Devil’s or Angel’s Advocate: Which role do you prefer?

We all know how to play the Devil’s Advocate. By playing this role, we stimulate a discussion in which we challenge ideas, in order to improve them. But how do you get your ideas to start with? This is where the Angel’s Advocate comes in: A positive and inspiring approach to come up with great new ideas!

Positive Ideas

The Angel’s Advocate is a technique to stimulate creative and positive thinking, and to come up with new ideas. You use this technique by asking people come up with an idea. Group members then react by saying what they like about the idea, how to enhance it and build on it, what benefits they see, and how it can create value.

This motivates the submitter of the idea, and encourages the group to come up with more positive ideas. The group members become engaged and will stimulate each other to think creatively (some would call it “thinking outside the box”, but actually there are no boxes 😉 ).

Critical remarks are not allowed during the session. All ideas are collected during the session, e.g. on a flip chart. At the end the group can pick the ones which are most promising, and decide when and how to implement them.

Not a brainstorm

You may say that the Angels Advocate looks like a brainstorm session, but there is a big difference. The role of the Angel’s Advocate is to explicitly react positively to ideas, thus rewarding the submitter for her/his contribution. Where in a brainstorm, members of the group do not state any opinions about the ideas, neither negative nor positive.

By acknowledging the contribution, a positive culture is established which stimulates creativity. That is also why the Angels Advocate has been incorporated into the Golden Rules for Agile Process Improvement.

Agile Retrospectives

The Angel’s Advocate can also be done in Agile Retrospectives to find and agree on improvements that the team will work on. The facilitator set’s a topic where team members are encouraged to come up with ideas and improve each other’s ideas.

The mindset that makes this work:

  • All ideas have value, welcome them
  • When someone suggests an idea, think about how to  make it work
  • Think and act positively. Say “thank you”, “what a great idea”, “wow”
  • Don’t say “but”, replace it by “and also”
  • Think “why not”, let’s try it, experiment, and see how it works

Agile Self-assessment Game

You can also play the Agile Self-assessment Game using the Angel’s Advocate to explore your agile journey and continue your travels. The cards from this game can be used to come up with ideas where the team works together to improve them.

For example, assuming that the following card is played:

“The team does not rely on management to set and meet its goals”

The team member can build on this by saying:

We know what our customers need

Yes, and we can ask them what they would need more

And ask them how they would use it

We have data that tells us which functions our customers use

And we know how to develop and test new functions

Wow, together we can really deliver value if we use the things we already have and know!

Positive Thinking

There can be a place and time to be critical and be the Devil’s Advocate, but we need more positive thinking, and more Angel’s Advocates. This technique and related methods like Appreciative Inquiry and Solution Focused (in Dutch: Oplossingsgericht Werken) help you to come up with ideas and deliver creative value.

(This blog was posted Feb 23, 2011, and updated Dec 15, 2012: Extended with the background of the Angel’s Advocate and references to related posts, updated again on March 18, 2018: revised and extended with suggestions how to use the technique in agile retrospectives and in the Agile Self-assessment Game).

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Great one thanks for sharing!!

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