Agile Debriefing = Speed + Quality


Roger Greenaway's Active Reviewing Tips ~ ISSN 1465-8046

is no longer published but you can view more back issues in the ARCHIVES

For Roger's blog and other writings please see the Guide to Active Reviewing

  Active Reviewing Tips 17.2 - Speed + Quality = Agile


~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL: Face to Face vs Face to Screen
~ 2 ~ EVENTS: Active Reviewing Workshops with Roger Greenaway
~ 3 ~ ARTICLE: Agile Debriefing = Speed + Quality
~ 4 ~ THE OTHER NEWSLETTER: Too busy to read?
~ 5 ~ ARCHIVE: Ten time-savers for facilitators of learning 
~ 7 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL: Face to Face vs Face to Screen

Hidden within this editorial is a product launch that I am really excited about. It is a step into the unknown for me because all my career I have been a fan of face-to-face learning. This even goes back to when I was an English teacher and refused to use TV in the classroom. I would irritate colleagues with something like this:

"They watch enough TV already. Using TV in school is child-minding for lazy teachers. When children are at school with their peers then let's make maximum use of learning through doing, through working together, communicating and practising English skills. They are not short of screen watching time. They are short of English skills. Let's develop them in the best ways we know."

And now, several years later I am encouraging people to watch videos to help them develop their reviewing skills. It looks like I have changed my mind after all these years. But I am pleased to say that I haven't. The best way to develop reviewing skills is to practise them for real or in a workshop setting. But if you do not have colleagues to support you, or if you are not able to make it to (or offer to host) a reviewing skills workshop, then an online video-based course could give you better access to these skills than reading lots of tips articles (helpful as I hope these are).

In addition, it might be some time since you attended a workshop and seeing the videos might give you a useful reminder of the ins and outs of a particular technique.

The course has only just been published - so as an Active Reviewing Tips reader you are first with the news. You can find it at this easy to remember address: http://activereviewing.com
You can preview the introduction and three other videos for free: just press "preview" beside "Action Replay", "Storyline" and "Missing Person". You can also view the whole contents. Do let me know what you think. We are ready and waiting to make changes based on feedback we receive -  a leaf out of the Agile way of working - which the rest of this edition is devoted to.

Just before introducing Agile I must tell you about yet another way of learning about Active Reviewing - by listening to this podcast on Active Reviewing in which John Tomlinson from http://trainer-tools.com interviews me about "How to get more from training activities using Active Reviewing" It's about 45 minutes. John interviews many other trainers too.

I have entitled my Agile article "Agile Debriefing = Speed + Quality" because Agile people love equations. But not all of them - as you will discover. Agile started out as an IT software development production process that has many, many advantages over old-style project management. Instead of going down the costly road of going over time and over budget producing something that doesn't work or isn't wanted by the time it arrives, Agile stays magically on track, on time and is far more fun, efficient and satisfying. And it now applies to many fields of work beyond its IT origins. Whatsmore, Agile has debriefing right at the very heart of the process - which is why I have found myself presenting at Agile conferences and it is why I am sharing some of my notes for those conferences in the article below.

Happy reading, listening, watching or doing - the choice is yours!

Active Reviewing Tips is a free newsletter from Roger Greenaway that will help you to re-charge your reviewing and facilitation skills.

Typical contents:

  • a practical feature on reviewing tips
  • links to sites about active learning methods
  • tips, comments and ideas from readers
  • what's new in the Guide to Active Reviewing at http://reviewing.co.uk

Maximum frequency: monthly. Average frequency: quarterly.

"16 years of promoting better learning experiences without chalk, flipcharts or marker pens."

I welcome requests for topics you would like to see included in Active Reviewing Tips, any questions you would like to see answered in a FAQ, and enquiries about trainer-training workshops (open or in-house).

Roger Greenaway

Don't just do it - actively review it!

~ 2 ~ EVENTS: Active Reviewing Workshops with Roger Greenaway

I now list in-house events so that you can see if I am travelling close by where you happen to live and work. Finding work opportunities close together in time and space can help to save travel time, and travel costs and make my carboin footprint a little smaller. - even for trips within the UK.

The only public workshop listed below is for UK outdoor educators in November.

 China 16-17th July 2015
In-house training with Po Leung Kuk, Hong Kong

Macau October 2015
In-house training with Don Boscoe Youth Village, Macau

UK  5th November 2015
In-house training Hymens-Robertson, Glasgow

UK 6th November 2015
Active Reviewing in the Outdoors
Borwick Hall, Lancashire
IOL training workshop with Roger Greenaway. Open to non-members. Discover how active reviewing can engage participants as fully as any outdoor activity and help you achieve the outcomes you offer.

For the latest information check
The Calendar of Reviewing Skills Training Workshops
where you will find the most up to date list of open/public workshops provided by Roger Greenaway.

The other newsletter: the Experiential-CPD Calendar
The Experiential-CPD Calendar lists 'trainer-training' and 'educator-training' events from several UK providers. The events listed here are of interest to facilitators who work indoors or outdoors. The Experiential-CPD calendar features a 'Thought for the Month' about experiential learning from the editors or from readers.

~ 3 ~ ARTICLE: Speed and Quality in Agile Reviewing

Agile Debriefing = Speed + Quality

by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training

1. What does an "Agile Debrief" look like?

2. How fast can we debrief?

3. How can we test the quality of a debrief?

4. How would you recognise "Agile feedback"?


1. What does an "Agile Debrief" look like?

I know that in some Agile meetings everyone is expected to stand. I have assumed that this tradition is about keeping things moving and pacey. Perhaps standing is a very mild workout for legs that have been sitting for too long? Maybe this small increase in physicality shunts more oxygen to the brain and keeps everyone awake and alert? (at least for the first few minutes). What if other Agile principles are applied meticulously to meetings and debriefings. What would they look like? Let's get beyond this standing start!

How do Agile principles apply to the debriefing process itself? I have selected three Agile features that have the potential to improve the quality and efficiency and productivity of an Agile debrief. These are:

  • pace

  • testing

  • feedback

I explore each of these below.

On "Pace" we will be exploring how much we can speed up the debriefing process. What can we cut out? Where can we take short cuts? How can we save time? How can we quickly find the points at which it is worth slowing down (a bit).

On "Testing" we risk slowing things down as we check for understanding, or test assumptions, conclusions or commitments. And we can continually evaluate the debrief process itself to check if it is working optimally. The right kind of slowing down can help us to go faster!

On "Feedback" we swing the pendulum right away from the annual review to cultivating the habit of fast, frequent feedback. We will try out techniques that help to keep each other on track and continually in tune with how what we do influences others in our work environment.

2. How fast can we debrief?

There is "too fast", "too slow" and "just right" (even if your "just right" is not the same pace as my "just right"). What we are really looking for is the optimal speed for a debrief. How much can we step on the gas without losing quality, meaning and value?

The extremes are quite easy to spot:

  • "Too fast" can be superficial and insensitive, discouraging inputs that are deep, critical, creative or controversial – the kinds of voices that could really help us learn something new and valuable in the debrief. Push too hard on the fast button and you get flippancy, clichιs, groupthink and compliance – the enemies of learning.

  • "Too slow" and you can be waiting your turn forever while listening to endless repetition on a topic in which your interest is rapidly waning. If you weren't standing up you would be asleep by now.


So how do you find the right pace?

- use a pace gauge (once or continuously).

How do you quickly find the right topic?

- use a search technique

If the process is not working for someone, how can they stop it?

- with a stop card.

How can you keep contributions brief and to the point?

- use summarisers

What if there is conflict and poor listening?

- switch to writing messages between interest groups

Where can we take short cuts?

- let people guess the conclusion and check for disagreement

How can we speed up the process?

- make pairs or small groups the default debriefing mode

If you want to go faster in a debrief, keep "speed" on the agenda: keep asking "How can we do debriefs faster without losing quality?" - using a suitably fast method!

Faster still? My article "Ten time-savers for facilitators of learning" (pdf, 5 pages) includes estimates of the percentage of time saved with each time-saving method described.

3. How can we test the quality of a debrief?

Debriefs might well involve checking on the quality of (say) teamwork or leadership. But what about checking on the quality of the debrief itself – both the quality of the debrief process and the quality of the learning outcomes from the debrief. What scope is there for testing the quality of the debrief as part of the debrief itself?

Do we have time to check quality? We find time for quality checks when making products. If we don't find time for quality checks when "making" learning (in a debrief) it implies that we do not value learning enough.

Perhaps the key is to give permission, encouragement and opportunity for people to have frequent conversations about the quality of learning. This can be assisted by providing methods and resources that help to make these conversations happen.

This kind of quality testing is a mutually supportive process. All participants in such a conversation stand to win if the result is improved quality or the sustaining of high quality.

What is the best timing for testing the quality of a debrief? Waiting to the end of the process is not very "Agile" because this can result in participants tolerating a low quality debrief. The basic options for the timing of a quality test are:

  • at any time anyone wants to test for quality

  • a scheduled time-out mid-way through a debrief

  • a parallel process of continual quality monitoring

  • at the end of the debrief (if the same team will be having further debriefs)

Getting people to commit to a debrief of a debrief could meet with some resistance even in an Agile workforce: "We've got work to do!" "Next you'll be asking us to have a debrief of the debrief of the debrief!"

Even I would probably not go that far! (but I might)

4. How would you recognise "Agile feedback"?

What qualities should Agile feedback have? It clearly would not be the "avalanche" or "waterfall" of feedback received in an annual review. Little and often would be the Agile way. If Agile feedback were fully embedded in an organisation it would become a natural part of everyday conversation. But until that ideal state is reached it is helpful to have a variety of methods that help to make feedback happen and to make it:

  • engaging

  • worthwhile

  • enjoyable

  • and frequent

If feedback is not an enjoyable enough process people become less keen to give it or receive it.

If feedback is not worthwhile people will find more important things to do with their time.

If feedback is not engaging then it cannot be enjoyable or worthwhile.

And if feedback is not frequent people can spend days and weeks feeling unnoticed, out of the loop and unsure of their value.

The habit of fast, frequent feedback helps people to keep each other on track with their task and in tune with others. It also helps to generate a heightened sense of responsibility and significance.

My favourite engaging, worthwhile and enjoyable (and quick) feedback methods are:

  • Simultaneous Survey - a colleague collects feedback for you on a question that you ask, while you and others are doing the same for other colleagues.

  • Spokes – starts with an instant snapshot self-assessments on a physical scale, followed by endorsements and invitations from others to move up the scale – if deserved.

  • Goal Keepers – a visual feedback process that runs in real time alongside a task. The process begins with a request for feedback on a specific area of performance.

  • Empathy Test – involves guessing how a partner would rate themselves in a specific area of performance. It is a guessing game that deepens insights into self and others.

Choosing a suitable feedback game depends on how accustomed people are to giving and receiving feedback. If you get it right people will be looking forward to the next feedback game – not because they are becoming feedback junkies, but because they recognise it value in a productive learning organisation.

Roger Greenaway

~ 4 ~  THE OTHER NEWSLETTER: Too busy to read?

In the summer do you have less time to read or more time to read? Summer gives us longer days and more time for enjoying and/or providing outdoor activities. Does reading wait for the quieter winter months?

I used to read most in the summer. This would be during climbing trips to the Alps. I loved the climbing. I also loved the "fester" days – of eating, sleeping and reading. After all, recovering well on lazy days meant more energy for climbing on the other days.

I was reading books but I wasn't reading nature. I would learn what I could about avalanche risks because such knowledge would help to keep me alive – so I would try to read snow slopes. I would also try to read the weather. But when my climbing friends stopped to show me rare plants, I would only stop out of politeness and would not loiter for long.

In our work we need to read groups. Now that does interest me. Understanding how groups behave is essential for group facilitators and is important for everyone else. But how do we actually read groups?

Do we step back and watch? This gives a remote view which may be helpful, but the key to understanding some groups may not be visible from a distance.

So do we join in and get close enough to understand the group from the inside? We may pick up useful clues, but the tightrope of being both in and out of the group can be a difficult one to walk.

Perhaps we could get the group talking about what is going in the group while we listen in? They should probably be doing this anyway because such communication is usually a major factor in achieving challenges and learning objectives.

In 'Group Action', Martin Ringer has another way of reading groups - as a facilitator you look inside yourself: you read "yourself" first as it might help you to read the group. You recognise that although you have a special role with the group you are still a part of the group. Your own feelings let you know something about what it is like to be part of this group at this time: another source of useful clues.

I find it difficult to read a group when they are sitting still. I find it much easier to read a group when they are facing a variety of different tasks and challenges. A disengaged or inactive group is like a blank page to me – there is nothing much to read. But when a group is engaged and active it is as if the page quickly fills with words and clues and "reading the group" becomes much easier.

It also becomes much easier for the group to read itself if we help participants to see the clues and the words – so that instead of getting lost in the whirl of group activity they can do plenty of "reading" at the same time: noticing self, noticing others, noticing the process and noticing the environment.

We should not be too busy to read and neither should the groups we are working with be too busy to read. Given time and encouragement to share what they are reading, everyone becomes a better reader, and those fuzzy learning outcomes start to come into a clearer focus.

Your thoughts on this or other topics are always welcome.

Roger Greenaway

These reflections  first appeared as a Thought for the Month in a recent Experiential-CPD Calendar of UK trainer-training events

~ 5 ~ ARCHIVE: Ten time-savers for facilitators of learning

"Ten time-savers for facilitators of learning" (pdf, 5 pages)


See the previous issue of Active Reviewing Tips: Learning from Triumphs and Disasters

Topics under consideration for future issues include:

  • The Active Reviewing Cycle: update
  • Making the case for active reviewing
  • Making reviewing a memorable experience
  • Reviewing as a takeaway skill for participants
  • Evaluating Active Reviewing: how well does it work?
  • Reviewing for different outcomes (using the same activities)
  • End of programme reviews
  • Co-facilitating reviews
  • The art of improvising
  • Remote Reviewing
  • Reviewing over a cup of tea (informal reviewing)
  • Readers' Questions about Reviewing (please feed me with questions for this 'FAQ')
  • Sample designs for learning and development
  • Integrated practice in experiential learning (when does an activity become a review? when does a review become an activity? examples of integrated practice - and do these
    challenge or demonstrate experiential learning theory?)

Please write to roger@reviewing.co.uk if you have any topics you would like to see included or put at the top of this list (which is not yet in any particular order).

~ 7 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

TITLE: Active Reviewing Tips for Dynamic Experiential Learning
ISSN: 1465-8046
EDITOR: Dr. Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
EMAIL: roger@reviewing.co.uk Feedback welcome
ARCHIVES: Index of back issues
HOME PAGE: Active Reviewing


  © Roger Greenaway 2015
Reviewing Skills Training
E-mail: roger@reviewing.co.uk

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