Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Remembering past last week

We know from experience that people often have very short memories when they participate in a retro.

It is no surprise that we only usually get the problems from the end of the sprint since this is often where the pressure is. Any good things are usually drowned out by the tide of problems we discovered yesterday.

So imagine my delight at taking people back over 6 months. And not just one team - a whole bunch of teams all working on the 'Consents' programme of work which basically made our company GDPR compliant.

So here is the method I used, which worked nicely and created some good conversations and insights for the people who participated.

We first set a homework task. This is essentially the ice breaker but served a purpose too. The team were asked to bring a picture that represented the project at the beginning and one that represented the project now.

The idea is to get people to think back to the beginning. I was conscious that different people got involved at different times and that is fine. We just wanted them to take the time to think back right to the beginning to break the cycle of only remembering the last things.

I drew a timeline which represented the project from beginning to end and got people to show the pictures they chose and explain why e.g.

A picture of the lone ranger herding some cats was because that person really didn't know how to go about this project at the start, they chose a cover of George Orwell's '1984' to explain that during the project he became much more data security aware and by the end it was something he was seeking out since he was interested in it.

We heard several stories which started with this very simple beginning and end. You don't need everyone to do this (they won't) but a couple set the scene. This is usually funny and often thought provoking - I have used this as the basis for a team retro too.

Next we add some points on the timeline to give some scale. For us, we added some key sale periods  and Christmas. It will always be terribly inaccurate, you just need enough to make sense of the timescale as a whole.

With about 20 people in the room, you will generate a LOT of data. The trick is to find a way of bringing out trends. Grouping will take too long so I use a colour key and an additional dimension to allow the group to talk about what happened.

With this group, we gave them different coloured post-its depending on their role in the project, there were 4 in total. The dimension we added was good/bad - if the thing they are remembering was good then place it above the timeline, the opposite for bad. The further it is away from the timeline, the more pronounced that is.

I then gave the group 7 minutes to go post-it crazy and place these insights on the timeline. I can be messy and little loud but it's only for 7 minutes!

Once finished we asked them to look at what they had created:

Next, we ask them to look for some trends:

* On balance, which group of people had the most insights? Who had the least?
* On balance, was this a positive experience or a negative one?
* Was there a specific part of the project where something was wrong? What happened?
* Which part of the project was busiest and why?
* What happened here? (point to a cluster or peak)
* Was this the best thing that happened? (point to top post it) Why?
* Was this this the worst thing that happened? (point to bottom post it) Why?

For the most prominent groups, we asked them to tell their story from beginning to end. This is often lead by and individual but they speak for a group since people tend to work together to remember what happened.

People add insights from their own perspective as each of these is told. Over half the session is just this. As a facilitator, you can ask open questions and maybe pull in individuals who aren't speaking or look like they want to but cannot break into the dialog.

At this point we collecting data, sharing perspectives. I usually ask for the high and low point from each of the story tellers, which can break them out of concentrating on a single time period. You can pull out specific cards from the wall if there are interesting ones but the purpose is not to use that data - it is just a vehicle to get people to think across the whole timeline and highlight areas that might be interesting to talk about.

To close, we want some canned insight that we can learn from. To do this I pose the question:

If you were on another project and you were working with some new people, what advice would you give them? If you could hand them a piece of paper that would help them, what would it say? What mistakes would you want people to steer clear of and what inspiration could you give based on what we have found out today?

The output is a single statement from each person. We grouped these into themes that allowed us to see where there was consensus in their experience even though their involvement and roles in the programme were completely different. As people left, we asked them to vote for their favourites and encouraged them to use this insight to improve the next programme they were involved in. We share the favourites with the more senior management and try to steer the structure of work at a higher level based on this feedback, hopefully improving each one as we go.

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