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Efficiency vs Effectiveness in Agile

Learn the difference between effectiveness and efficiency and whether your team can be agile without knowing it in this Unscripted episode, recorded at GOTO Copenhagen 2021 with Aino Vonge Corry, author of “Retrospectives Antipatterns”, Klaus Bucka-Lassen, agile coach and trainer and Preben Thorø, CTO of Trifork.

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Learn the difference between effectiveness and efficiency and whether your team can be agile without knowing it in this Unscripted episode, recorded at GOTO Copenhagen 2021 with Aino Vonge Corry, author of “Retrospective Antipatterns”, Klaus Bucka-Lassen, agile coach and trainer and Preben Thorø, CTO of Trifork.




Effectiveness and efficiency

Preben Thorø: Welcome here.

Aino Vonge Corry: Thank you.

Preben Thorø: I hope you're nervous.

Aino Vonge Corry: Very.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yes.

Preben Thorø: Good. I heard that there was a story in the news this morning about the CEO of Volkswagen that said something about becoming more efficient. And when I'm thinking of becoming more efficient I think of you.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: You're referring to my talk yesterday. So, I read the news, and I saw the one about Herbert Diess, CEO of Volkswagen, telling all of the Volkswagen people, his employees, that they should become more efficient.

Preben Thorø: It was like a speech to the group, right? 

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I think this came out of a discussion afterward with the workers’ council where they complain to him saying, "You're just scaring everybody with that kind of statements." But I think it was a written statement to all employees.

Preben Thorø: On the internal Volkswagen Twitter wall.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Something like that. I wish that would have come out a day earlier because I would have immediately snipped that news into the presentation yesterday. It's just perfect because I speak exactly to that case. I say Tesla versus Volkswagen, where Tesla is focusing on building the right products that people want. And then later, in the second stage, check how they can do that efficiently. 

While Volkswagen argues "Let's just do it efficiently." And they don't even consider Tesla really a competitor yet because they don't realize that it's about building the right product first. So that was quite interesting news this morning for me to read.

Preben Thorø: But I guess all the shareholders, they were happy about that. 

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: More efficiency. 

Preben Thorø: Yeah.

Aino Vonge Corry: Because it means more money.

Preben Thorø: Yes. Exactly.

Aino Vonge Corry: I would say that some people have been a bit miffed about Tesla not focusing on effectiveness, because even though they made a wonderful product, they just couldn't get the cars out. People couldn't get the cars. So, should they have focused more on that?

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: You mean efficiency then?

Aino Vonge Corry: Yes. Sorry, I got it wrong.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yeah. But that's natural for a Dane because, in Danish, you can't differentiate between effectiveness and efficiency. It's the same word.

Aino Vonge Corry: That explains a lot about Danish products really.

Preben Thorø: Yes. And our efficiency.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: So, I think Tesla, and the share market, to come back to that, currently, anyway, prove that Tesla will choose the right strategy. The market capitalization of Tesla is eight times the market capitalization of Volkswagen, the third-biggest automaker in the world after Toyota and now Tesla. Tesla is worth as much as the 50 next carmakers combined, which is crazy. Don't get me started on whether that makes sense at all.

Aino Vonge Corry: It never makes sense.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: It looks like the shareholders are pretty happy with the Tesla strategy.

Aino Vonge Corry: It makes sense for them. But going back to that: effectiveness, efficiency — the two words are so alike for somebody like me. I understand what you're saying when you're talking about it, but I get the words wrong all the time. Do you think that could be a problem for other people, as well, that they just get the words wrong? 

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I absolutely think so. And I think a lot of people have that exact problem. That's the same in agility in general with just a word like "product owner" people have different assumptions on what it actually means. What does a “scrum master” mean? Some people hear "team leader" when you say "scrum master," other people interpret it more like somebody who's removing impediments of a leader.

So, absolutely, with effectiveness and efficiency, when I talk to people about that, I first try to establish common ground. And like you said, effectiveness is about doing the right things and efficiency is doing things right. But that's not enough. You then still need to define it.

Preben Thorø: And even that is a hard one to grasp.

Aino Vonge Corry: It is. You need examples, you need to know what it's not, also in order to understand it.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: My favorite way of explaining it is really effectiveness is about looking outwards. What does the market want? It's purely looking outwards. "What do our users want? How do they use our product, etc.?" And it's product thinking. Efficiency is process-thinking. It's looking inwards. In efficiency thinking you don't care at all what the market wants. You just look in. "How can we improve our processes? How can we create more handovers and more specialization?" Or the opposite depending on what system you're operating in. That's efficiency, looking inward.

I think that's the easiest way to grasp the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. With scrum, you have those two roles, which are beautifully implementing that: the product owner, the effectiveness, the scrum master, the efficiency. I should say scrum master and the rest of the team, efficiency. I agree that is a problem for people.



Mob programming

Aino Vonge Corry: So, could you say that mob programming is making people very efficient because they're taking away all the waiting time?

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Mob programming has to be defined to me a little bit more. What I hear when I hear mob programming, and I need to ensure that I'm talking about the same thing, is the next step after pair programming. It's also including businesspeople, everybody is in the same room and you have super short communication paths. Is that correctly defined or is there more to it?

Aino Vonge Corry: That's how I understand it as well. Everybody in the same room working at the same thing on the same computer, at the same time.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: But also business, like, say, users. This is, again, a confusing term, "business."

Aino Vonge Corry: Everybody who would be able to have some information that they need.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yeah.

Aino Vonge Corry: So they don't have to wait for the architect to answer whether they can do it like this or this. They don't have to wait for the data analyst to figure out, "What are the numbers here?" They don't have to wait for the UX expert. That's how I understand it.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: To me, that sounds like effectiveness and efficiency combined right there, because you have the users of that product that you're building.

Aino Vonge Corry: The people you need answers from.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yes, exactly. Effectiveness is talking to those pretty much. And usually, that'll be around, like, "Are we building the right thing?" And then if you want to ask a UX expert to make this really usable. That would probably be really efficient. And you have a cross-functional team in there. So I think that would actually cover both of them. That's a good point. 

Aino Vonge Corry: My next question is, why is it so difficult to get people to try this out? I tried it in a lot of different places where I've been an agile coach, and it's only worked for me in two organizations. But they like it.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: The mob programming?

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah. The mob programming. They designed parts of the room where people can go mob program for a day or two when they want to. But it's so difficult to convince people about that. And I think if we could make them understand that it's both efficient and effective, maybe that would be a good way of introducing it, because right now they think it's just a complete waste of time because the developers are saying, "We are the only ones who can sit by the keyboard. And if we're not at the keyboard all the time, then we're wasting time."

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: In my experience, a lot of developers think that way, actually. A lot of developers are like, "I don't want to go to another meeting, because if I'm not at my keyboard, I'm not productive." And I always try to explain, "No. This meeting is different." Of course, there are some meetings that are exactly like that, they're just a waste of time.

Aino Vonge Corry: They are bad meetings. We shouldn't have those.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Absolutely. And we should just cancel those no matter what they're called, or reduce them in time. But generally, if it's a good meeting, then that meeting actually should make you more productive later, because you have more flow. You don't have to ask the questions that you already got clarified upfront, etc. So, "why" is always the question. Like, why do organizations not want to do mob programming?

Aino Vonge Corry: Why don't they want to do agile?

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yes. And I think it often comes down to this again, they want to be efficient. We talked about Herbert Diess. He says it to all of, what is it, thirty thousand employees, or is it a hundred thousand? I don't know how many people work for Volkswagen. He actually writes that in a statement, or says it, whatever, "You guys need to become more efficient." So it's not like they really focus on that.

Aino Vonge Corry: No, no. He's putting it out. If he has understood the word correctly.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yeah.

Preben Thorø: That's the big question.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Maybe he meant effectiveness, but I don't think so.

Preben Thorø: No.

Aino Vonge Corry: No. I don't think so either. I was just trying to make a silly joke. But I think that it's the same when you're talking about agile to everybody, like developers, organizations, a lot of them are saying, "Oh, it's a waste of time. We don't want to do all that talking. We don't want to have all these meetings," and they don't understand that having these conversations in meetings means that you can save a lot of time because you become more efficient. Us using it correctly now. And the same with retrospectives that I will talk about tomorrow. A lot of people think that they're a waste of time. And they definitely can be a waste of time if they're not done right.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yeah. Absolutely.

Preben Thorø: This is about doing things for a purpose.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yes, exactly. Asking the right question, why are we doing this? What do we expect to get out of this? Because if we don't really expect to get anything out of it, if it's just something that we need to tick off to call ourselves agile, then it can become a terrible waste of time. I'm sure you see that in a lot of organizations that you work with, as well. Probably they call for you when they have problems, right? Like with me, we only see the bad cases because otherwise, they would never call us. And people hate it, and people dislike it. So you see that a lot, too, I suspect.



Being agile without knowing?

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I do. Actually, currently, one client is almost the other way around.

Aino Vonge Corry: Too eager.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: No. It is interesting. So, I got there. They asked me to come and help them become agile, which, of course, like many places, means, "Let's help us do scrum." And I was there for two weeks or so, not full time, about half time. And I told them, "Guys, you are pretty agile already." I mean, they have lots of small applications and they deliver them.

So the first day, I get there, they say, "Oh, we got this big new product or project in." And I said, "Okay. How big?" And he goes like, "Three weeks." Now, okay, when I hear "big," I think, like, nine plus months. It's like, "Three weeks. Okay, so that's a big project. Excellent. Good start."

Aino Vonge Corry: Excellent.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: So it turns out they have lots of small requests, and they deliver them right into production, through some phases, of course, testing and stuff. But quickly into production, and no dependencies to other teams, etc. So, I just came back saying "Guys, you are pretty agile. Okay, you're not doing scrum." They don't have a scrum master, they don't have a product owner, they don't have a backlog. Prioritization is actually not that important because capacity is almost matching the appetite. So, in which order you do it, of course, still has an impact on how much value you create, and when.

Aino Vonge Corry: But not as much because everything gets done.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Exactly. Everything gets done. It's like this three-week project.

Aino Vonge Corry: What could you tell them then?

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: So, well, "The C-suite, they want us to be agile." And to them, it's doing scrum.

Preben Thorø: See, that’s the problem. First of all, that's the discussion about managers and leaders. And second, this is an order from above. So, "Now, from tomorrow, we're agile."

Aino Vonge Corry: Which can actually make them less agile than they were.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Absolutely.

Preben Thorø: Yes.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: And that's also what I told them. "Guys, we need to be careful with this." They also have split these 15 people into 4 tiny teams. Usually, it's, like, 9, 10, 11, 12 people, but this is 3 or 4-people teams. So everything is like, "We need to be careful with this." Let's ask these individuals who actually want to try a little bit more structure like scrum, for instance. We identified one team, and that's the team I'm starting with now. And we're looking at how we will do that now. So that was quite interesting.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah. It's interesting.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yeah. It's a new experience.

Aino Vonge Corry: I have almost the opposite experience from one organization, which was a smallish company, and they were doing really well making extremely good products. I talked to their CTO, and he was ridiculing everything to do with agile. He thought it was just stupid, a waste of time, everything was bad.

And I said to him, "Okay. But you have morning meetings every morning where you're, sort of, looking at where you are. If you hear some changes from your customers, you are changing the product direction. You are at regular intervals thinking about how well you're doing and how you can do better. How are you not agile?" So, they were also very agile. He just hated agile because he didn't like the frameworks that he saw were there. So that's interesting.

Preben Thorø: I guess that's why "agile" has become a negative word in many contexts.

Aino Vonge Corry: I think so, too.

Preben Thorø: Because there are too many opinions about doing it right. And then it becomes a religion and a set of rules. And that's actually what it should not be. It should be common sense.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Exactly. People treat it as a recipe for some cookie they don't like. And it's not. Scrum is not supposed to be a recipe, and the same goes for agile, in general. There are some frameworks out there that I would sign are recipes, and are even trying to sell themselves as a recipe.

Preben Thorø: But that's more like a toolbox, and you can pick what you need in order to support you.

Aino Vonge Corry: Exactly. There's nothing wrong with scrum in essence. I think it's a very good tool to use to start off with doing agile with a loose framework like that. The problem, as you mentioned, with those frameworks is that if you implement them, you forget to think. You forget to think about whether this is the right way or not. And then your process is not agile.

Preben Thorø: Yes. That’s spot on.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Exactly. What is lacking is understanding. "Why do we have a daily? Why do we have a retrospective? Why do we have a review? Ah, the process!" Which is even wrong, to begin with. "The process says we should do a review." And then you get questions like, "Are we allowed to do this and that?” Like, “Is the product owner supposed to be in the retrospective?" Well, I guess that depends, right?

Aino Vonge Corry: It depends on the situation.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Exactly. And if you understand what the retrospective is for, you can answer that question yourself. You don't have to go to a coach or consultant asking "Can the product owner be in the retrospective?"

Aino Vonge Corry: On the other hand, if they have to go to a coach or consultant, then I can make my living.

Preben Thorø: I was just about to say that. You're on thin ice now.


Retrospectives Antipatterns


Klaus Bucka-Lassen: But you can live off your book now.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yes. I can. I don't have to work anymore.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: And you can double your rate. I mean, as an author with a bestselling book.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I read on LinkedIn that it's not even possible to get the book anymore. 

Aino Vonge Corry: No. It's, kind of, difficult. 

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: That must be pretty neat.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I did see some downstairs, though.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah. I just brought some.

Preben Thorø: Buy them.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yeah. I thought I should buy the whole bunch of 20 and then sell them at a premium. Sell them on my own website.

Preben Thorø: I saw a man downstairs, who bought the whole bunch of the old "Design Patterns" book. He has them piled up. And I was thinking, "Does he expect to sell them here? Do they still sell?"

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: The "Gang of Four" book.

Preben Thorø: Yes, exactly. 

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: A hundred kroner (ca. 13,50 €) for two of them.

Aino Vonge Corry: What? That's cheap.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Seventy-five DKK (ca. 10 €) for one, 100 DKK for two.

Aino Vonge Corry: I need to go buy a bunch, as well. I spent four years of my life working on that book. I mean, not writing it, but working on it.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I remember when my career started as a software developer there, that...

Aino Vonge Corry: That was the bible.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: ...Erich Gamma was, I think, living in Zurich at that time.

Preben Thorø: Yes.

Aino Vonge Corry: Sounds plausible.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: And Kent Beck was also there, although he's not in the book of four. He's not part of that.

Preben Thorø: But he probably has an opinion about it.

Aino Vonge Corry: Oh, yeah. I think so.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: You like people that have opinions.

Preben Thorø: I do.

Aino Vonge Corry: I think Kent Beck's ideas about the patterns in "Smalltalk" were the origin of the book.

Preben Thorø: Yeah. That could be.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I walked to the big stand of books downstairs and I get these flashbacks almost. It's like, "Whoa. Does that book still exist?" I mean, of course, it exists, but is somebody actually selling it? And only now when we talk it's like, "Gee. A hundred kroner for that book."

Aino Vonge Corry: I remember how expensive it used to be back then.

Preben Thorø: Yes.

Aino Vonge Corry: How long ago was that? Twenty-five years?

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Pretty much. That's when I moved to Switzerland and started programming.

Preben Thorø: With your book. 

Aino Vonge Corry: With your book under the arm.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I think I had the red books from university, where Aino and I know each other from. That was a good time.

Aino Vonge Corry: It was a good time.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: But back to your book.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yes.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: How come it's so hard to get a hold of it, already?

Aino Vonge Corry: No. It always has been. The trouble is I used an American publisher. They publish books in America, and then they sell them in America. And then they hadn't shipped any books to Europe.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: But your network is 80% in Europe.

Aino Vonge Corry: Ninety-five, I think.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Okay. 

Aino Vonge Corry: They're just trying to get them to Europe. It's working now, and now we're gonna print them again, but this time in Europe.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Okay.

Aino Vonge Corry: Makes more sense. So that's why it's difficult. I would love to say that it's because it's sold out.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: It's not?

Aino Vonge Corry: No, it's not. But it will be, of course.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yes.

Preben Thorø: It will be. It didn't have a chance to get sold out.

Aino Vonge Corry: Actually, the people who had bought it when you could buy it at Amazon, three months after, they got their order canceled and their money back on their card because they couldn't get the books to Europe.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Wow. Okay.

Aino Vonge Corry: That's a bad start to selling a book, I would say. 

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Well, but you learned for your next book.

Aino Vonge Corry: Oh, yeah. I wrote my book for about six years, and then I took 2019 off to finish my book. And then 2020, COVID came. So that was a bad judgment.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Unlucky. I wouldn't say "bad." "Bad" sounds like you could have known it but that was unpredictable.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah. I was really unlucky. I should have written my book in 2020 instead because I had loads of time in 2020.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Same here. For one and a half years, all I've been doing is giving a few courses here and there, but now it's really picking up again.

Aino Vonge Corry: It is, which is nice.


Antipattern: In the soup

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: So, on retrospectives. A pattern I see in retrospectives is that teams or actually everybody is always pointing outwards. I was working with this Danish organization in the beginning of this year in spring. And whoever I spoke to, they were like, "Oh, yeah. We should really be going. You should change this guy. You should change this girl. You should change this manager. You should change this group."

And when you spoke to any of those, they would point in all other directions. And it's a pattern I see in so many retrospectives, and it's probably okay once in a while to cry a little bit and point outwards, and stay. Certainly, other things that need to change as well. But people are generally very bad at looking in the mirror and saying, "What should I change?"

Aino Vonge Corry: It's different from team to team, I would say. So that's actually in the book as the anti-pattern in the soup.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Ah, okay. Yeah.



Aino Vonge Corry: Sometimes I have a team that's like that. And every time we gather data, we look at the things that they're complaining about. It's always somebody else they're complaining about. And then what I do is a circles of influence activity, the soup activity where I draw a circle and say, "These are the things you can do. These are things you can influence outside. Things that are in the soup, you just have to accept. You have to learn to live with that. And then, let's take all the post-it notes that you complained about, and let's put them into these circles."

And when they do that, they then sometimes see that all the post-it notes are in the soup. And then I make them take a step back, as you say, reflect on it, look at it and say, "What do you see here?"

And then it's so much more efficient, effective, whatever, if they realize themselves what's happening. So, if I can make them realize themselves, "Oh, right. So everything we're complaining about is out of our circle of influence, something that we cannot do anything about," then it just becomes what Daniel Terhorst-North calls a regretospective, where we're just saying, "Oh, this is so bad. We're just complaining."

And as you said, it's good to let some air out from time to time, and complain about things. But if you're continuously complaining about things you can't change, then the retrospective becomes a waste of time, because then you're just talking about something that you can't change.

And that thing about making them focus and taking responsibility, it's a big part of agile. So it's a big learning device for agile in general for a team to take responsibility and to see, "Okay some of these things that we can't do anything about, maybe there's something we can do something about. Maybe we can take part of the problem and move it into the circle of influence. And then perhaps we can change a little bit from our own side, or we can just learn to accept it and move on instead of complaining." So that's definitely a person I see myself.

And it's so interesting to see when they get it, when they're like, "Oh, yeah, you're right. We're not taking responsibility for anything." I use this in my own life, as well. In the soup with myself and my children when we're complaining about things. You know, sometimes you've got all these things to complain about, "Oh, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong." Then I make the "in the soup" activity with myself or with my children, and say, "Okay, well, these things we just have to learn to live with, just have to accept it. And this you can do something about."

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Like parents' rules, for example. You just have to accept them.

Preben Thorø: Yes.

Aino Vonge Corry: In the soup, right.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: "We set the rules. You just live by them."

Aino Vonge Corry: The adaptation could be that you can move away from home when you are old enough if you don't like to be in the soup.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: You could move away now, but only if you can support yourself. How old are your children?

Aino Vonge Corry: Seventeen, 19, and 26.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: So they could all move out?

Aino Vonge Corry: They could actually almost all move out, but I don't want them to.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Mine is 14, so that's probably pushing it a little to kick him out already.

Aino Vonge Corry: They probably could make a living, but then they wouldn't get an education.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: But, you know I live in Switzerland. And the further south you get, the later the kids move out.

Aino Vonge Corry: Like Italy. 

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: In Italy, they don't move out until they're 35 or 40. So Switzerland's not that bad, but it's certainly later.

Aino Vonge Corry: When did you move out?

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: When I moved to Aarhus to study. So that's when I was 19, I guess. So for a Danish standard, it's not that early.

Aino Vonge Corry: No. It's actually pretty late.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: And for an Italian, it's almost a baby. I think it's effectiveness in that context, by the way, because I can be super-efficient at trying to solve something.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah. But nothing comes out of it. So it's the effectiveness goes down. Thank you.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen:Stephen Covey, the author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," once said if the ladder leans against the wrong wall, every step you take just gets you to the wrong place faster.

Aino Vonge Corry: Definitely.



Facilitator’s conundrum

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I have another question in retrospectives actually. We are facilitators and coaches, maybe not consultants. If you’re a consultant, you tell them "You do this," more or less. But if you're there as a facilitator and a coach, and they have all these stickies, and they, maybe that's the trick already, do not just dot voting, like, "Which one should we now look at?"

But then they pick one. And we, as facilitators, go, like, "That's not really a problem. I mean, okay, we don't have plants in our room. It wouldn't make it a nicer area." That’s just a stupid example. And then they talk about that for half an hour. "Where could we get plants?" Okay, this is a really bad example to exaggerate. 

Aino Vonge Corry: But I know what you mean.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: And you think, "But that sticky down there. This one, the conflict you have with your product owner not trusting you that's the one you should be discussing." Without stepping out of the facilitator role and becoming a consultant, how do you get them to address that? And maybe we're wrong, of course. Maybe that is the most important one they are discussing, I don't know. But how do you get out of that?

Aino Vonge Corry: That's a good question. There are many answers to that.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I want a recipe.

Aino Vonge Corry: All right, I'll give you a recipe. It depends, really. So I would say that if you're doing idealistic retrospective facilitation, then you just say, "Well, this is what they have the energy to discuss today. I'm sure they know that there is a problem down there," but you should follow the energy, and that's what they've got the energy to discuss. Just leave them to do that, and think, "Okay, so maybe today is just about sharing and about communicating, and maybe not about solving the most important problem." But there will be a retrospective again in two weeks or three weeks. That would be one thing to do.

Another thing to do could be that you say, "Okay, great. We talked about this, but we have other things that we could talk about. Should we just put this in the ‘parking lot’ folder and then we can talk about it afterward, if we need to talk about it anymore? Because we also need to look at the other things." And, sort of, shutting that down in a polite way by saying, "Let's look at the other things. What is the next most interesting thing that you'd like to talk about?" That's another way you can do it.

But I think it would depend on whether you believe that they need to have that discussion because that's the only thing they've got energy for, or whether it could also be that you are working with the team where they are not so fond of retrospectives because they think they're a waste of time. And then you definitely have to do something about not making it a waste of time.

Sometimes I come into teams where they think it's a terrible waste of time because it has been a waste of time. And in those cases, I have to make sure that they get something concrete out of it. And in those cases, I am a bit harsher in my facilitation and less invisible. I'm making sure that we're talking about things where we can get an action point out or an experiment that can actually help them improve the way that they're working together.

But it depends on what the team is like. It could also be that it's a team that I know very well, and I actually say, "Okay, now I step out of the facilitator role. I think that you need to focus on this because this is something I hear about all the time." That would be in cases where I'm working as a scrum master or an agile coach close to the team, and I know that it's okay for me to step out of the facilitator role and to say these things. But I think that should be the last resort because I really do believe that the retrospective should be about what they need to talk about right now, what they have the energy for.

And then some people are saying, "Well, they're not talking about the important things. They're not solving the right things." And I say, "Yes. Okay, but they might do it at the next retrospective," or then you can add some "Toyota Kata" on top of that if there are some things that you specifically want to change. But you just have to respect that the retrospective is something for the team where they're talking about what they need to talk about at the moment. It wasn't a recipe. It was three recipes.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: No. But that was Danish sarcasm, right? I just feel that I often see the situation where they're discussing something like that.

Aino Vonge Corry: Yeah.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: But the topic, for instance, "What can you do?" Or some really important topics, that, again, and again, and again, don't make it to the one that's being discussed in the retrospective.

Aino Vonge Corry: If it's recurring, then, as I say, you can be a harsher facilitator. You can step out of the role. Or maybe when you have a retrospective over the retrospective, which I have sometimes when I have time. Sometimes it's just like, "Was it worth your time?" Sometimes I actually do have a retrospective where I ask them, "What worked for you? What didn't work for you?"

And then you can say, "Well, as a facilitator, what I saw happening here was that you were spending a lot of time discussing this. Was this because you really wanted to discuss this, or was it because you were afraid of discussing the other thing, or you didn't notice it?" Or just again asking the "why."

Preben Thorø: Let's keep it here. I think we have...

Aino Vonge Corry: Plenty of material.

Preben Thorø: ...plenty.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: I had lots of more questions.

Preben Thorø: I know.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: He could tell, I was just about to ask the next question.

Preben Thorø: Yeah. Don't get him started.

Aino Vonge Corry: Well, thank you. That were great questions.

Klaus Bucka-Lassen: Yeah.

Preben Thorø: Yes.


About the speakers

Aino Vonge Corry

Aino Corry is a teacher, a technical conference editor and retrospectives facilitator. She holds a masters degree and a Ph.d. in computer science, has 12 years of experience with patterns in software development and 10+ years' experience with facilitation of retrospectives. 

For the past 5 years she has been focused on facilitating the agile journey for several companies in Denmark. She also teaches how to teach computer science to teachers, and thus lives up to the name of her company: Metadeveloper. She is always interested in hearing anecdotes about octopuses.

By using her usually underplayed humor, she will dive into some of the well-known mistakes we all make as team members.

Past appearances

GOTO Berlin 2019 - The Importance of Laughter

GOTO Chicago 2018 - Polyglot Agile

GOTO Copenhagen 2016 - Retrospectives Antipatterns

GOTO Book Club 2021 - Retrospectives Antipatterns Part 1, Retrospectives Antipatterns Part 2

Klaus Bucka-Lassen

After finishing his master’s degree in computer science in 1996, Klaus worked as developer, architect, project manager, entrepreneur, trainer and coach for companies all over Europe, North America and even Australia.

Ever since he learned about rapid prototyping back in 1991, he has been a strong advocate for iterative processes that deliver fast and early feedback.

His real passion is scrum. He is a Fellow Scrum Trainer by Scrum Inc. and as such has been co-training with Jeff Sutherland, the inventor of scrum, more than 20 times.

Klaus has helped major companies from the banking, pharma, telecommunication, IT and manufacturing sectors in becoming more agile. He is known and respected for being an honest and direct communicator and has an in-depth understanding of what drives people at all levels of an organization.

When speaking with Klaus, be prepared to get a lot of "Whys" — Klaus is convinced that this is one of the most powerful words and that we too seldom ask ourselves this exact question — WHY?

When not spending time on the job or with his family, Klaus flies planes, rides motorcycles, goes skiing, plays golf and does adventurous trips around the globe. His formula 3 license, unfortunately, expired a long time ago.

Past appearances

GOTOpia Chicago 2021 - Agility is Inefficient

Preben Thorø



Preben is very aware of the enormous responsibility the software business has, the impact software has on our life and planet, and his hope is that parts of this shine through in the GOTO Conferences.

As the CTO at Trifork and GOTO Conference program responsible, Preben is part of a team always on the search for new, interesting and upcoming movements. 

With his math and physics mind, he is constantly trying to understand the forces that drive individuals, group dynamics, society and the universe.

Past appearances

GOTO Book Club 2021 - Quantum Computing in Action