Toolbox voor scrum master & agile coach

Fail Fast retro

(Anders dan de rest van de website content zijn de retrospectives in het Engels, omdat ze ook gepubliceerd zijn als Pulse op LinkedIn)

How product development benefits from a culture that allows mistakes

AINO. Agile In Name Only. A common find in ‘scrumming’ organizations such as large corporates and government agency’s/NGO’s that never before had to worry about their customer value. In a culture where everything has to be perfect in the details, innovation is hard to find. Lots of organizations do have an ingrained protection from errors. We call this: bureaucracy. A kind of functional perfectionism that acts like a suffocating blanket and smothers all creativity.

But as we teach our children, one learns the most from his mistakes. The constant rhythm of falling and standing up is what got us humans at the current stage of development. It’s no different with scrum. The essence of agility is that mistakes are not only okay but needed! A real culture of experimentation will get teams ‘out of the cramp’ and will stimulate creativity. Because failing constantly throws you back on the one the one core question: ‘Are we on the right track?’.

You might compare it to cycling. With cycling you constantly fail to keep your balance. Unknowingly you are constantly correcting so you will not fall. Learning to ride a bike is difficult, because you’ll over-correct your steering wheel and fall a lot. But in time, as you practice, you are going to get more and more dexterity. And at a given moment you just ride a bike without noticing the constant balancing. If you doubt this, please watch the ‘unridable bike challenge’ on youtube.

Enough said. Let get to the Fail fast retrospective…


  • A large glass bowl (minimum of 2 litre)
  • A nice round juicy orange
  • About twenty coins (I use 1 euro coins)
  • A towel
  • Whiteboard and markers

Step 1: Failing is bad (5 minutes)

  • Fill the bowl with water and put it in the middle of the room/table.
  • Gently let the orange float in it, along with some coins.
  • Give all team members a coin.
  • One by one team members should try to let the coin stay on top of the floating orange for at least five seconds.
  • If they succeed, the team gets all the coins in the bowl + the coins in their hand.
  • BUT of course there’s a rule: if the coin drops in the water, the player says ‘sorry, my fault!’ while the others stay silent.

Step 2: Failing is good (5 minutes

  • Take the coins out of the water (leave just a couple in).
  • Repeat the former game play, but with a new rule: ‘when the coin hits the water, the player raises his arm and does a high-five with all team members’.
  • Repeat gameplay until all contestants have given it a try.

Step 3: My failures (10 minutes)

  • Let team members write down one or more of their failures in the last two sprints.
  • Include: How did they solve/repair the mistake? How did they involve the team? How do they avoid repetition?
  • Discuss the individual failures with the team: Why was it bad? Why was it good?

Step 4: Discussion with the team (10 minutes)

  • Throw in: ‘Why does agile stimulate to fail fast?’ Write all team suggestions on the white board.
  • Ask the team which mistakes CANNOT be made in their work. And then kick in the 5 times ‘why?’
  • Conclude with a proper saying. I like to use this one (inspired by Scrum master Vincent Ekkel):

“If you’re afraid to fall, you won’t learn how to ride a bike”

Step 5: Challenge (2 minutes)

  • Ask the team members to keep track of failures in the next sprint.
  • The team member that made the mistake with maximum impact will receive all coins in the bowl.

Step 6: Evaluate (10 minutes)

The next retrospective you choose a winner. If there is sufficient time you might give some attention to the lessons learned. In my experience, the more jokes team members make about making mistakes, the more they really allow them selves to do so and the more relaxt the atmosphere will become. A culture of experimentation combined with perceived safety is one of the holy grails of scrum.

Keep in mind

If you don’t dare to go blue, you won’t get the woman

If you don’t dare to make mistakes, you won’t make the best product for your customers 

Scrum you soon!

Gerjon Zomer

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Gerjon Zomer