What's Going Right Around Here?

Using AI to Improve Your Agile Requirements Process

we focused on two things: our biweekly "work ahead requirements" work sessions and the way we were using low-fidelity, supplemental models for complex stories.

This goal led me, in my role as agile coach and facilitator, to consider how to explore these topics in our next iteration retrospective. 

Side Note: Best Practices in Appreciative Questions
Good appreciative interviews provide important data but also reveal much about relationships and experience. Good appreciative questions have these qualities:
  • Help forge personal connections between interviewers and interviewees

  • Invite stories, rather than abstract opinions or theories

  • Draw on people’s life experiences

  • Are personal, almost intimate

  • Invoke a mental scan (promote thinking of multiple possibilities from which to select one)

  • Are uplifting

  • Give free rein to the imagination

  • Are open, allowing you to answer in a variety of ways

  • Suggest action

  • Have an emotional and logical flow

(Adapted from The Power of Appreciative Inquiry byWhitney and Trosten-Bloom, 2003).

Designing Appreciative Questions
Appreciative questions explore the extraordinary-the mundane yet positive occurrences that we take for granted. These positive occurrences sustain forward movement.

You can use positive questions to explore topics that the team needs to address. Suppose the topic for discovery and change is team communication. You, as facilitator, can ask the team to recall a moment in the iteration, release, or project phase when communication allowed the team members to connect and work exceptionally well together.

You might pose the question by saying, "Recall a time during our requirements work when some communication mode or activity allowed you and a customer to connect and work exceptionally well together. What were the circumstances? What made that communication compelling?"

The pairs answer these questions in turn. While one person answers, the other takes notes and asks clarifying questions. They explore the positive question for about fifteen minutes and then swap roles. You will find the experience extraordinary.

Discover Themes
The next step is for the entire team to uncover key themes that emerged. When I am facilitating this activity, I like to ask people to record these on cards. We next array them on the wall and organize them into themes. If the topic is about agile requirements, themes might include "readiness of stories for iteration planning" or "backlog dynamics."

With your themes visually accessible, you, as facilitator, can pose questions to explore how the team members' current behavior aligns with their best work-for example, communicating with customers.

Here are questions you might ask to discover themes:

  • Which ways of communicating with our customers are most effective?
  • Which foster a sense of connection and alignment with our project goals?
  • Which enable us to work together in ways that are mutually satisfying

Action Plan
Next, the team does action planning, which begins with the team's imagining a positive future. As facilitator, you should paint an image of this and follow it with a focus question. You might ask, "Imagine you've arrived at work tomorrow and we've had a miracle-compelling communication is a way of life on our project! What is different? How does it feel? What did we do to get here?"

From there, you facilitate action planning. The team should name specific actions that are needed and define who, what, when, and how for each action that will lead to implementing compelling communications. As you might guess, the appreciative questions are the heart of this process.

So, next time you need to make a change, try AI. You'll be positively delighted!

References and Recommended Reading

General Information on Appreciative Inquiry:

  • Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom, The Power of Appreciative
    Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change
    , Berrett-Koehler

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