Niko-Niko – The Emotional Calendar

When I saw Niko-Niko recently in the management 3.0 practices, it reminded me of the emotional seismograph I do during release retrospective. I will explain more on the emotional seismograph later, but the Niko-Niko looked like an amazing way to constantly capture the mood of the people.

The practice is very simple where a person while leaving office tells the mood he/she is leaving with. Either the whole teams do it together describing the mood in few words if possible, or worse case you just mark it in the public visible calendar. Some people use colors, others just update the box with smiley. This time I gave them the choice to choose colors.

The intent is very clear; we want to know the emotional sentiment of the team as they work. Scrum Teams work as a team which rallies around work or in a typical sprint around the goal, and a team having team members unhappy some days in a row is alarming. While I often tell managers not to challenge people on why they are happy, I tell them to look at trends or the patterns.

While introducing the technique 1 challenge I faced was some people telling to remove the names. I’ve removed the names in the image for Confidentiality, but if you see on the left names are written for each person inside the scrum team (I do it scrum team wise, but actually can be done at any level). The thing I explain people is that if I feel that people telling how their day went can’t be public, there is another issue which needs to be solved. It means people are not safe. Safety is a bigger issue to address. If my teams are not safe to reveal this, I’ll have that issue resolved first, because psychological safety is priority for me. So I’m always able to convince people that let there be names, because people feel safe, and if they are not, then that team needs attention from a different perspective.

One day before sprint end, probably everyone is busy, and expecting a good day is tough, and same way the second day of the sprint is probably good for everyone. Again, these observations might be wrong generalizations and I believe data should speak for itself. Again, this data is so unique with each team, and with everyone. You don’t get to hear a story or a reason, but then the objective data is enough to identify if the team is in stress, or if an employee is feeling too bad.

The patterns are often useful in 1-1 conversations or even tea conversations. I’ve even seen team mates talk to each other, what happened dude, you are having bad days every day. And it’s good because as human beings it’s good that we try to be happy, but it also makes sense for us to show empathy if someone else is not.

I take the monthly data and try to get patterns and share that with leadership. A Team recently was stretching a lot, and I could see constant full team bad moods, and while talking to some folks, I could easily figure it out. I gave the feedback to them to slow down. Again, the idea is to get inference and do something on inference. It should have some intent and purpose attached.

Often a blank sheet gives more noise.

In same way the emotional seismograph Is what I do at every release retrospective, where I make a line graph, plotting a sad and happy smiley on y axis, and then on x axis either keeping sprints or months (depending on size of release). I start the release retrospective using this, where I tell people to draw points and hence connect points to get a line showing how their release went from a team perspective. It solves multiple purpose, firstly I tell them that while you are drawing your line, think about all the sprints, kind of self-reflect because it is a release retro and they need to think about the entire release. It also shows the emotional quotient of the team. If you see in middle of the release the line going to sad for majority, something happened. If the ending of the release was ending for everyone at a low, something bad happened in the end. And intent is for people to get these points in their mind for the next activities. Again, I’ve done this at least 40 times, and every time it teaches me things.

The Human sentiments is a powerful thing not because humans are sensitive, but because the sensitivity drives the passion, the behaviors and they tell how we will work. A happy employee is what everyone wants, but we need to know if they are unhappy and act accordingly.

Happiness is a big thing.

If you want to learn more about Niko-Niko calendar, you can look at the management 3.0 page here on the same.

The Power of Improv and Story Telling

While we do a lot of things in our lives daily, the interesting fact is that our life is nothing but a combination of various stories. Some might be good, some might be bad. Some we realize later, some sooner and while all the stories revolve around us, we tend to keep moving on. On a reflection these stories are important to connect the dots. If you heard the famous speech by Steve Jobs, it tells how connect the dots backwards it all makes sense, and how important that it.

Story telling started in my life early in various forms, but with improv from m3.0 it was another flavor. I’ve tried the m3.0 improv cards with teams for retrospective, and then with leaders for their views, and lately with kids to take their feedback.

Let me start with the most common way I’ve done this which is in the sprint retrospective. Like any other retrospective, the main purpose is to collect what went well and what could be improved. Only that this time I lay down a pack of cards. In one variation I hide the images, so that it can be a random image which the person gets whereas sometimes I just lay down all the cards (like you see in image) and seeing the image the person tells 1 thing which he/she thinks went well or can be improved.

One Interesting aspect is where I feel that each image has a different perception amongst everyone, and so I never let them help each other. I just tell them to use their own imagination and think what it is. Because the image is not that important, as the story linked to the image. While some people have a story in mind and just link the image to the story, others create the story with the image (which is the interesting one).

Often when you do storytelling, you remove the persona’s out of the picture, and you just narrate the whole incident as a story, which makes it valuable, non-offensive and very open like a fact. The facilitator often notes the output of the story, and then we discuss on the story if needed.

The images are cool, so you see people smiling and thinking at times. Other times, they complain that they don’t understand the image, but again I tell them to use their creative minds.

While we go along the room, we suddenly see people being more energetic and active. The improv cards have that effect on people who start realizing that they can tell a story with the good/bad without it looking like a blame or a cry which is brilliant. It’s like a superpower at times which is funny but true.

So, we go across the room and the facilitator takes public notes, hence discussing actions.

Another way I did once was the team to lead the activity, and they themselves making the notes, hence self-organizing on what was important.

Another variation I tried was “A day in the sprint” way, where I tell people to tell a story of a day in the sprint where 1 thing good or 1 thing bad or a combination happened. It could 1 good from one day and 1 bad from one day, but it should be 1 story.

I tell them at times to pick multiple cards too, if it helps them. Again, the power lies in the story.

With the leadership team, when I use the cards, it’s mainly for their views/feedback/observation, like let’s discuss about this team, and while people like to keep silent, the improv gives them voice and suddenly we see stories.

A small number of people have problem seeing the cards and telling stories, but I give them time. I feel a kid inside a person always lives who knows how to stich a story which is so important.

Leaders often are vocal, but the story again makes it more factual, and it’s to draw points from stories in my experience.

Another variation I did recently was with bunch of kids. Here is how I went about with them:

I distributed six improv cards to each kid. All of them were wondering what the heck was this? They were thoroughly amused looking at the strange images. The idea was for them to use the images and tell things about their life looking at what has happened.

I emphasized on the fact that sometimes in life, we need to seriously reflect on what all we are doing, what is done and where are we headed. The emotions and facts that surface during self-reflection is a powerful thing. I’ve sat with people talking about this and seen them sometimes ending in tears, but always emerging with a clearer sense of where they may want to go from there. So, we started the activity with instruction to use a minimum of three out of six cards and narrate a story from their lives. In parallel we created a word cloud from what came as stories (you can see in the images).

With something as simple as this, the topics which emerged like gender, society, aspirations, dreams, parents were quite powerful, and I felt the session went way beyond what I had initially thought of. While some reflections were tough for me as a person to digest, others were good to hear. We don’t realize in life that when we keep the problem or state the problem, we are in a way seeing the problem in absolute starkness. We see it from a different perspective, and again this is necessary. The word cloud was simply illuminating compared to some of the other sessions I’ve done before.

Lastly, I’ve also done improv using Story Cubes. You can read about them here.

Again, for me all the 3 set of people (Scrum Teams/Leaders/Kids) had unique experiences with Improv, but I can always see the kid stitching the story and I feel very good when I listen to through insightful stories. I think this art of storytelling makes this practice of m3.0 very powerful.

If you want to learn more about improv cards, you can look at the management 3.0 page here on the same.

Retrospective using Rory's Story Cubes and management 3.0 practices

While we do a lot of Retro’s, often a thought which comes to my mind is that “does everyone really speak?”, or “does everyone wonder how they were spending their days inside the sprint?”.

I had recently done an amazing workshop on management 3.0 with Sarika , and that has a practice called as improv cards where using improv cards we tell stories.

She also said a similar thing could be done with Rory’s story cubes, and while seeing them on amazon made me so excited that I couldn’t help ordering the standard set that moment itself. Although I really didn’t know what to do with it back then, I did have a faint idea that like improv cards, they had images, but then how to play it in a retro was not very clear.

So, we recently had a retro, and I created a game. The rules were that each person steps on the stage and rolls four normal dices. If they get a six on any of the four dices, they are lucky to roll the Rory’s story cubes, else we continue to next person. The moment you get a six, you roll the Rory’s story cubes, and then using the images you rolled, you take minimum of 5 cubes or a max of 9, to make a story of your life inside the sprint, the story could be a happy thing, the story could have a thing which needs improvement or both. Once you tell the story we see possible actions.

I started this by giving an example with all 9 cubes. And post this it was fun, initially some people didn’t get a six, but once they did, I saw people pumped up to get to the stage.

Not only people were telling stories, I felt they were connecting their story to their empathy, and how they felt on some actions, which was so good to hear. Some people stretched which no one knew but came out through this, some minor things which we ignore came out, and the participants had fun linking the images to the stories. Sometimes they would ask me what’s this image, and I would say use your wild imagination, because an image might mean something to someone. The funny one was that one took an image of magnifying glass; another guy took same image for a bat. So, the different perspectives of individuals came in.

Not to forget the essence of the whole activity was the story telling. The Stories shed more light on the seriousness of the issue, or the happiness on the delight, and it made people connect. I was super impressed how everyone participated, and even the people who are generally shy to speak had a story to tell.

The whole activity took an hour, and everyone did roll the cubes. The entire activity for me was such a good one, made me so happy that people were able to connect their life inside the sprint to a story.

End of the day a great Retro is where you get the reality out, and you as a team see the need to improve.

Continuous Improvement is like oxygen to a Team, as it motivates the team constantly to do better.