this format for a retrospective? To me it’s a nice mixture of “writing feedback on post-it:s” and Lean Coffee (democratically decide what is most important, in this case, to bring further). This retrospective can (and shall) be combined with an activity to follow up on actions from previous retrospectives. Best of luck with your next retrospective!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Remote Retrospective using Lean Coffee

Do you have any problems with your retrospectives? Is there a few people with “strong voices” that gets their saying every time, talking about what they consider to be the problems, whilst others remain silent (and no light is shred on what they think is wrong)? We had that problem, and it kept me busy thinking for a better approach to perform retrospectives, where we discuss what everyone in the team agrees are the most important.


Lean Coffee & remote team

Since I’ve been attending a few Lean Coffees arranged in Stockholm, I thought that would be a good format to use, also for a retrospective. I fired off some searches on the interwebz, that made me confident that it would work (more information to be found here and here)!

However, there was one more challenge to solve. The team was a remote team, with two individuals not working from the main office. How to solve that nicely? Since I’m a huge fan of digital boards, my solution was a shared board in Favro!


(Digital Kanban board in Favro with four columns: ”To Discuss”, ”Discussing”, ”Done” and ”Actions”)

Introduction to Lean Coffee

If you don’t already know about Lean Coffee, I will now shortly introduce you to that. So, what is Lean Coffee?

”Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was democratically generated.” –

It was created 2009 in Seattle by Jim Benson & Jeremy Lightsmith. If you happen to be in Stockholm and wants to experience the real thing, you can click here for more information.

How does a remote retrospective using Lean Coffee work?

Preparation prior to the retrospective meeting

  1. In your favourite digital tool (we use Favro), set up a simple Kanban board with four columns:  ”To Discuss”, ”Discussing”, ”Done” & ”Actions”. See the picture above for how it can look like.
  2. Provide access to the digital tool for all the meeting participants.
  3. If several of the meeting participants sit together (in a meeting room), bring a laptop and share the screen on a TV/projector.
  4. Use Skype/Slack/other phone conference solution for audio.

During the retrospective meeting

  1. Generating topics – Each meeting participant starts to write 1-2 sentences on for each topic in the past time period (scope of the retrospective) that they would like to discuss. Either they add the ”stickies” directly to the digital board themselves (using their laptop), or the meeting moderator can take the physical stickies and write them into the digital board, using his or her laptop. Remote participants will of course add to the digital board directly. A set amount of time is spent on this step (like 3-5 minutes for a one hour retrospective). All ”stickies” are placed in the ”To Discuss”-column.
  2. Presenting topics – Each topic is shortly introduced by the one who wrote the ”sticky”.
  3. Dot voting – Each participant is given three ”dots” to freely distribute amongst the topics. On the digital board dots (.) (or better *) can be added after the describing text. For convenance, it’s easier if one or two meeting participants do this at the same time (to avoid conflicts and confusion).
  4. Order the topics – The topics are ordered in the ”To Discuss”-column, most ”dots” comes first.
  5. Start to discuss – The topic with the most ”dots” is selected to the ”Discussing”-column. It’s discussed for 8 minutes (a timer is set).
  6. When time is up, participants vote with their thumbs:
    – ”Thump up” – Continue to discuss the topic for 3 more minutes (then vote again).
    – ”Thump side” – We can go on with this topic or take the next, it doesn’t matter for me.
    – ”Thump down” – This topic is discussed enough and set to the ”Done”-column. Move on to the next.
    (Participants in the meeting room uses their physical thumps, remote participants can just say what they are voting, or paint a thumb on the shared screen, this is possible in Slack).
  7. Documentation – During the discussions the meeting moderator shall write comments & actions in the digital Kanban board directly, this information can be taken further.
  8. When to end – Discussion continues until meeting time or topics are out. But what about meeting time ends before all topics are discussed? Well, the team have voted and what they considered the most important topics are hopefully already sorted out. If not, call for a new meeting, or let the topics stay in the ”To Discuss” column for next retrospective (maybe it then gets the votes needed to be discussed, if not, well it’s not that important after all, the team has considered).

After the retrospective meeting

If you (I assume you are the meeting moderator 🙂 ) have played your cards well, you don’t have to do anything afterwards! Actions are nicely put in the ”Actions” column to take further. For reference the topics with detailed comments can be transfered to a more permanent storing in a wiki or Confluence-page.


I hope you now have a way to perform democratic remote retrospectives! One thing to mention, if the team is not used to this format, is to be a bit flexible with the timer and the thump voting. The timer can be seen a bit stressful and limiting for the discussions. Usually you can ”feel” when a topic has been discussed enough, then you can go on to the next. That goes for the thump voting as well, You can ”see” the level of engagement for a topic, and thereby know when it’s time to move on.

if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me. Good luck with your future retrospectives!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist

More Agile ahead!

Hello dear readers,

Long time no see! I haven’t published a new blog post in a very long time… Partly I’ve been occupied with other things, but I’ve also felt that I don’t have anything exciting to write about. Now I have started a new job as Agile Project Manager at Quickspin, a Swedish gaming company. Now I will hopefully be involved in more Agile stuff that I can write about. I also got the spark back for writing again, when I read that another blogger had picked up some of my old stuff!


(Picture borrowed from

My top 5 blog posts

In the meantime, before I get some new stuff out, I would like to recommend my top 5 blog posts (that continues to attract readers, with a high steady state of page views per year):

  1. The Arrow – Advanced kanban board (This is my evergreen, I wonder if I ever can write another blog post that becomes as popular as this one…).
  2. The Phoenix Project (A book review, that gains awful lot of traffic, and I don’t really know why. I have now started to read a new book by Gene Kim called ”The Devops Handbook”. Stay tuned for that book review!).
  3. Retrospective with timeline (A neat way to get feedback on, for example, a project).
  4. Priority pyramid (My very first visualisation, that also got acknowledged by the Agile community!).
  5. Context switching – Public Enemy No. 1? (This is actually the second blog post I wrote, after the first standard ”Welcome to my blog”. Truly honoured that it still gets so much attention 🙂 ).


Which one of my blog posts are your favourite? What do you want me to write more about in the future? Don’t hesitate to contact me!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist