In today’s episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner Podcast, host Dan Neumann is joined by a return guest, Christy Erbeck. Christy is a principal transformation consultant at AgileThought and a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator. She has over 25 years of experience in domestic and international consulting, training and coaching, and working in both software development and non-product-focused environments, including manufacturing (discrete and process), distribution, and sales and marketing.
In this episode, they’ll be taking a look at a couple of different areas on the theme of agile by reviewing some questions from Quora.com. They start off discussing Sprint Retrospectives and how to make them more creative and fun, then shift to discuss frameworks, and lastly, they take a look at agile vs. waterfall.
- “How does a Scrum Master make the Sprint Retrospective more creative and fun?”
- Allow room for creativity by creating a safe environment through structure
- Slowly introduce new ways to run the Retrospective so the team can look at their work and interactions differently
- Get to know your team—the better you know them, the better you can adapt the Retrospective to fit their needs
- Use a method such as the Sailboat Retrospective to get the team outside of their regular 3-question Retrospective
- Try the “Genie Retrospective” and “The Four L’s Retrospective” (and don’t be afraid to customize them to make them your own, either)
- Read Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby for further insights on what makes a great Retrospective
- Seed the data for the Retrospective
- Check out TastyCupcakes.org, FunRetrospectives.com and Retromat.org for further ideas for creative and fun Retrospectives
- “How do we convince clients to use agile methods?”
- Share case studies and stories from your own experience that illustrate the benefits that come from it
- Explain the “why”
- Meet them where they’re at
- You can’t convince them; you need to help them uncover their own reasons for why they would want to adopt it so they can sell themselves on it
- Dig into what isn’t working for them right now that agile would solve
- Do a lot of listening about what their problems are
- “What is the advantage of waterfall over agile?”
- There is a time and a place for waterfall depending on the project
- It can be a great approach to solving a problem and getting a product out the door for simple projects that have a clear checklist
- Remember: you can still apply an agile mindset to a waterfall project and an organization can use both approaches successfully
Mentioned in this Episode
- Christy Erbeck
- Sailboat Retrospective
- Genie Retrospective
- The Four L’s Retrospective
- Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen
- Stacey Complexity Model
- Cynefin Framework
- Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons, by Bryon Powell
Christy Erbeck’s Book Pick:
Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and not completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar]
Intro: [00:03] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought, the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.
Dan Neumann: [00:16] Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m Dan Neumann and happy to be joined by my colleague Christy Erbeck.
Christy Erbeck: [00:24] Hi Dan. Thanks for having me here again.
Dan Neumann: [00:26] Always happy to. Sometimes we have a very focused theme for the episodes and this one we’re going to touch on a couple different areas. We’ll start with just a bit about the Sprint Retrospective, how to make that more creative and fun. And then we’re planning to shift off to discussions of Frameworks and which are appropriate aware and maybe answer a couple of questions that have emerged out, uh, off of Quora. So not a single thread. Yeah. And who knows, we’ll be agile about it if something else emerges while we’re talking, we’ll go there. So we’ll start with, uh, one of the questions that was posed was how does a Scrum Master make the Sprint Retrospective more creative and more fun? And I know both of us have served Scrum Master role. So yeah, take a take a shot at that.
Christy Erbeck: [01:17] This is a great question. And as a Scrum Master, if I think back to when I was a Scrum Master, it was one of my most favorite things to do with the team or events to run with the team because I could be creative. Um, I didn’t necessarily start out being creative. I started being really structured and following the, what went well, what didn’t go well, what would we like to change format, um, because I wanted them to get used to the event, get comfortable with the event, get comfortable with being really honest and sharing what was going on with them and identifying what was going well or what wasn’t going well. Um, and that created some safety in the team for, for them and, and for them to get used to me as well. When I first started, uh, and within I would say maybe 90 days I began introducing different aspects or um, ways to run the Retrospective so that the team could look at their work and look at their interactions differently. And there are so many tools and resources available to Scrum Masters and I’m happy to share some of the resources that I’ve leveraged in the past.
Dan Neumann: [02:39] Yeah, definitely. We’ll want to, we’ll put those up as a link into the show notes that folks can get at agilethought.com/podcast for sure. What types of things, um, have you experienced that you felt fit into the creative and fun aspect?
Christy Erbeck: [02:56] Several things come to mind relative to creativity. Um, the first being, the more I knew my team, the more I was able to adapt to create a Retrospective, um, that would shake things up or, um, allow them to try something new. And so everything from looking at the Retrospective on a timeline, looking at it, using like the sailboat Retrospective, where we look at what are our headwinds, what are our tailwinds? Where’s the sunshine in our Retrospective, in our, in our Sprint? Where were the rocks? Uh, were there any pirates that were out to get us? Um, how deep was the keel? Did we even have a keel in our sailboat? Um, how many people were in the boat? Were people hanging over the sides? Were they down below, you know, so just, there’s so much just within that one Retrospective that can be done to just completely get the team thinking outside of the box from the normal three questions and dig into underlying issues, um, and have fun with it. Every time I draw the sailboat retro on the wall or on a large easel pad, people are intrigued when they walk in the room and see it for the first time because there’s no, there’s no words on the picture. It’s truly a picture. And, and I can share a picture that I’ve, I’ve drawn before. There’s a variety of, depending on how quickly I’ve had to draw the sailboat, but, um, the good ones have a lot of character to them and it, it just peaks their interest from the get go as to what is this thing.
Dan Neumann: [04:57] I know you and I were on an engagement and I happened to be in the room and as I say this, I’m not sure I actually, I don’t know if I closed the feedback loop, but it was one of the C-level folks walked into where you had done the Retrospective. And of course then on the wall is the ship with some sunshine and some wind and rocks and things like that. And he was like, ah, yeah, what’s that? Um, and of course at that point it had sticky notes hanging all over it. So it was a nice opportunity to have that conversation with somebody else about, Hey, here’s what’s going on in the organization that’s pushing things forward, holding things back where are the pirates, where are the rocks, those types of things. Um, so it really enabled a nice little conversation about what the team is experiencing in a different way than, uh, here’s the goods, the bads, the due difference, et cetera. So I love that one.
Christy Erbeck: [05:46] Yes. What a wonderful point you bring up, Dan, is that those types of Retrospectives help the team and others, us as coaches or consultants tell the story of what’s happening in a much richer contextual way than the three columns and the three questions tend to do. Um, so I’m, I’m glad to hear that you were able to do that.
Dan Neumann: [06:13] In my head though, I think I hear somebody who might be listening going, well, wait, the retro’s for the team, it’s not for, which is true. It’s not for the executives. Obviously there, there must have been team safety there because it was left on the wall. It’s not like this was an artifact the team created and then was run out the back door over to rat the team out on anything. So yeah, there was, um, there was a lot of transparency in that. And so whatever was left on the wall was meant to be seen. So I just wanted to touch base on that. As you were saying that it reminded me of, you know, we’ve got Christmas coming up and when you were talking pirates, I got to thinking back in the day, St. Patrick’s day was coming up, so St. Patrick’s, whatever drove the snakes to the sea. Do I remember that correctly? Am I getting my, my myths correct or my realities correct. So you could do something holiday themed, you know, Christmas is coming up. If Santa brought your team a present, what kind of things would you, would you want? Or, you know, whatever, whatever holiday people might be celebrating, you could look to do a different metaphor. You could do the days of Hanukkah for sure. Yeah. So that, that came to mind as a bit of a different thing. You know, it’s not a, it’s not a grid, it’s not a three columns type of thing.
Christy Erbeck: [07:27] Right. There’s other Retrospectives. Um, I think it’s called the genie Retrospective that our colleague Sam Falco shared with me a long time ago. And that is another, I have not run the genie Retrospective. I know Sam has. Um, and he has said that that’s a very effective approach and I have that document so we can include it as a reference point.
Dan Neumann: [07:55] Is that the genie granting three wishes, the traditional genie type of thing. Okay, super cool.
Christy Erbeck: [08:03] Uh, another one that we did recently for a team and we modified it. So it’s, it’s called the 4L Retrospective and the L stands for what did you love, what did you learn, what was lacking and what did you long for? And because this was a, uh, an act that was actually an agile CoP Retrospective for the year, we changed the last box because when you create this Retrospective, you basically create a grid of four boxes, like think about a quadrant. And we changed that last quadrant to be what are you looking forward to? Because they wanted a way of capturing ideas for the upcoming year of events and things that the community was interested in having and seeing and learning about. And I really liked how they, um, how we adjusted that Retrospective to incorporate a looking forward aspect.
Dan Neumann: [09:12] Yeah. So taking some of the maybe traditional ones, I think the four quadrants, the four Ls was in Esther Derby and Diana Larson’s book on agile Retrospectives and yeah, don’t be afraid to customize those and make them your own. Yes. That’s still my favorite book. Uh, when it, when it comes to Retrospectives for sure.
Christy Erbeck: [09:34] And what I love about this book is how detailed it is in the fact that they break it down structurally into the five parts, the five steps to a good Retrospective and just so people can have some context if they’ve not read the book they, they recommend following a specific structure of number one, setting the stage to gathering your data, three, generating insights from that data four deciding what to do and five, closing the Retrospective. And not only do I love the fact that they’ve thought through that process, um, but it really creates some safety and containerizes the Retrospective so everybody knows what’s going to happen next. And there’s not a question of this. Um, Oh, this is just a feel good thing and whatever. I think the surprising part for people who’ve never done a Retrospective following that path or that process is the amount of time necessary for the team to go through those five stages or those five steps effectively and have that meaningful insight, gather that data.
Dan Neumann: [10:54] The traditional death spiral with Retrospectives that I run into most often is we’re not getting value, let’s make it shorter, we’re not getting value, let’s make it shorter. And eventually some teams just quit. And sometimes I think the problem with not getting value or not feeling like there’s value is just not enough time and not a, not a structure to it. So yeah, if you’re sitting around listening to one person blather on about their pet irritation for the Sprint, yeah, that’s going to stink and you’re going to want to cut them down and down and down. But right. I know as I, as a young Scrum Master, I was fairly uncomfortable the first time I did a Retrospective that was on a release that had been going on awhile and asked for the better part of half a day to a day with the team. And I was quite nervous about doing that. It worked out very well. There were several exercises, some of them on their own took the better part of 60 minutes to gather some of the data because it was such a long time frame. So yeah, don’t be afraid to try something different, give it an inappropriate amount of time or even an amount of time that you think is too long and put some structure around it.
Christy Erbeck: [12:06] And as a Scrum Master, I’ll, I’ll say what I did was throughout the Sprint I was gathering data to bring to the Retrospective so that we didn’t necessarily spend so much time thinking through the data. I would that I would usually have some visual that showed here the things that I heard or I saw or I experienced, uh, from the team. The team would vet that. They’d say yes or no, that would spark other things for them. And so in a relatively quick amount of time, we were able to gather the data and then move right into the insights that that data provided. So as a Scrum Master one can do some of that lift throughout the Sprint. That makes the Retrospective a little less heavy.
Dan Neumann: [12:58] Yeah. So seeding the data for the Retrospective and then, you know, possibly there’s more that the participants add when they’re there. But yeah, coming in with more than a blank sheet for sure. Anything else come to mind for making them more creative and fun?
Christy Erbeck: [13:14] Anytime you can go out to tastycupcakes.org, you will find so many fabulous ideas out there that are fun and, and just crazy, you know, just, you would never even think of all the ideas that that website has gathered and collected over the years.
Dan Neumann: [13:35] Definitely. Yeah. Tasty cupcakes is one of my favorites. And the other one is Retro Matte where they basically, well there’s, there’s a whole collection out there and you can kind of spin the wheel and it, it does provide the suggestions in those five stages that were mentioned by Esther and Diana. And so, yeah, so tasty cupcakes has a bunch of games and then retro matte, you know, if you’re feeling lucky, go spin the wheel and you can spin it multiple times and you’re not committed to whatever comes up. But just some ideas for, you know, jiggling the creativity.
Christy Erbeck: [14:04] And then I think the last one is, I believe it’s a downloadable PDF. It’s called funretrospectives.com and I think that that PDF is like a hundred pages. It’s, it’s quite large and it has a tremendous amount of ideas, some of which are probably replicated in other locations. Um, I don’t know how it’s been compiled, uh, but I have leveraged that resource as well.
Dan Neumann: [14:33] Oh, that’s cool. Yeah. I don’t know what the overlap of those three different references would be. I know I’ve seen things in Esther and Diana’s book showing up in multiple places and um, but for sure there’ll be some unique, unique things. Well, good. So there’s, there’s three more places to go jiggle the Retrospectives a little bit.
Christy Erbeck: [14:51] Sure.
Dan Neumann: [14:52] Well, let’s move on to how do we convince clients to use agile methods? So that’s a quote of the question. I’m not advocating that we convince people that they should do something, especially if it’s not appropriate. But you know, if somebody is saying maybe somebody has seen some possibilities for agile and now they’re trying to build support for it, what things come to mind for you?
Christy Erbeck: [15:18] Well, certainly case studies that we have or stories that we can tell from our experience help to come alongside the people that are curious about it. Um, I like to come from a place of curiosity of understanding why.
Dan Neumann: [15:49] Yeah. So as far as as the convincing, you’re taking a different approach, you’re not trying to sell, you’re trying to meet them where they’re at, which isn’t quite what you said, but that’s the visual that comes to mind. Hey, come alongside them, approach it with curiosity and understand either the why of why they want to maybe take a non-agile approach, are inclined to not move towards agility or sharing the why of the opportunities that you see for improving the benefits or the outcomes using agility as the Framework for, for moving forward.
Christy Erbeck: [16:24] Right. Because the question in how do you convince them, well, I can’t convince them with my, my story or my reasons. I have to help them uncover what their reasons would be in order for them to sell themselves. We make emotional buying decisions with our heart, whether we understand that or not, and then intellectually justify that through behavior. So they have to have bought into why they’re going. They have to believe in the reasons that they’ve come up with. And so if I can help them understand their reasons, understand their motivation for wanting this in their organization, why they want it now, where do they want it? Um, what purpose would it serve? What are they doing today that that isn’t working or that they think isn’t working, that agile would solve. So it’s really about digging in and understanding where they’re at, where they want to go, and why they believe agile is the answer because agile isn’t the answer for everything and it’s really important to help them see how agility could help them but understand their business or their problem well enough that if agility is not the answer that we find out what would be the answer to help them achieve what they’re looking to achieve.
Dan Neumann: [18:02] Yeah, yeah. No, for sure. Trying to kind of understand what they’re trying to achieve. The other piece that comes to mind is really trying to understand what the relationship is that you have with that client. So the, the question was phrased and how do you convince a client to use agile methods? You know, and if, um, if you’re being brought in, let’s say to do a very focused piece of technology work or a very focused piece of training, there’s not an invitation there to open up the scope of that to a whole bunch of other things. If they’re, if they’re coming to you with a pain saying, Hey, what we’re doing is not working. We’re looking for other approaches. Then the conversations there to have have about whether agile methods might fit in with the solving the needs that they have. But really trying to understand what that relationship is is important as well.
Christy Erbeck: [18:54] Right. The further, you know, some people say that, you know, there’s, there’s credibility for consultants that fly in. So the further they come, the more credible they are, um, to help you solve a problem. And because of that perceived objectivity. Right. And yeah, I think, I think it’s important to us to really dig in, spend the time to understand. And if they are an existing client and you are working with them on a particular project, you have opportunities to have conversation and to listen, to really listen to what it is that they’re asking for and hopefully within your consultant’s toolbox you have multiple things that can help them.
Dan Neumann: [19:51] Yeah, definitely. So convincing a client to use agile methods maybe isn’t quite the right approach there, so looking for one that has more understanding and do a lot of listening about the problems they’re trying to solve and like you said as there’s opportunity, maybe relate some stories that have been successful and the why’s behind that, the problems that were solved. Okay. Also then what is the advantage of waterfall over agile and I think people might be going, wait, what Agile Coaches’ Corner advantages of waterfall. That should be a short segment.
Christy Erbeck: [20:30] I was just going to say I believe and I think within our practice we have fairly strong alignment to the understanding that there is a time and a place for waterfall depending on the project. Scrum as a lightweight Framework that’s intended to allow unknowns to emerge is not for every project. If you have a simple project that has a checklist that is a repeatable process, um, that is very well-defined, everything is known upfront, there is, there will be no surprises ifs, ands or buts then waterfall can be a great approach to solving a problem and getting a project, a product out the door. With that said, you can still apply the agile mindset to a waterfall project in that how, if, if it makes sense and how possible is it to ensure that you’re looping in your customer early and often throughout all of those stages that you’re getting that feedback and validating throughout that process that you are still on the right path, that what you’re creating is still what they’re asking for and what they need and what will provide tremendous value to them as a client. Um, so the mindset can be applied.
Dan Neumann: [22:01] Yeah the Scrum guy talks about Scrum being for complex products. And in a scenario where you are truly doing something that is simple or something that is obvious can be planned with high confidence, you don’t get the benefits of the feedback loops as much as you do in a complex place. And so you know, if, if you know what you need. So my non-software example is McDonald’s. McDonald’s doesn’t have to Scrum about the burger and fries that I want. They will make the same mediocre burger and fries that I get every time. But it’s predictable and it just, it flows through the system. It’s not an agile approach to my burger.
Christy Erbeck: [22:47] Right. I mean, it’s a system. It’s a defined, well-defined, well-known process for bringing, in this case, hamburgers and French fries to life for you.
Dan Neumann: [23:00] And there’s tremendous value in getting that mediocre, inexpensive, fast, you know, whatever the pink slime or whatever they make. I don’t care, I eat it.
Christy Erbeck: [23:08] Well, and so let’s, let’s take that example one step further and, and see how we could apply potentially Scrum to them developing a new product that they want to bring to life for their customers. In that case where there’s some unknowns and there’s some complexity and there’s, uh, the absolute need for customer feedback and, um, you know, focus groups and however they’re going to validate that they are on the right path for bringing this new product to life. There’s a perfect example of how one organization use both approaches successfully,
Dan Neumann: [23:49] Yeah. It doesn’t have to be a death match of, you know, only one will survive, you know, the, the plan driven approach versus a, an iterative emergent approach.
Christy Erbeck: [24:01] And once that new product comes to life and it’s known and it’s bait, then it will because of McDonald’s operational excellence, um, strategy will come into a waterfall, you know, very simple, streamlined, step by step process, I mean, that’s what they do so well is that repeatable process.
Dan Neumann: [24:24] Yeah. And I think that’s the advantage for the simple and the obvious things that, or the repeatable process. It’s like, okay, now we drive the variants out now and it becomes very efficient. Whereas in that new product development cycle, whether it’s burgers or software or some other service that people are making, the iterations, the feedback loops and collaborating with your customers are some of the advantages that come out of, of agile methods.
Christy Erbeck: [24:49] Yes. Our practice stance is absolutely it’s a both and answer. It’s not one or the other. And there’s probably even some variation belong the Stacey chart or Cynefin. If you use to, um, uh, basically map what type of product or problem are we trying to solve, which approach would be best?
Dan Neumann: [25:13] So we should probably pause. Yeah. So let’s pause. Stacey chart and Cynefin and for those that people, for those people that maybe aren’t terribly familiar with that or they’re like, Hey, wait, what, what’s that? Can you, uh, could you elaborate on that a little bit?
Christy Erbeck: [25:25] Well, the Stacey chart is a, is a way of understanding where from a technology and a, um, a timeline perspective does a body of work fall. And the closer you are to that very beginning access, that’s simple. So we moved from simple to complicated to complex to chaotic. The further you go out and upwards to that upper right hand corner. Um, and we have a graphic that we could share with people, if that makes sense so they can understand that.
Dan Neumann: [26:10] So yeah. And so, so that, that access where they’re close together and simple, like where there’s a lot of agreement about the technology is often how we talk about it and a lot of agreement about the needs of the customer and I usually, when I’m verbalizing in our training, and maybe you’ve done this a bunch of times, so yeah, we were clear on the technology, we’re clear on the needs and we’ve done it before. That’s the simple place. And then as you get divergent on the customer needs or the technology certainty, that’s where it gets complex. And if you don’t know either of those things yet chaotic, especially when you throw a massive team at it. Yup. For sure. Okay. Yeah, we’ll put a, put an image of that up.
Christy Erbeck: [26:47] And then Cynefin is similar. It’s just a different way to analyze where a project would fall. And that’s more of a quadrant, um, visual that we could potentially share as well.
Dan Neumann: [27:01] Yeah, we’ll share that. And I know when David Snowden talks about it, it does, it looks like a quadrant. And the one piece he’ll differentiate with that is, um, you know, as you have the, we call it simple now it’s called the obvious. The obvious domain when you assume something’s obvious and it’s not, is when you can easily kind of fall over that cliff into a chaotic world. So the financial crisis of 2008, Hey, we thought we had a system, we thought it was resilient, we thought everything was simple and magical and one of those assumptions got at least one of those got invalidated and it threw the economy, which is certainly complex at best into a tailspin.
Christy Erbeck: [27:41] Yeah. I love your point about the assumptions when we do not critically think and evaluate the assumptions we believe. Um, and really kind of look to poke holes in them, then we can get into a whole bunch of trouble.
Dan Neumann: [28:00] Absolutely. Well good. So yeah, so the Stacey chart and the Cynefin, we can put some links to that up in the show notes as well. So with that, I don’t know what time people are listening, but it’s around lunchtime for us and all that McDonald’s talk, I’m getting hungry. So what are you reading lately? And we’ll, we’ll wrap up with that and uh, I’m going to go find a McDonald’s.
Christy Erbeck: [28:23] Okay. So the book that I’m reading right now is called, Master of One: Find and Focus on the Work you Were Created to do. And it’s by a Tampa based author, Jordan Raynor. And um, it’s, you know, it’s really about understanding what were you, what were you built to do and, and be, we’re, we’re over committed, overwhelmed and overstressed spending way too much time, um, focus on either a whole bunch of distractions or things that we think we should be doing because this is what other people want us to do. When in reality we need to look inward, take some time to reflect and listen to what is our inner spirit saying we were here, we were created to do so. It has a little bit more of a spiritual bent, um, to the book and all of the exercises I have found to be very valuable. Whether you have a spiritual approach to life or not.
Dan Neumann: [29:34] That’s cool. And you said that’s coming out as of our recording, it’ll be coming out on December 10th.
Christy Erbeck: [29:40] That’s, that’s correct.
Dan Neumann: [29:42] People can go get it I assume at booksellers, which maybe there’s more than Amazon these days, but still,
Christy Erbeck: [29:48] Yes, yes, yes. And you can also go to jordanraynor.com. Uh, we can include the, the um, link in the show notes to his, his website. Um, I’m, I’m sure we can purchase it there as well.
Dan Neumann: [30:05] Oh, very cool. That sounds, that sounds good. I might have to check that one out and I need to do that right after I finish a book called Relentless Forward Progress though, which is a bit of a guide to ultra marathons. So, um, I think I might’ve talked about running on a previous show, but I am battling an injury, a foot injury and it must be getting better. Cause now my mind is turning to like, okay, how do I get through a 50 mile race at the end of August 2020? Um, and this is a, this is a guide by people that have done it. And what I like about it, much like with some of the agile stuff, we talk about it, they say, Hey, here’s a bunch of ideas or concepts around nutrition. Here’s what some other people do. You need to experiment with it and see what works for you. Shoes, here’s a bunch of information about shoes. You need to experiment with it and learn what to do for you. So, um, I think it ties actually somewhat related to, you know, what would you put here to do? It’s like, Hey, here’s, here’s some exercises. Here’s some guides. Here’s some things to think about. They’re not going to give you the, the answer. It’s definitely a complex adaptive system. Um, whether it’s personal or, uh, kind of personal, spiritual, emotional or personal physical type of things that need to get those feedback loops. So that’s where I’m at. That’s okay. It’s got me thinking. So thank you for joining and sharing on a few different topics today, Christy. Appreciate it.
Christy Erbeck: [31:31] You’re welcome, Dan. Thanks for inviting me to show.
Dan Neumann: [31:33] Our show our, so we will. We’ll make it our show, but yes, no, thank you very much.
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