As the chair of the Agile Alliance board over the last year, I’ve had lots of occasion to think about the effect of group values and principles on work. This pondering led me to invent a new activity for the the “Gather Data” phase of retrospectives.

Instructions for Values Activity:

Have plenty of sticky-notes available. I like the 4”x4” super-sticky kind. Accompany the sticky notes with black, broad-line felt tip marking pens. I like the water-based kind that don’t bleed through the paper, but permanent ones will work too.

Ask team members to pair up or get in groups of three. Give the group a task of remembering and writing down events that happened during the iteration (or release). Depending on the length of the iteration, I allow 7-15 minutes. Encourage them to work quickly without censoring each other or evaluating the events. Stress quantity. So far, it’s like the preparation for a Team Timeline or FRIM activity.

Prepare flip charts labeled with Agile values. Use your Agile team values, or the XP values, or the Agile Manifesto values , whichever ones have the most meaning for your team. Make one sheet for each value, plus a blank sheet titled, “value-free”. Draw a horizontal line dividing each value sheet into two roughly equal sections. Label the top section with a + (plus) and the bottom section with a - (minus). Post the flip charts up on a wall in a row.

Ask the pairs to post their sticky notes on the sheets according to whether the event was an instance of a high expression of a value or a low expression of a value. As team members post the sticky notes, encourage them to add any other events that come to mind.

When all the sticky notes have found a place, move the group across the room from the chart wall. Ask a series of questions to explore the events and values, for example:

* What did you see and hear in your small group as you thought of events and wrote them down?

* What do you notice from this distance about the events the whole team posted? Where do you see many notes? Where do you see only a few? What other patterns do you see? (Move closer to the charts so everyone can read the notes.)

* As you think back about the events, which ones seemed challenging or frustrating? which seemed surprising or confusing? which seemed fun or enjoyable? What do you notice about where those notes appear on the charts?

* Which values has the team kept alive? Which not? Why? How do those values impact what has worked well during the iteration and what you’d like to change?

* What would we need to do during the next iteration to live up to our values more often?

After pondering the answers to these questions, the team moves more easily into a discussion of possible action steps and making a team decision about plans for improvement. But that’s a different activity.


When I introduced a team to this activity we used their values: Customer Connection, Clear Team Communication, High Quality Product, and Mutual Respect. As they considered where to post different notes, I overheard discussions about how different events reflected a push for fast production over quality and how that had affected their demo. Some of their speedier shortcuts created unwelcome behaviors in the code. Sacrificing the value for a quality product had also impacted their value for a strong customer connection. The customers didn’t understand why they heard so many excuses, restarts, and “ooops!” exclamations during the demo. Was it ready for them to see or not? After working so hard to build trust with their customer, the team could practically see it eroding during the demo.

The activity gave the team another way to look at how they worked together during the iteration, as well as a deeper understanding of why their values mattered.

They generated many ideas for sticking with values more closely when they answered the last two questions: How do those values impact what has worked well during the iteration and what you’d like to change? and What would we need to do during the next iteration to live up to our values more often?