Olaf, icebreaker

Agile icebreaker

Olaf, Frozen, icebreaker, training, Agile

Olaf may be a blockhead, but an icebreaker can help

Agile failure is an attempt to squeeze Agile results from tools and templates. Practice is the only way to adopt, adapt, and validate any learning. This icebreaker will kickstart reality of Agile change required to support Agile transformation.

Value to adopt Agile is an ability to adopt principles. The bigger the company, the more people are required to align to change. I have sat through a dozen Agile, classroom trainings; a half dozen Agile certifications programs; and been involved or accountable to lead a handful of corporate Agile adoption efforts.

Certification does not equal experience. Hold off on a company-wide certification program. Tamp down excitement to recruit the latest certification someone told you is important. Value how principles are practiced.

Principles can not get taught, principles need cultivation. Sadly I see little practice in the Agile manifesto values and principles. People, process, practice adapt to change, but principles guide what to change.

The reality: training focus on tools, templates, and certification

The result: failure from an approach only a block head would take

The focus on Agile mechanics over principles is a repeatable failure.

In workshops, my goal is to move the discussion to help people identify the principles to practice that transfer learning to behavior. I want to take adoption beyond Agile values and principles as a slide, in a lecture.

This icebreaker lends the opportunity to engage and introduce the reality of how people understand and adopt principles in a shared environment. I want to avoid the focus of many training effort on tools and templates or terms to memorize for certification. Trainings and certifications come and go, but the context to adopt is missed over the goal to govern a solution as most of what is taught gets forgotten.

I have taken to open an icebreaker exercise for teams to begin to build their change through the principles. Below is an outline and I have combined an icebreaker on perceptions, shared earlier, with this icebreaker, in the same workshop, to create an effective learning environment to embrace new ways to work.

See also, another icebreaker exercise: The best meeting icebreaker to break the ice

Agile Icebreaker

1. Set Up:


  • Write each Agile principle on a separate piece of paper, index card. Fold or place inside an envelop
  • Separate people into mixed, or cross-functional, teams

At the workshop:

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. 7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. 8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. 9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. 10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. 11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. 12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Download free copy of the Manifesto.

2. Activity:

Prior to workshop or observation of the workshop, either:

  1. Mix the teams up to assure cross-functional thought.
  2. Assign a particular principle to a team you observed could really benefit from thinking about the principle in practice and their role
    • Note: I have given many workshops with people, especially management, that demand they practice Agile. However, in observation, a very different situation proves otherwise, this group might get a specific principle I want to highlight.

Ask each team to either pick a number from from 1 to 12 and hand them the folded or sealed principle.

Hand out the principle that you wrote on a piece of paper.

Give the teams team 20 to 30 minutes to collaborate. Then each team will brief to the rest an articulation of the change to enable their principle, in practice.

Each team present to the rest of the group detail on the people, process, and practice of their principle for adoption.

Facilitate deeper context and clarity on the needs to practice this Agile value.

Capture notes and themes, per team.

After each team briefs out, ask other teams:

  • How the principle the team articulated might impact their work?
  • Was there a common thread to their principle?
  • What other organization components, upstream or downstream, department or business unit, might need to partner for change?

3. Learning Opportunity

Uncover what is possible. When talking change, not simply Agile, you need to discover a future-state to work towards. Capture all the points discussed and post them on the walls for all to see, review, and maintain what starts to change.

Throughout the workshop refer to what people wrote and what some thought needs to change, could change, or should change.

If management is in the meeting, have them sure to sit together as a team, for the first session to:

  1. Highlight their potential disconnect
  2. Get a view of the actions their effort will need to support

An even stronger opportunity for reflective change is to run this icebreaker over multi-session workshops. The next session I might choose that all the teams work on the very same principle. Do not tell them they work on the same principle. Facilitate discovery if there is clear separation or common need for change.

Imagine four cross-functional teams describe change on Principle 6: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. 

Do not allow the team to reveal their principle, but after presentation, ask other teams independently guess which principle was exhibited. Hint: I expect debate that more than one principle is valued. Great for discussion.

Chip Off the Block

Take a moment, by yourself, or with your Agile team, choose an Agile Manifesto Principle and collaborate on the way work would change with this principle in practice. You can not adopt without principles in practice.

Agile is empirical, demonstration comes from observation. Yes, the measure of progress, in software, is shippable code, this transparency of Agile delivery presents a tremendous assumption people will adapt to Agile values and principles required to adopt.

  1. This icebreaker can scale up to any size gathering or room
  2. This icebreaker can kick off any Lean or Agile organization meeting

Values align norms that then align mindset. Practice is in the principles.

Without principles, there is no value.

Any debate that Agile is not a transformation, at personal- and enterprise-level change, is a debate with a blockhead.

You may have further interest in strategy co-creation through Appreciative Inquiry.

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