2017 May 16

We’ve had a couple great retrospectives lately, so I thought I would share two of the exercises that really garnered some good discussion.

I’ve posted about this in the past, but just as a refresher, this is how we do retros at Industrial:

Every second sprint we all come together to pause and reflect on the previous couple sprints (roughly once a month). During retro, we take part in a series of exercises designed to get each other talking about what went well and what could be improved upon in the next sprint. I am the facilitator so I don’t take part in the exercises, but I choose which ones we will do, keep the conversations going, keep things on track from a timing standpoint, and note any issues or action items along the way. The retro lasts about 1.5 - 2 hours and gets broken up into the following parts:

  1. Energizer (quick exercise to get everyone’s brains awake and feeling positive)
  2. Gather data (exercise to help everyone remember the past sprint and start reflecting on what happened)
  3. Generate insight (exercise to determine why things happened the way they did and if there are any patterns or major issues)
  4. Decide what to do (exercise to help chose a few of the major issues to work on and plan action around fixing them)
  5. Close (quick closing exercise to check in on the temperature of everyone’s feelings post-retro)

I have a few great resources that I go to for ideas on exercises and often adapt them to suit our team. Sometimes my 11-year-old suggests some great ideas as well, like the scavenger hunt we played as an energizer the other day. Here are 2 recent “gathering data” exercises that were very successful:

Exercise #1 - Three Little Pigs

Purpose: Discover where your team's vulnerabilities are and decide how to improve them.

Source: http://www.funretrospectives.com/three-little-pigs/

1 - First I had someone draw a visual of the 3 houses on the whiteboard (straw, sticks and bricks)

2 - Then I explained to the team what each of the 3 houses represents at Industrial:

  • House of straw – what do we do that barely holds together, and could topple over at any minute? (e.g. “our deployment script is very manual and prone to error – we could break production very easily”)
  • House of sticks – what do we do that is pretty solid, but could be improved? (e.g. “our use of git commits to log work”)
  • House of bricks – what do we do that is rock solid? (e.g. “our automated deployment and cutover has never failed.”)

3 - I then asked the team to individually spend about 10 minutes coming up with things to write in each category and then share their notes on post-its and place them on the board in one of the three columns.

4 - As each person went up to the board and read their notes aloud, we would filter into like topics and have group discussions about potential action items.

Our learnings:

Here are some honest insights from our team at Industrial:

House of straw:

  • Our use of epics and stories
  • UAT feedback process
  • Finishing the last 10%

House of sticks:

  • Focussing on getting things done
  • Estimating accurately
  • Storyboarding

House of bricks:

  • Front-end development
  • Culture and onboarding
  • Writing proposals

Example of 3 Little Pigs exercise on a whiteboard

 

Exercise #2 - Proud & Sorry 

Purpose: Discover what team members are proud and sorry about

Source: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great

1 - I put up two posters labeled 'proud' and 'sorry’. 

2 - I gave the team about 10 minutes to individually write down instances they felt proud or sorry (one instance per sticky note)

3 - When the time was up, I had everyone read out their note and post it to the appropriate poster.

4 - As each person went up to the board and read their notes aloud, we would filter into like topics and have group discussions about potential action items.

5 - End with a short conversation by asking:

  • Did anything surprise you?
  • What patterns do you see? What do they mean for you as a team?

Our learnings:

Here are some honest insights from our team at Industrial - 

Proud:

  • Multiple launches in this sprint
  • Being open to new ideas
  • Progress on Wicket
  • Code quality and code reviews

Sorry:

  • Project delays
  • Being grumpy
  • Putting a lot of effort into a proposal we didn’t win

Example of Proud & Sorry exercise on a whiteboard

 

Whether or not your team is practicing Agile methodologies, I strongly encourage you to, at the very least, do monthly retrospectives with your team. The insight you gain from giving everyone a voice is invaluable.