Formal documentation and overt use of team Patterns



Stage 4

Agile IQ® Level

Sprint Planning



The myth of little or no process or working documentation in agile delivery is often propagated based on the following from the Agile Manifesto:

  • “Working software over comprehensive documentation”

At the same time, one of the principles of the Agile Manifesto states:

  • “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.”

When we attempt to embed a strong culture of continuous improvement both repetition and communication are important. Formal documentation and overt use of team Patterns play key roles.



  • “Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement.” — Masaaki Imai [1]

If we fail to document what we are attempting to improve or fail to improve upon a repeatable process, we will fail to capture reliable results. The relationship between our actions and results may be simply due to random influence.

We should focus an improvement idea on something that is repeatable. From here we can then adopt a standard process for implementing improvement ideas. Sometimes stabilising a process is a necessary first step for improvement.


A common approach for improvement systems is to adopt empirical methods. We inspect the current state, form a hypothesis for improvement, conduct an experiment, observe the results and adjust accordingly. This is consistent with the adoption of Scrum. [2]

Though implemented in various forms such a process resembles the Toyota Kata as described by Mike Rother (below). [3]

Key aspects to consider:

  • Provide a real-world example to team members and coach them through their first idea. Make it real rather than abstract.
  • By documenting ideas we can create boundaries to control scope (e.g. subset of customers, processes, order types).
  • Challenge the team to find small improvement ideas. Keep it simple. Over time minimal improvements can transform both business culture and performance. [4]
  • Celebrate and reward ideas, both those that introduce improvements and those that don’t. Even the latter have value as we can learn from our experiences.
creating the sprint backlog


By documenting and communicating improvement ideas we can leverage knowledge and learning across an organisation. Importantly, we are sharing the thinking and principles of an improvement, not just the localised improvement. This allows for ideas to be applied in different contexts. [5]

It is important to create both the environment (physical and/or virtual) and events to support the documentation and communication of implemented improvement ideas. Systemic improvement requires systematic support.

Things to watch out for

  • Don’t expect a tsunami of ideas on Day 1. Generating improvement ideas involves cognitive practice, much like learning to play a musical instrument. With deliberate practice and repetition it becomes easier over time.
  • People should focus on improvement ideas that they can implement themselves. If they are not actively participating they can become disengaged.
  • Standardise how you document improvement ideas, not the ideas themselves.

Actions to try

  • Introduce an improvement canvas in team retrospectives. Challenge each team member to focus on one improvement idea for the next sprint.
  • Do the same a level up in a Scrum of Scrums forum (or similar). Such ideas will look to improve how teams interoperate.


1. Imai, M. (2012) Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy. Second Edition.

2. Sutherland, J. & Schwaber, K. (2020) The 2020 Scrum Guide (TM). 

3. Rother, M. Toyota Kata.

4. Akers, P.A. (2015) 2 Second Lean.

5. Ballé, M. (2020) Is Lean Scientific?


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