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Bootstrapping an Agile Team [Part 3 – Process]

This is Part 3 of a 3 part series on Bootstrapping an Agile Team. For the introduction to the series and links to each post, go to the first one – Part 1 – People.

Unless your team is being micro managed into oblivion (in which case bootstrapping an agile team is perhaps the least of your worries), its likely that your team has their own way of working that they have been tweaking over time. This can be anything from sprint length (or no sprints), frameworks, team agreements, roles, ways of writing stories etc. There are also some aspects of this that are implied, the team has got to know each other over time and have hopefully adjusted their behaviour to suit the needs of the rest of their team. When we add people, subtract people or start up a new team, this way of working and team dynamic changes in ways that we can’t comprehend, thus we need to create an opportunity for the ‘new’ team to agree on a way of working that now suits everyone.

I’m going to purposefully omit the scenario of having a brand new team / new project, as I feel there is more than enough content on teaching an team an agile framework and delivering a ‘shu’ experience. (If you don’t know what I mean by shu, I am referring to the stages of learning to mastery called “shu-ha-ri“)

The following are exercises that I have used to help teams find a common way of working & commit to continual improvement of how they work. (I purposefully avoid using the word ‘process’ as I believe there is so much more to a teams way of working than a set process that they have agreed on)

Smells Retrospective

This is a retrospective where the team list all of the tangible aspects of how they work, place it on a scale of smelliness from flowers to poo & also plot the trend of where it is headed. It is facilitated in such a way that everyone gets to choose a sticky note that they feel strongly about and there is room for dispute. The goal of this exercise is to identify aspects of how the team works that they feel are either smelling bad or on a path to smelling bad.


Prep: Depending on how well you know how the team currently work, you could pre-populate a bunch of stickies about how they work. It makes the workshop run a lot quicker.
Bring: Large stickies or even index cards. Sharpies / markers. Whiteboard for putting up the scale & an area for actions
Time: This can vary a lot depending on how much discussion / conflict there is. I budgeted at 60 minutes the last time I did this.

Facilitation Instructions:

  • Draw up a dotted line vertically, on one side is a picture of a flower, the other side is something that smells bad. Introduce the exercise, put up all of the sticky notes in the middle down the dotted line going down the centre, check with the team that we haven’t missed anything. Add new notes as necessary. (~10 mins)
  • Taking it in turns, each person walks up to the whiteboard and moves a sticky note to where they believe it belongs & draw a trend if applicable. Eventually all sticky notes will be moved. They are then free to move someone else’s sticky note a few times (still taking turns), which means we have a disputed sticky, which goes outside the scale to discuss later. Try to keep this process relatively short, hence the disputed area. (~10 mins)
  • Discuss the disputed stickies and why they are disputed, usually its due to a vague description.(~10 mins)
  • Discuss the smelly (or on a path to becoming smelly) sticky notes. Encourage the team to come up with some actions for the team to go away and take to make things better. Try not to solve the problems now, they will become the beginnings of an improvement backlog for your team that you can discuss at each retrospective. Focus on the most important problem (you can dot vote if necessary) and commit to improving 1 or 2 things. The rest we can worry about later. (~30 mins)

One time I did this, I also put up a sticky note that said “Scrum” as I wanted to gauge how the team felt about their agile process on the whole & whether they wanted to try something new. At the time, they were pretty happy with it. 🙂

Team Agreement

This exercise involves discussing the personal preferences that each person has in their day to day work, with the goal of coming up with a team agreement. It’s a pretty quick & simple exercise and should hopefully alleviate any unhealthy conflicts that arise from not understanding how we like to work. When I did this last, we didn’t need to come up with an agreement as everyone had a similar preference for how they like to work, which was pretty lucky.

Prep: It helps if you bring your own answers so that they have an example to work with.
Bring: Sticky notes, sharpies
Time: Depending on the level of agreement or disagreement, this could last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

Facilitation Instructions:

  • Ask each person to write down on stick notes what they like and dislike when they are working & also their name. This can also include aspects of how they need to work, such as the time they start or leave work based on commitments they may have. Ask each person to go up and place their stickies on the wall / whiteboard and talk about each one. (~10 – 15 min)
  • When this is done, discuss the differences and similarities. It might help to cluster them. The discussion should lead to the team coming up with a few points about how they want to work, which should form an agreement that you put up in their team area. (~15 – 20 min)

Some examples of this in practice:

  • Don’t be late to standup
  • Don’t disturb someone when they have their headphones on (pinging them on IRC is ok)
  • When to (and not to) pair program
  • Number of meetings / week (or something like “Power Hours” / do not disturb during these times)


This is an exercise to reflect on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats that exist in relation to the team. The goal is for the team to choose actions that they want to improve their weaknesses, capitalise on their opportunities or avoid / mitigate any threats.


Prep: Draw up 4 quadrants with the words Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats on either a white board or flip chart / easel
Bring: Sticky notes, sharpies
Time: This takes quite a while, anywhere from 1 hr to 1 hr 30 mins

Facilitation Instructions:

  • Introduce to the team that the purpose of this exercise is to reflect on our abilities as a team, where we are strong and where there are opportunities to improve. (~5 mins)
  • Go around the quadrant, take 7 – 10mins to write up stickies for each area & have each person say what they are putting up so there is context (~30 – 40 mins in total)
  • Ask the team to dot vote on each quadrant (except Strengths, there isn’t really much to do there), I usually give them 2-3 dots each, for each quadrant. You should have a top 1 or 2 sticky notes for each quadrant, move them to side to discuss & come up with actions. (~5mins)
  • You now have 3 – 6 sticky notes to do something about, you may only wish to commit to doing something about 1, use your discretion here. Spend 10 – 15 minutes facilitating a discussion around these sticky notes and derive actions from them. As always, ensure someone is going to be accountable for going away and either setting up a meeting or following up on the team doing something about it. (~10 – 15 mins)

Expectations Matrix

Shock horror, an exercise I came up with rather than stealing / modifying someone elses! I was tempted to write all about it here but I got a lot of out of this exercise so I have decided to write a totally new post on it. The short of it is that I drew up a matrix of “PO, Team, Agile Coach” in both columns and rows. Each role in this matrix got to say what they expect from the other roles, then finally the role in question would answer what they expect of themselves and we would discuss the similarities and differences. I’m looking forward to writing this one up properly. 🙂

UPDATE: It’s finally here! Check it out:

Expectations (workshop) in a fuzzy Agile world

Thanks for reading and I hope you found these exercises / workshops helpful. Tell us in the comments what exercises have worked for you!


  1. der alex der alex

    Hi great series of activities! Keep on posting.

    For new teams or merged teams I start with how they want to come to decission and offer them different tools e.g. fist to five, consent veto etc..

    Also I do silent brainstorming with them what experience they have what a high performance team is and show them what it is by the book.

    Then I let them choose their team values pretty similar to

    Also I show them stages of group development

    With teams where the stakeholder or the C level has the problem that they have a different understanding of the team purpose, stakeholder I moderate a team product canvas session.

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