Rediscovering the Obvious

…stumbling in the footsteps of greatness

Just one thing…

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Yesterday, I was reminded of the power of commitment.

I spent the day shadowing Alan Atlas as he helped a room full of managers understand their role in a brave new agile world. At the end of the day I was invited to facilitate the retrospective of the day’s course and attempt to bubble up some of the individual learning to benefit the group. Last night, at the airport, I realized I’ve never written specifically about a powerful technique I’ve added to the end of every retrospective I’ve run over the last year with great effect.

When I’m helping teams reflect, I tend to use a four-stage starfish to structure the thinking process. Yesterday, I tried an ORID model [3] due to there being many individuals rather than a focused team. In the past, I’ve used the six thinking hats to guide the reflective paths, done standard plus/delta, and several other models. [1] Regardless of the retrospective format used, however, there is one thing I always do to close out the exercise: I ask for a commitment.

This is probably the least “nice coach” activity I do as an agile guide. I force members of the group to make commitments. No Weasel Words, no dodges, no non-commitive commitments. I insist on real commitments. “I will set up a meeting next week with Bob, Julie, and Josh to discuss my role as an agile manager.” I don’t accept “I’ll each out to the other managers about this.” I require “I will hang up visible burndowns for each of my three teams” instead of “I’ll start increasing the amount of visual management”. I’m not a nice person. I insist on real, committed language, and I insist it’s something they’re willing to have held accountable by the entire group.


Because it helps. I first observed this while coaching with Simon Bennett in the UK during early summer 2009, and this is where I first heard the term “Weasel Words.” I am amazed at how deeply it struck me about my own behavior, and how much it started focusing my interactions as a coach and team lead. I started doing action plans [2] with individuals and teams. It is one of the things I most appreciate here at Rally: Following through with commitments is part of the company’s core values. Too often, it’s not. Time after time I see teams and individuals make a fuzzy statement of intent and never ever follow through, because the commitment doesn’t _mean_ anything. It doesn’t connect with affective learning, only cognitive learning, and therefore doesn’t stick very well.

As a coach, I force people to connect with what they’re saying. I don’t put individuals on the spot, I put entire groups on the spot. “Stand up, tell your peers what you will _do_, and make that commitment to the group.” Starting yesterday, I even invited (didn’t insist) people to sign the written record of their commitment (i.e. the sticky on the board). It helps create focus when multiple people make very similar commitments.

Just one thing, one pebble, one little piece of progress can start a landslide. It’s even more powerful when you get ten or twenty little pieces of progress. People throughout an organization see many people suddenly DO something and take notice. They instinctively recognize that something important is happening and they watch, and maybe even engage.

[1] I’m more than happy to write about any of these… leave a comment or tweet at me if you’re interested.

[2] Do you want another post on Action Plans?

[3] Scroll down to “The ORID Model” and pay attention to the Kolb Learning Cycle too

Written by erwilleke

January 28th, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Just one thing…'

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Cottmeyer, Eric Willeke. Eric Willeke said: New post: [...]

  2. [...] will you do?” as the retrospective draws to an end.  Thanks to Eric Willeke, whose post about gaining commitment on what the team members WILL do made me realize that I also coach the team into action.  I [...]

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