How the Compound Effect can lead to a successful Agile Transformation

A Sprint Retrospective which talks about sweating the small stuff, taking you through how small incremental changes can lead to big change.

Scott Oliver
Aug 29 · 4 min read

This article is part of a series of Sprint Retrospective stories. Each story will walk you through the steps, my audience for the original posts were the organisation I was working with at the time. Keeping it straightforward with no fluffy edges. Each story is the write up of a real Sprint Retrospective that I’ve ran with one of my teams. I’ve removed reference to names and blurred faces where needed.


In three words…

We’ve all heard of the one word icebreaker, if not keep an eye out for a future article. Each team member is asked to describe the last Sprint based on their feelings and do it using only one word. This is always tough and challenging to do as there are 171,476 words in the English Dictionary to choose from.

Trying to narrow it down can put the pressure on and force the brain into thinking mode. But this time, the team got asked to describe how they feel about the last Sprint in three words. Trying to make them fit together as best they could. Once everyone had finished, they placed them on the wall and talked through what they had wrote and why.

The three word icebreaker

The small stuff…

People want big change. That big thing that costs a lot of money, takes forever to put in place but may or may not make any difference. I’m a firm believer in the compound effect, making many small changes over time will lead to a big change. What might seem like small insignificant changes at the time. Many small changes do have a significant impact and the end result is change for the better. In other words, it’s the little details that people remember. It’s the small things that make the real difference and actually stand out in the long-term.

Do watch the Ted talk by Rory Sutherland. Rory uses behavioural economics and hilarious examples to explain it in more detail.

Rory the ad man at TEDSalon London 2010

The team were given a grid split into four sections. These sections covering Technical, Process, People and Other. Then a separate section called Big Parking Lot. Utilising the ever popular Liberating Structure 1–2–4-All, the team were asked to focus on small ideas that would make a difference. Place them in the relevant section and shout out what they wrote, then give a very brief explanation.

The Big Parking Lot was a place where team members could put ideas that aren’t small but they still wanted to capture. Grouping the post-its and then voting on which topics they wanted to talk about. Using Dot-voting each person had three dots that they could place on the post-it notes, they could put three on one ticket, two on one and one on another or one on each ticket. This gave us a prioritised list based the most votes that involved the whole team and only took a few minutes.

The team discussed the prioritised list and we took those actions forward creating more actions if required.

Grouping and Dot-voting

Here are an example of the small suggestions and ideas the team collated (these are just a few examples):

People

  • Request IT leadership to attend Sprint Reviews.
  • Talk to stakeholders about testing.
  • Attend other teams Daily Scrum to help start conversations between the teams.

Process

  • Start demoing stories to each other mid-Sprint.
  • Add in a test column to our Scrum board.
  • Start holding each other accountable on moving stories to ‘Done’.

There were 2 Big Parking Lot ideas which are specific to the organisation.

Off the back of the insights being generated, depending on how well the team have participated. They may need more coaching to create specific small actions off the back of the ideas raised.


Focusing on the small things, things that can be controlled by the team. Taking the action to implement these small things. Over time they all add up to what is essentially a lot of positive change. You don’t need to adopt Scrum in order to make small changes. But using Scrum can help teams adopt empiricism and grow together to form what could essentially be very high-performing successful teams.

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Scott Oliver

Written by

ScrumMaster | NLP Master Practitioner Coach | Ex User Experience Designer | Passionate about building self organising teams.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

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