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The Basics: Reflection

Updated: Jan 25

When I was just getting started as an Agile coach, my mentor described the foundation of Agile as being “a period in which to do work coupled with a formal process of reflection at the end of it”. All of the other tools and methods emerge from these two very basic things. When I am working with someone who is just starting out, that is all I will usually try to get them to do. It’s easy, and if it turns out that they need more, we can cross each bridge when (and if) we come to it.

There are two aspects to Agile reflection:

  • Empirical reflection -  Empirical reflection is simply feedback: information that reflects work you’re doing in pursuit of your goal. It can be a list of things you did (or didn’t do), automatic logging (such as a sleep monitor or pedometer), or reports from your social media dashboard(s). Basically anything that collects and records data useful for measuring your progress can serve as a tool for empirical reflection.

  • Retrospective reflection - Retrospecting means specifically reviewing your methods for how you’re pursuing your goal, and updating your plan for getting there. I like to do this by asking clients three questions about the progress they’ve made since our last check-in:

  • What worked?

  • What didn’t work?

  • What would you like to try in the next iteration?

The cumulative effect of repeated retrospectives is incredibly powerful. It creates a phenomenon Agile calls “continuous improvement”: As long as you keep iterating and reflecting, you will get better and better, forever. Your expertise will continue to grow (and become more valuable). Your estimates for the amount of effort any given task will take will become more accurate (and give you more control over your fate). Iterative reflection also sharpens your focus and draws your attention to your growing competence, resulting in the “authentic confidence and clarity” which is the hallmark of this type of coaching. 

Reflection is also the key to recovery when something changes or becomes worse. First of all, you’ll notice the shift earlier because you’re paying attention and will pick up on subtle cues that are easy to miss when you’re reacting as opposed to following a proactive, iterative process. This gives you more time, resulting in fewer emergencies and more choices about how to respond. The practice you’re invested in frequently reviewing what did or didn’t work, then deciding what to try next will pay off in an improved ability to change course or recover when you need to.

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