Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tool Tip - The Change Compass

 If you're looking for a simple, yet efficient tool to help you create transparency on how your team is developing and growing, you may want to try the "Change Compass" in one of your Retrospectives:


The x-dimension is labelled "Calm" vs "Stormy", and the y-dimension "Improving" vs. "Worsening". Like this, it becomes a 2D mood-meter on where your team thinks they're heading.


How to use

Give people one minut to put a marker on the compass in whatever place they feel is most appropriate. Any place on the compass is fine, because we're mostly interested in a direction.

  • "Calm" would mean "Nothing is really happening, there's no speed."
  • "Stormy" would mean "We're in for a rough ride, faster than we can control."
  • "Improving" would mean "Things are getting better"
  • "Worsening" would mean "Things are getting worse"

Directional Patterns

When looking at the results, you don't need to interpret every single note. Instead, try to look for some key patterns.
The list of patterns here are the most common ones you can spot, although there may be others.

Making Progress

Our "True North" is positive change at a sustainable pace.

A healthy team undergoing healthy change would place their markers on the top third of the compass, preferably close to the center.

Too far on the left means we're not moving as fast as we could, while too far on the right means we may be overburdening the team, potentially making change an impediment in and of itself.

Comfort zone

When everyone feel that we're neither getting worse nor better, and there's no motion, people operate in their comfort zone.

This is good after a long, bumpy ride, but shouldn't be a permanent condition: There's no change without change, so this might trigger a discussion about where we can improve.

Change Fatigue

Sometimes, people have the impression that we're moving fast, but nowhere.

In this case, it's pretty important to have a conversation about what we're trying to accomplish.

We're losing 'em

When you see this, the team is torn. Some people feel the change is moving too slow, others feel things are moving too fast and/or in the wrong direction.

This would be a great time to have a conversation about what causes the different perceptions. Maybe the people who are uncomfortable see something the others don't - or vice versa?

No clear direction

With this pattern, it's almost irrelevant whether the points are on the left, center or right of the compass.

The key realization here is that people are disoriented - they don't know where they're headed, or what the outcome will be.

Maybe we lack transparency of what's going on?

Business as usual

People are in motion, at a comfortable pace, but nothing is really getting better.

Are we not even trying to change, or are we trying and see nothing coming out?
What do we need to change, so that things actually improve?

Change Theater

We're moving, but not where we want to go.

The further people move their markers to the bottom, the more likely you should stop and entirely reconsider whatever you're doing.

Dealing with the results

As long as you're "making progress", there's not much to discuss, and the exercise could be over within minutes.
In any other case, you need to start an conversation about what the results mean for your team.

The outcome of a Change Compass session should be that you:
  • pick up speed when you're in a calm
  • slow down when you're in stormy conditions
  • Correct course when you're worsening
  • Reconsider when you're not improving
In any case, it creates transparency on how your team thinks about your improvement efforts.

Alternative uses

The Change Compass can also be used in stakeholder environments, i.e.:
  • to conclude a Sprint Review (to see how customers think about the team's progress)
  • in management sessions, to see how the "outside-in" perspective on the team is
  • to provide management feedback when the team feels things are blocked or going wrong

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