Phoenix: 2015Phoenix: 2015Scrum Coaching Retreats

Deeper learning using Scrum

October 21, 2015

Since the Scrum Coaching Retreats started in 2011, they have become widespread, with six happening in 2015. The idea was started and driven forward by a group of volunteer Certified Scrum Coaches, working closely with Scrum Alliance®. The event has grown organically and now involves small teams all over the world organizing these events, with support and sponsorship from Scrum Alliance.

What is a Scrum Coaching Retreat?

It is not a conference, as there are no sessions or speakers. It is Agile Coaches working in Scrum teams, diving deep into topics that they are interested in.

The collaboration begins before the event itself, as attendees start to discuss, online, potential topics that they would like to work on at the event. This sets up the first session, where attendees form teams around topics that they are passionate about. New ideas will emerge, people will change groups, topics will be merged and split differently, but eventually small teams will start to form. The teams will then craft a vision that focuses them on the value that they want to deliver, select a product owner and ScrumMaster, and start to create a product backlog. Sound familiar?

The rest of the retreat is divided into sprints, each sprint starting with planning, and then the teams will do some work. Sometimes the value is in the shared learning as they go much deeper into a topic than you would, say, at a conference workshop or Open Space session. Sometimes the teams will produce artifacts and material that will have value to them and others long after the retreat has finished. At the end of each sprint, the team will have the opportunity to showcase what they have delivered at a sprint review and get feedback. The sprint then finishes with each team holding a retrospective.

  The retreats are based around a number of principles:
  • Retreat: The event creates time and space for focused learning and growth.
  • Scrum: Learning is done using an empirical framework called Scrum.
  • Teams: Teams are the heart of Scrum and are a key differentiator at the Retreats.
  • Deep: Teams go deep into single topics, rather than covering many broad areas.
  • Long: Learning, collaboration, and relationships continue long after the event.
  • Shared learning: The event is designed for deep, collaborative, shared learning.
  • Two sleeps: Connections are made when our brains are quiet; the two nights of sleep allow for creative idea formation.

So why should I attend a Scrum Coaching Retreat?

The Retreats are for anybody who uses coaching within an Agile environment. Attendees range from new ScrumMasters to experienced Agile coaches, product owners, and managers.
The best part of a retreat for me is to collaborate with experienced coaches intensively, which is a great learning and networking opportunity. We seldom have chance to work this way with so many experts.
— Daniel Teng (Certified Scrum Coach and Trainer)
My biggest takeaway from the Phoenix and Thailand coaching retreats I have been a part of is to be able to connect to fellow coaches, debate, and discuss the art of coaching and also listen to their case studies.
— Madhur Kathuria (Certified Scrum Coach and Trainer)
For me, the format provides a wonderful opportunity to grow yourself as a coach by learning from your peers, as well as a chance to be part of growing the wider Agile coaching community.

As I was looking back at some Retreat photos from London 2014, I was struck by how many people I had met at the event that I have since worked or collaborated with. These events are a great networking opportunity, allowing you to make lasting connections that go beyond merely exchanging business cards.
Sharing ideas with some of the most experienced Scrum coaches in the world gave me fresh insights into my own work. And it was fun!
— Alan O’Callaghan 
It was a fantastic experience. It was the first time since embarking on my Agile adventure that I felt like I wasn’t the only one going through the challenges and difficulties I and my teams were experiencing.
— Sam Birkinshaw

The team formation

At the start of the retreat, teams are formed. We have noticed that many teams struggle at first, especially in the first sprint. As coaches, this is a wonderful reminder of the journey that teams go through as they begin to try to work together for the first time, when they have not yet built an environment of trust. We have found that the Retreat format provides a great balance between the short sprints where the teams can really focus and the slack time that is built into the schedule. This balance allows the teams to move very quickly from their initial struggles as they form to a point where they are a real team delivering valuable outcomes.
It reminded us that living in and working in a Scrum team, delivering results, isn’t always smooth and it isn’t always easy. It challenged the coaches to “eat our own dog food” and folks grew as a result.
— Bob Galen (Certified Scrum Coach)

Time to think

The slack time is very important. This includes the breaks, open space sessions, and the opportunity to be at rest or unwind with other coaches in the bar in the evening. This time outside the sprints is important; it allows time for thinking, and thinking done with other coaches willing to listen in a relaxed and respectful environment can be a powerful thing.

Impressions from previous Retreats

The groups I worked with during the retreat came up with so many important issues and ideas that we passionately wanted to address. We came up with some great ideas during the retreat, and I thought about these discussions many times afterward, some even directing my business decisions.
— David Lowe
The outcomes from the retreats can become something that has an impact on the wider community. There are online resources that have come out of teams that have continued to collaborate long after the retreat itself. For example:

Below are some impressions from previous retreats, with links to their output.

London 2014



The excellent venue added to the whole experience, enabling us to be truly Agile during our retreat, with my team choosing to work outside in the relaxing, inspiring gardens and sunshine (with the occasional rugby professional passing by on their way to training!).
— Sam Birkinshaw


Thailand 2014




South Africa 2015




Chandler (Phoenix) 2013

This retreat even resulted in a selection of videos.

One specific topic that was discussed at the 2013 Chandler SCR was behavior change, individual as well as organizational (collective of culture, structure, process/policies, and people). Since then I've explored this topic at depth from different perspectives — still learning. It has helped me personally and professionally.
— Kamlesh Kraviani

Scrum Coaching Retreats and the future

The Scrum Coaching Retreats have allowed the coaches who have attended time to explore the profession of Agile coaching at a deeper level, and they have highlighted the collaborative spirit within the coaching community. However, I believe we have a long way to grow as a community, with many opportunities ahead of us. How do we:
  • Grow our skills as coaches?
  • Help customers choose the right coach?
  • Build coaching capability in the organizations where we work?
  • Transform the world of work?
  • Build a professional Agile coaching community?
  • Deepen our understanding of the key challenges and opportunities of Agile adoption as it ventures into new frontiers?

So come, and be part of all of these opportunities at a future Scrum Coaching Retreat. To find out more, see this list of upcoming events. More retreats will be added to the list regularly.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance.