Sprint Planning

Time-boxing gives us a way to better understand if and how we are delivering value to our customer. Breaking down the project into bit-sized pieces called user stories gives us a way to build towards outcomes we want to achieve for our customer. It also goes a long way in helping us monitor and evaluate our progress.

We time-box our work by creating user stories, breaking the stories down into a few core activities that need to happen in order to fulfill the stories, and choosing which of those tasks we can realistically take on each sprint.

We Create User Stories by Listening to our Stakeholders

At the beginning of the project, we ask why we doing this project and which key stakeholders are we doing it for. We put ourselves in their shoes to understand the outcomes they are looking for from the project, and work with them to validate these outcomes.

For these outcomes and stakeholders, we ask what “done looks like”, which becomes our final user story. We then ask if there are any user stories that need to happen before this user story.

Organizing these stories becomes the foundation of our sprints. Each sprint, we will ask which of these stories we can realistically take on, the tasks involved in completely those stories and what our definition of done will be.


Retrospectives happen at different levels, starting from the task and output level, all the way up to the organization. Each retrospective is based on the same core building blocks: set the stage for the meeting, gather the relevant data, generate insights about the data, decide what to do about it, and close the retrospective. A simple diagram for capturing the positive and negative aspects of our work is a the sail and anchor—positive aspects put wind in our sails while negative aspects anchor us and impede our progress.


Stand-Up is a form of retrospective that happens a few times every week (if not daily).  

For each project, we ask: what have we accomplished, what are we currently working on, and what (if any) obstacles are we facing? Any further discussion should be held until after stand-up, when only the necessary team members can gather. This gives each member of the team a comprehensive understanding of what the team is working on, and where they can provide support if necessary.


Every sprint we run a retrospective to review our accomplishments and plan for the next cycle.

For each project, we talk about what we like, lack and long for, in addition to discussing what we’re learning. This conversation informs our decision on which tasks and outputs we need to add to the Queue or move into Ready or W.I.P.. This enables the group to be intentional about what work they are taking on, and prevents the problems of projects sitting on the side of someone’s desk.


When we complete a project, we run a longer retrospective meeting to capture our learnings.

For each project, the team meets for one to two hours. We start by creating a timeline of our accomplishments. We then reflect on learning for individuals, the team, organization, and stakeholders. These learnings enable us to revisit our outcomes, understand which we have achieved and make sure the outcomes we’re working towards still make sense.


A few times every year, we run organization-wide retrospective to evaluate our progress.

Across all projects, the organization meets for a half day to discuss how we are incorporating learnings across project teams as well as the broader organization. This is a great opportunity to revisit our plan, fill in gaps any gaps we see for the next three to six months, and question our assumptions about the problem and our solution.



The Estratega Process for Advocacy Strategy in Public Policies responds to the need for better advocacy planning. Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (FCI) developed Estratega after uncovering this need while collaborating with UNICEF. The process is made up of three components—a methodology (outlined below), a web platform (accessible at estratega.io), and a series of workshops—that work together to improve effectiveness of advocacy work.

The methodology is presented as a linear process, which makes it easy to follow. However, working through this process in the real world is rarely this linear. It’s important that we revisit previous steps and iterate on our plan as we learn new information.


This stage includes completing a broad analysis of the situation, developing or determining organizational priorities, and gathering any relevant background information for participants.


This stage focuses on defining the problem, identifying causes of the problem, and specifying policy solutions that respond to the problem.


This stage begins by identifying objectives that are specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-limited (S.M.A.R.T.), which are then prioritized.


This stage includes capturing the policy decision-making processes, mapping relevant actors and institutions, and identifying enabling factors and barriers.


This stage builds on the political economy work to formulate intermediate outcomes and articulate the theory of change.


This stage looks at the actors in each intermediate outcome in order to formulate asks, specify actions related to these asks, and agree on accountabilities.


This stage includes checking and redefining indicators, monitoring impact and changes in the context, and how agile might be used to learn and adapt the plan.

Stakeholder Mapping

Every project decision you make should take your stakeholders into account. Your team will make better decisions if they’re based on a consensus about which stakeholders are your highest priorities, and why.

This is a team sport. Give yourselves 60 minutes.

  1. Using the Ideation card, generate a list of stakeholders. When you think about your project, ask the question, “Who cares?” Those are your stakeholders, whether they’re inside your organization, on your client list, in the local community or beyond. You don’t need names. Jot down their roles or titles, perhaps with the organizations they represent.
  2. Now, map your stakeholders onto a Power/Interest matrix. To draw the matrix, divide the page into four equal quadrants with a horizontal axis, Interest, and a vertical axis, Power. Label the ends of each axis High and Low.
  3. Assign each of your stakeholders to one quadrant of the matrix, according to how much power they have to change the outcome and how much interest they have in the success of the outcome. As a general rule, someone with high power can say “yes” or “no” to some aspect of the project, someone with high interest cares a lot about and will be affected by the outcome.

High-Power High-Interest stakeholders are important to engage across the project. You should establish strong lines of communication with High-Power Low-Interest Stakeholders, and ensure that the opinions of Low-Power High-Interest stakeholders are considered in decision-making about the project.

Asking Questions

Whether you are soliciting input through interviews, surveys, discussions, or mindreading, the quality of your questions determines the quality of your data.

  1. Identify what you want to know, and what you want to do with that information.
  2. Use the Ideation Card to generate lots of possible questions.
  3. Find the most promising questions by looking at how well each aligns with your goals.
  4. Test your questions with a variety of people. Were your respondents confused or uncomfortable? Do their answers produce the information you want?
  5. Revise your questions and test them with new people.

Closed questions ask people to rank or rate options, choose from predetermined options, or enter a numeric answer. Use them to collect facts, support an existing conclusion or prioritize set of known options. They generate quantitative data that often translates well into graphs or charts. They’re quick to answer and simple to analyze.

Open-ended questions ask people to explain their experiences, offer an opinion or contribute ideas. Use them to seek new information and insights, to understand cause and effect, and to explore uncharted territory. Open-ended questions require more commitment from respondents and more analysis from the researcher, but they generate compelling stories and rich insights.

  • Keep questions brief, but provide any background people need to know in order to answer.
  • Ask respondents about their own thoughts, beliefs and experiences. Don’t invite or expect respondents to speak for other people.
  • Don’t give the reader any reason to believe you prefer one answer over another, or prime their responses by providing examples they might parrot back to you.
  • Avoid words with multiple meanings, and subjective response options such as “regularly” or “a lot.”
  • Keep your language gender-neutral, objective, and inclusive. Would your questions be equally friendly and relevant regardless of the respondent’s age, race, culture, faith, income, ability, marital status, sexual preference, language, or literacy? Particularly when you’re exploring a sensitive topic or a community outside your lived experience, ask experts and community members to review your wording.
  • Unless you need to pre-screen participants, save the demographic questions for last. In numeric questions, ask people to select a range. People would rather give an age range (e.g., 45-55 years) than disclose their exact age, and a household income range than their take-home pay. Let people opt out of questions.
  • Always finish with something open- ended like “Is there anything you’d like to add?”

Empathy Map

Empathy map

Who does your project serve or affect? Create empathy maps about hypothetical users or customers to focus on their experience of the project.

This sport can be played solo or with a team. You need a big sheet of paper and a marker. Allow yourselves 30 minutes for each empathy map.

  1. Draw a cartoon face in the middle of the page and draw lines radiating out from the face to divide the page into six areas. Label the areas: Seeing, Saying, Doing, Thinking, Hearing, Feeling
  2. Choose a name, gender and age for this person. Do they have a job, a family or something else distinctive about their daily life? Jot these down on the edge of the map.
  3. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about their experience of your project. When they approach it, what are they seeing? Saying? Answer all six questions on the map in as much detail as you can imagine.
  4. After you’ve drawn your empathy map, list three things that person wants, and three obstacles to those desires.

You may have developed personas before. An empathy map is similar to personas, but you spend less time describing traits of the hypothetical users, and more time digging into how the project looks and feels from their viewpoint... and what you can extrapolate about their wants and needs.

Developing empathy maps for varied and contrasting hypothetical users can really round out your understanding of user experience. When you can, invite real live stakeholders to complete first-person empathy maps!

Developing and consulting an empathy map helps your team to consider the many forces around your users and customers that affect their experiences. Post the empathy maps where the team can see them daily. Check in from time to time: How would this feature of the project look to “Karen”? What would “Kareem” say about this change? What else will “Karl” be doing when he uses this?

Feedback Grid

Gathering feedback from stakeholders and group members can be quick and constructive.

This is an individual sport that can be played by several contributors in parallel. It takes very little prep. Draw a grid in advance, or invite contributors to draw their own on an ordinary piece of paper. Sticky notes are optional. Allow 10 minutes.

  1. Ask each contributor to draw a two-by-two grid that fills the page, and label the quadrants:
    • Upper left—“What I like about this idea”
    • Upper right—“What I would improve”
    • Lower left—“What questions I still have”
    • Lower right—“What new ideas this gives me”
  2. Give everyone 10 minutes to jot down their notes in the appropriate quadrants. Optional: If you ask folks to use sticky notes instead of writing directly on the feedback grid, you can cluster the feedback later to spot themes that suggest criteria for evaluating this and other ideas.

Historical Scan

Setting a historical context for any creative problem-solving workshop allows a group to share their experiences and points of view before a session begins.  It helps bring the group together around the point of the day and set an expectation for where the group believes energy should be put moving forward. 

Understanding our past accomplishments tell us we can have a great future.  A diverse group mailing an opening exercise and realizing some information they didn’t know before helps set an intention for the rest of the day.

  1. Write 2002, 2003, 2004 and so on til 2012 on individual large post-it notes.  Post them in a horizontal line across the top of a whiteboard or wall.
  2. Have the group individually fill out milestones of significant events from their perspective as an organization, from the regional/local perspective, and internationally.
  3. Have the team members post their milestones along the timeline.
  4. Pick someone from the group and have them read the cards aloud from the first column.  Continue along until consensus is reached about the milestones.

Ask some reflective questions from the group:

  • What are some events or milestones that stand out for you?
  • What, for you, have been high/low points?
  • How would you pull this together into a sort of your journey over the last 10 years?
  • If you were to give our journey a title, what would it be?

This exercise can stir up some memories amongst group members, for good and bad.  The members of the group nearly always learn something even if they were with the project/company all along. Allow discussion. This will help them vent and/or understand and prep them to move on to the next exercise.

Trends Analysis

This exercise unpacks the forces that push us back and forth—which in turn are the things that tend to shape our day to day. It’s important to understand the environment you’re operating in. This opening exercise helps paint a picture of the problem space so that we can uncover areas for innovation, as well as avoid the same old traps we tend to fall into.

  1. Draw a large wave on a large piece of paper/poster, then label and explain each area:
    1. Emerging—ideas and actions that are beginning to build momentum—not necessarily happening yet.
    2. Swell—things that are happening, which are new and are beginning to see results
    3. Crest—these are the things that consistently produce the best results, but there is little energy left and most likely limited growth.
    4. Trough—the things that are done, which don’t work and are unclear—they might cause anxiety or confusion.
    5. Undertow—these are the deep problems that just cause trouble, sometimes despite success
  2. In your groups please come up with as many ideas as you can for individual elements that fit under each of the different areas.  Do not discuss your ideas for now; there will be time for that later.  Write your ideas on sticky notes, one idea per sticky note, in large block letters so everyone can read them.  Try to keep your ideas between 3 and 5 words.  Come up with as many as you can! 
  3. In groups of 2 or 3 people, share your ideas for each area of the wave.  Have each person read their ideas aloud to the group, and allow other group members to ask questions to clarify what they mean.  Note, we are not getting into debates about whether we agree or not – just sharing ideas and asking questions to clarify that we understand each other.  If you have any duplicate ideas amongst yourselves, get rid of all but one copy of that idea.
  4. Now that everyone has shared their answers, work together to move the ideas into clusters of similar ideas.  Decide as a group how these clusters should be formed. 
  5. Beginning with Emerging, each team is now going to come up and post their ideas on the main wave.  Read each aloud, and we’ll have some discussion for clarity. 

Lead the group through a set of reflective questions:

  • What words catch your attention?
  • What surprises you? What intrigues you? What area are you most passionate about?
  • What do you think is most important? Which obstacle do you think needs to be addressed first? Why?
  • Write down one idea you think we should consider moving forward and discuss.


Scanning the environment for signals and trends that may affect your organization now and into the future can be an effective way to strengthen your strategy.

The first step in scanning is knowing what you are looking for. The narrower our frame is, the more impactful our efforts will be but the more likely it is that we may miss something.

  1. Once you have a frame, start your research by identifying a few key words and looking through news headlines, blogs, and journal articles to find signals.
  2. Capture the name of the post and a URL for each signal on a card
  3. There a number of ways you can ensure you have a breadth of signals before continuing to the next step. One such example is STEEPV:
    1. Society
    2. Technology
    3. Economics
    4. Ecology
    5. Politics
    6. Values
  4. Once you are happy with the amount of coverage you have in your signals, use the cluster tool to sort the needs into trends.
  5. After naming the trend, plot it on a s-curve or bell-curve:
    1. Beginning of curve—brand new trend with innovators, visionaries
    2. Early curve—emerging trends with early adopters
    3. Middle curve—established trends with majority adoption
    4. End of curve—old news with only laggards still discussing

Trends can be used to discuss drivers at play for your organization or problem frame. They can also add interesting texture to your scenarios.

Scenario Planning

We can’t predict the future but we can imagine it. This is a planning technique where you will imagine varied scenarios for the future as a way to plan for what may come.

This is a team sport to be played with markers and sticky notes. Give yourselves 30 minutes.

  1. Pick a problem space to focus on in your forecasting.
  2. Ask everyone to jot down on sticky notes three things that have happened in the problem space within the last year.
  3. Read each event aloud, discard duplicates, and post all the unique events on the wall for everyone to consider. 
  4. Individually, or in pairs and threesomes, forecast a scenario. What next? Given what has happened before, imagine an event that might happen next year. Jot it down on a sticky note. You might imagine an unsurprising event or something  rare and unlikely. Any possible event or milestone is a useful basis for imagining possible futures.  Then what? Imagine an event that would be triggered by that, jot it down, and start a row of sticky notes representing an unfolding scenario.  Then what? Then what?
  5. Extend your scenario until it spans 3 to 5 years.
  6. Assign this scenario an appropriate title.

You can do this alone but small groups will produce more and more varied scenarios. Typically, a group will split up into small teams and work in parallel to imagine several different scenarios. Compare scenarios. Are there noteworthy trends, patterns, opportunities, threats? How would each of these scenarios affect your organization, its stakeholders and projects?

How Might We... Questions

A “How might we...?” question (HMW question) quickly describes a problem, captures your insights and gets you ready for Ideation.

This sport can be played solo or with a team. You need completed Empathy Maps, markers and sticky notes. Give yourself 60 minutes.

  1. Start solo. Study the Empathy Maps to pull out specific insights into the needs and wants of the stakeholder. For example, an Empathy Map observation “I’m seeing the same commute for 60 minutes a day” might suggest insights like “I need to get home from work sooner” or “I want a productive commute.” Write each need statement on a separate sticky note.
  2. If you’re working solo, choose a few need statements you find most compelling. If you’re working in a team, you can now share your need statements with each other. To narrow in on a few good statements, combine your statements using the Cluster Card, and do some Dot Voting on the Clusters to find the needs that people are most interested in and committed to addressing.
  3. Convert these needs from statements to questions beginning with “How might we...?”
  4. Use your new HMW questions to start Ideation!

The important thing about paraphrasing a needs statement in this way is the unprejudiced optimism of it. HMW assumes there are solutions out there without jumping to conclusions about what they are. HMW stakes out a specific problem space without fretting prematurely about feasibility.

What makes a good “How Might We?” question?

  • Human-centred: It should focus on the needs of the user—this is why we start with identifying need statements. Avoid letting constraints that arise from the way things have always been done find their way into your HMW.
  • Breaking Assumptions: Carefully examine your assumptions to ensure you’re identifying the underlying need...not a surface-level symptom of the problem. The Five Whys Card can help you drill down to the root of the problem. Note that your users may also introduce assumptions—often people say “I need x” when x is one solution they perceive to the problem they’re experiencing.
  • Appropriate scope: It can be broad or specific, but the question should be appropriate to the scale of the problem and your ability to impact the problem.

Five Whys

When you want to be sure you’re getting at the real problem, not just its surface manifestations, use “five Why’s”. It could be the difference between painting over water stains on the ceiling, and fixing the leaky roof.

This is a team sport. You’ll need markers, sticky notes and dot stickers. Give yourselves 30 minutes.

  1. Announce the problem you’ve gathered to work on, and collectively rephrase it in the form of a “Why” question. (That is, rephrase “Such-and-such is a problem” as “Why is such- and-such happening?” or “Why is such-and-such a problem?”) That’s your first Why. Write it on a sticky note and post it on the wall.
  2. Ask everyone to answer the question on a sticky note and post their answers on the wall.
  3. Dot vote on the answers to single out one that’s true, important and perhaps a bit mysterious. Rephrase the answer as a “Why” question, write it on a sticky note and post it on the wall.
  4. Repeat the cycle of answers, dot voting and rephrasing as a “Why” question until the group agrees that you’ve gotten to the root of the problem. Five Why’s are typically sufficient but sometimes you’ll hit on a root problem sooner, or to have to go a few extra rounds.

This game is about reading between the lines. It’s important to be honest during this exercise. Try to jot down the first answers that come to mind, without self-censoring or second-guessing. If you avoid the tough questions then you are limiting the quality of the information. At worst, you could end up solving the wrong problem.

Five Why’s is especially useful when you’ve got a hunch the problem you’re facing is really a symptom of a less obvious problem. This exercise works best if you can assemble a diverse team, people who play different roles in the organization and bring different expertise to the room. You don’t really know what your problem is yet, so it might take someone from the other side of the building to recognize it or ask the Why that pinpoints it.

Don’t discard the sticky notes right away. If you’ve got time and the goodwill of your team, you can revisit an early Why, choose the runner-up answer, and follow that trail for five Why’s. You may find yourselves coming back to the same root problem, but you may also uncover another one that contributes to make a bad situation worse.

Focused Conversation Method

Reflecting as a group on an Advocacy Plan serves the group in several ways: it works to solidify learnings as you revisit and make amendments to your plans, it helps the group identify what is working and what isn’t working, and it often improves morale. As such, we recommend incorporating reflections into every group meeting or discussion you have with respect to your advocacy work. It should only take 10-15 minutes.

The Focused Conversation Method is a group reflection technique developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs in Canada. The process begins with very concrete, easy questions that successively delve deeper into the work at hand. It maintains focus, prevents circular discussions, deepens analysis and assists group decision-making.


Objective level thinking is about the facts. This is where we ask questions about background information, sensory impressions, and other observable data. Some example questions include:

  • What do you see/hear/touch/smell/taste?
  • What words or phrases catch your attention?
  • When did it happen/who was there/what did people say?


Reflective level thinking focuses on the reactions to the objective level thinking. We want to find out more about personal reactions, associations, emotions, and images. Some example questions include:

  • What images come to mind?
  • What associations do you have with this/what does this remind you of?
  • What excites/frustrates you?
  • What impact is this situation having on you?


Interpretive level thinking tries to make sense of our reactions and associations. We work to uncover meaning, values, significance, purpose, and implications. Some example questions include:

  • Why was this important to you?
  • What trends do you see emerging?
  • What seems to be missing?


Decisional level thinking brings the conversation to a resolution. We decide on actions, future directions, and next steps. Some example questions include:

  • What change is needed?
  • What is our consensus?
  • What are we committed to do?


Rules for ideation

Here are classic rules for creating a safe idea environment for ideation. It's important to keep these top of mind when generating ideas—you may even want to post them someone visible to the group.

  • Don’t judge
  • Wild ideas are great!
  • Always build, never pull down
  • What was the task again? Stay focused
  • Draw!
  • Don’t talk over each other
  • So many ideas, go for quantity

Generating ideas is the foundation of innovation. This is a team sport. You’ll need markers and lots of sticky notes. Give yourselves 20 minutes.

  1. Always start solo. Announce the topic. Before any discussion, give everyone in the group 3 minutes to write their first ideas down on sticky notes. Aim for as many ideas as possible.
  2. Ask everyone to choose their favourite 3-5 ideas to share. This will preserve a diversity of perspectives.
  3. One person at a time, read an idea aloud and post it to the wall. Listen carefully to be sure you understand but don’t criticize or vote on anything. If you hear an idea that duplicates one of your favourites, discard your sticky note and promote another idea from your personal stack.

Ideation is all about uncritically, collaboratively generating lots of ideas. There are no wrong answers at this stage. You’ll sort the wheat from the chaff later with other methods. The goal is to develop a pool of 30 to 50 ideas. Depending on the size and diversity of your group, you may get there purely through solo ideation. If you have nearly enough ideas already, you can ask everyone to contribute one more favourite idea, and declare victory. However, if you have more time to invest, your group is primed to produce more and bolder ideas by collaborating.

  1. Appoint a scribe to take notes.
  2. For 15 minutes, discuss the ideas and how you might combine and/or extend some of them to produce new ideas. “What that made me think of was...” “What if we also...” “If we put these together, we could...” The scribe will add the new ideas to the wall.
  3. Finally, give everyone in the group another 2 minutes to work solo again. You probably each had an idea or two you didn’t get to contribute during the collaborative round. Add them to the wall.


Clustering is a quick, easy way to organize data. In the process, you will intuitively, collaboratively spotlight relationships amongst your ideas.
This is usually a team sport. You will need a stack of 30 to 50 ideas produced using the Ideation Card, some markers and some more sticky notes. Give yourselves 60 minutes.

  1. Grab a handful of 10 to 15 ideas and read each one aloud. Post them up, discuss any that you don’t understand, and eliminate duplicates.
  2. Begin identifying pairs of similar or related ideas. Stick these paired ideas side-by-side on the wall. Find as many pairs as you can. Once you’ve got a few pairs started, you can also add ideas to existing pairs. Now you’ve got “clusters”.
  3. Grab another handful of ideas, read aloud, eliminate duplicates, and begin to post them up. Repeat this process of introducing new ideas into the mix and then adding to or making new clusters, until all ideas have been clustered.
  4. Feel free to reconsider and shuffle the clusters while you work. As a general rule, don’t let one cluster get too “full”—when a cluster contains more than 8-10 distinct ideas, it’s time to start asking if there is enough variation to break it into a couple smaller clusters.
  5. When finished, give each cluster a descriptive 3-5 word title.

Clustering is an intuitive, collaborative activity. Group members add value as much through how they sort and discuss the ideas as with the titles they assign. Relationships and meaning in the ideas, pairs and clusters emerge naturally through the process.

You will sometimes find that there is more than one way to assign ideas to clusters. You might ask “where does this idea add more?” to choose a cluster to place it in. Or, you might find that there are two different interpretations of the idea at hand, which is why it fits into multiple clusters. Give each interpretation its own sticky note and add those to clusters. The process has revealed that, in the group’s best judgement, the difference matters. You’ll highlight it when you name the clusters.

Dot Vote

Sometimes you just need to decide. When you’ve got several ideas in play, it’s important to discuss how well each responds to the problem. But once everyone understands the possibilities, dot voting is a quick way to gauge which ideas have the most support.
This is a team sport. Your ideas are already posted on the wall for everyone to see, right? Grab some dot stickers. Give yourselves 10 minutes.

  1. Read each idea aloud and ask if anyone needs clarification.
  2. Give everyone three dot stickers. Just three! It’s important that everyone have fewer votes than there are ideas.
  3. Everyone dot votes for the ideas they prefer. Stick all your dots on one idea, or spread your votes around.

When you’ve finished, clusters of dots will highlight the ideas that have the most support.
If you’ve got a couple of ideas leading the pack, that’s great. They’ve both got lots of champions. Flip a coin or ask a participant chosen at random to break the tie. Dot voting is especially handy when you have an embarrassment of riches: too many useful ideas to choose from. Instead of
being paralyzed by choice, dot vote to spotlight the ideas with champions and broad support.