Identifying learning from problems and successes with Celebration Grid

The Celebration Grid compares behaviors with outcomes. (image from M30 website)

Teresa Amabile, a Baker Foundation Professor and Director of Research at Harvard Business School, studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance. Teresa’s research encompasses creativity, productivity, innovation, and inner work life — the confluence of emotions, perceptions, and motivation that people experience as they react to events at work.

In her book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Teresa illuminates how everyday events at work can impact employee engagement and creative productivity. Based on a research into nearly 12,000 daily diary entries from over 200 professionals inside organizations, she also presents to us seven major catalysts that affect both the positive perception of progress and the actual positive impact on progress:

  1. Setting clear goals.
  2. Allowing autonomy.
  3. Providing resources.
  4. Giving enough time — but not too much.
  5. Help with the work.
  6. Learning from problems and successes.
  7. Allowing ideas to flow.

As a manager, consultant, agile coach, facilitator… I’m addicted to learning and the sixth catalyst attracted my attention. About this topic, Teresa defends that:

“No matter how skilled people are, or how well designed and well executed their projects, problems and failures are inevitable in complex, creative work. We found that inner work life was much more positive when problems were faced squarely, analyzed, and met with plans to overcome or learn from them. Inner work life faltered when problems were ignored, punished, or handled haphazardly. Learning from success mattered, too. Our participants’ thoughts, feelings, and drives fared better when successes, even small ones, were celebrated and then analyzed for knowledge gained. They fared worse when success was ignored, or when its true value was questioned. The ability to learn and move forward after failure is much more likely in organizational climates marked by psychological safety — a shared expectation, conveyed by the words and actions of leaders, that people will be commended for admitting or pointing out mistakes, rather than shunned. Only in a psychologically safe climate can people take the risks necessary to produce truly innovative work.”

Jurgen Appelo, author of books like “How to Change the World” and “Management 3.0”, affirms that we learn the most when we can’t predict whether our experiments will lead to good or bad outcomes. In other words, he believes that failure and success are both needed for learning. In his books “#Workout” and “Managing for Happiness”, Jurgen proposes that we should celebrate learning, not success or failure, to maximize the understanding of our problems. And he supposes that the only way to do it is by experiencing.

One of the tools created by him that I like to use as a visual way to present the outcome of an experiment, whether that experiment succeeded or failed, is the Celebration Grid. This grid shows us where we can celebrate the good practices, which result from a positive outcome and where we learned something from our failures.

Management 3.0 Celebration grid image from Jurgen Appelo’s Illustrations

This colored image helps us to understand better the grid. The green parts are potential celebration areas (C, B and E) and are called the celebration zone:
 — Region C: good practices usually lead to success. That’s why we have them.
 — Region B: we run experiments when we don’t know if we will succeed.
 — Region E: with all experiments, there is a good chance of failing.
The other areas colored in gray and red are where we didn’t learn, or have a positive outcome. Their meanings are:
 — Region F: although sometimes, good practices can fail.
 — Region D: we avoid mistakes (bad practices) because they often lead to failure.
 — Region A: although sometimes, mistakes surprise us with unexpected success.

As you can see, the Celebration Grid measures our behavior — Mistakes, Experiments and Practices, against the outcome and what we learned, or did well. Its use is encouraged in meetings like one-on-ones sessions, standup, weekly skype calls, agile retrospectives… as a reflection guided by answering two Yay Questions: “What did we do well?” and “What did we learn?”.

My latest experience using this tool was very interesting. I was guiding a software development team to migrate from Scrum to Kanban and we decided to attach the grid to our Kanban board. Instead of waiting for a retrospective to identify learning, we began to report learning in our own daily standup meetings when detected. Yes, we maintained these two scrum’s ceremonies in our development strategy but our stand up daily meetings were adapted in a different way. Rather than to answer the three questions proposed by the Scrum framework (“What did you do yesterday?”, “What will you do today?” and “Are there any impediments in your way?”), we have a more board-oriented format conversation, focusing on bottlenecks and other visible problems, as well as report learning.

And now, create a safe-to-fail environment to run more experiences faster and cheaper to increase our continuous improvement learning by experiments is one of the responsibilities of all team members, not only of the manager.

Image from a presentation available on M30 website.
Image from a presentation available on M30 website.

Thanks guys for this new experience in our journey. :)

Wow, I'm very happy to be tweeted by Jurgen Appelo :D