19. March 2020
5 min

Management 3.0: Are you experimenting enough?

When we were kids, we were permanently experimenting. We tried to walk, fell down, picked ourselves up and tried again. Regardless whether each time we failed or succeeded the important thing was that we kept learning. We tried again and again and again until we got it right. As we grow up, we basically stop running frequent experiments. However, while the world surrounding us gets more and more complex, we need to start rediscovering our ability to experiment.

It’s no longer about the first-mover advantage, but about the fast-learner advantage. The Celebration Grid is a Management 3.0 practice that encourages you and your teams to run more experiments and reflect on the learnings that are derived from them.

Agility enables us to approach and deal with complex problems. In order to best approach a complex problem, you are well advised to think empirically. This means you have to create a transparency via the data available to you, inspect your findings and use the new gained knowledge to adapt your next steps as necessary. Therefore, you should start experimenting and consciously generate data to enable you to inspect and adapt. This way you can improve your way of working without taking incalculable risks. The Celebration Grid can help you with this.

What is the Celebration Grid and when to use it?

The Celebration Grid is a simple chart that compares behavior (practices, mistakes, experiments) with results (success, failure, learning). Although it looks simple, it is a powerful tool to use for Sprint Retrospectives and a variety of other applications. You can use it to reflect on your last iteration, as well as for reflecting over a longer period of time (especially in combination with a timeline). You can use it with an established Scrum Team already working closely together, or with members of different teams or departments that are more loosely associated in adjacent contexts with overlapping dependencies. You can even use it as a “living artefact” that remains permanently visible in the team room allowing team members to add new details to it as the situation progresses and becomes apparent to them. The Celebration Grid is meant to boost your experimentation, so do just that and feel free to experiment with it.

How to use the celebration grid

“What should you celebrate: failure or success?”, this is the question I like to ask, when introducing the celebration grid to a team, for example, at a Sprint Retrospective. Normally this leads to a discussion that I like to fire up even more with some additional provoking questions like:

  • “Why should we celebrate, if we screw up?” or
  • “if we can succeed again and again in what we are doing, as our environment never changes, what is there to be proud of?” or
  • “when was the last time you intentionally conducted an experiment?”.

What these questions normally lead us to is that it is neither failure nor success that we should celebrate for itself, but the learnings we can derive from these experiences (although of course it’s ok to celebrate your success once in a while).

Now the foundation is established to explain the celebration grid to the team. It is made up of three columns named “(Good) Practices”, “Experiments” and “Mistakes”, which are then horizontally divided into “Success” and “Failure”.

The picture above shows the Celebration Grid with differently colored fields. The green fields are those, where you learn the most, while keeping your risk or damage within limits. This is the case if you succeed with your good practices: “Yeah, it’s (still) the right thing we’re doing!”. This also applies for experiments: by definition experiments will either succeed or fail. Normally if you conduct an experiment you manage the risk you are taking so that you don’t cause any serious damage. This means it is not important whether you succeed or fail by experimenting, but rather that either way you learn something new.

Of course, you can also learn, if you are ignoring your established practices and deliberately making mistakes. It means that you either failed and have to deal with the consequences or you succeeded and have to investigate further to decide whether you just got lucky or if you actually discovered a new way to succeed.

The grey or red fields are where you do not gain too much learning or where you have to deal with a negative outcome. The bar beneath the grid shows where you can find the optimal learning zone shown in yellow.

It may take some time to explain the celebration grid to your participants, however, remain patient. Examples will help them to understand the different focus in each of the fields within the grid. For example, if you ignore a red traffic light and get run over, you did not learn that much and – even worse – potentially seriously injured yourself. Where do we find this in the grid? That’s right – mistakes – failure marked up in red.

Continuing when the traffic light is green is an example for the “Practices” fields. Normally you succeed, but you didn’t learn that much besides “yeah, it’s still right to proceed at a green traffic light!”. Experimenting with cross-walks, on-demand traffic lights and roundabouts can make our traffic much more fluid and be a blessing for the rush hour. On our Celebration Grid you can find this in the middle under experiments.

When your group understands the meaning of every field, ask them to think about mistakes and (good) practices they have made in the past or experiments that they’ve tried. Everyone can collect their own or you can let them do this in pairs or small groups. If the celebration grid is new to your participants, they may struggle at the beginning. Don’t be overly concerned – just ask them to try and make a start. Normally when they’ve written the first sticky note example, more and more ideas will follow. A timebox of 5-10 minutes should be enough in most cases.

Reflecting on the results

After the timebox has expired, everyone should share their ideas by placing their stickies in the appropriate field and shortly explaining it. Questions regarding understanding are welcome, however avoid going into deep discussions at this point.

When we have got all the stickies together, I like to reflect on the big picture before discussing single points. Where is the emphasis? Did we make a lot of mistakes or did we stick to our familiar practices? Did we even undertake any experiments? If so, were we really intentionally experimenting, making clear that we want to try something new and to inspect the results?

Now is the time to dive deeper: let the group choose the points they want to discuss further, for example via dot voting or focus on a specific topic that was brought up several times.

Raise questions like: What are the learnings we gained from succeeding, failing and most important from experimenting? What does this mean for our future actions? What do we want to change and do differently?

Start experimenting – now!

Help the team at this point to capture their experiment ideas and create a focus for action after the celebration grid session.

I really like to end the Celebration Grid session by asking which experiments the group wants to conduct tomorrow or even right after the session. Experiments are powerful: they let you try out new things and free you from the pressure of finding a “perfect solution”.

So, start experimenting – now!

What are your experiences with the Celebration Grid? What was your last experiment and which learnings could you derive? Please let us know in the comment section. And if you are interested to learn more about the Celebration Grid and a lot more Management 3.0 practices, check out one of our trainings!

Image Sources: © Besjunior - stock.adobe.com

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