The Hunt for Better Retrospectives
The rumours had started to spread, retrospectives at our organization were flat, stale and stuck in a rut. The prevailing thought was that this was stalling the pace of continuous improvement across our teams. In truth, I wasn’t sure if this was at all true, it’s a complex problem that has many possible contributing factors. Here are just some possible alternative or co-contributing causes: how the teams are organized, the level of safety, mechanisms to deal with impediments across the organization, cultural issues, levels of autonomy and engagement, competence & ability and so on…
Despite this, it didn’t hurt to have a look for some inspiration on good retrospectives. I really liked Gitte Klitgaard’s talk called Retrospectives are Boring and Useless – Or are They? In particular the parts around preparing and establishing safety.
On the theme of safety, I thought we could try to go as far as having fun; we’d already had lots of success with the getKanban game (oh Carlos you devil!). Where it all tied together for me, was being inspired by the great question-based approach from cultureqs.com that I’d had a chance to preview at Spark.
If I could create a game with the right prepared questions, we could establish safety, the right dialogue and maybe even have some fun.
The Retro Game
This is a question-based game that I created that you could use to conduct your next retro for teams of up to 10 people. The rules of the game are fairly simple and you could play through a round or two in about 1 to 2 hours depending on team size and sprint duration. Prep time for the facilitator is about 2-4 hours.
Prepping to play the game
You, as facilitator, will need to prepare for 3 types of questions that are thought of ahead of time and printed (or written) on the back of card-stock paper cards.
One question per card. Each question type has its unique colour card. About 8 questions per category is more than enough to play this game.
The 3 types of questions are:
In the Moment – These are questions that are currently on the mind of the team. These could be generated by simply connecting with each team member ahead of time and asking, “if you could only talk about one or two things this retro, what would it be?” If for example they responded “I want to talk about keeping our momentum”, you could create a question like “what would it take to keep our momentum going?”
Pulse Check – These are questions that are focused on people and engagement. Sometimes you would see similar questions on employee satisfaction surveys. An example question in this category could be “What tools and resources do we need to continue to be successful?”
Dreams and Worries – This is a longer-term view of the goals of the team. If the team has had any type of Lift Off or chartering exercise in the past, these would be questions connected to any goals and potential risks that have been previously identified. For example if one of a team’s goal is to ship product updates every 2 weeks, a question could be “What should we do next to get closer to shipping every 2 weeks?”
On the face-up side of the card it should indicate the question type as well as have room to write down any insights and actions.
You will also need:
- To print out the game board
- To print out the rule card
- Bring a 6-sided dice
Playing the Game
Players sit on the floor or at a table around the game board. The cards are in 3 piles, grouped by type, with the questions face down.
- The person with the furthest birthday goes first.
- It is their turn and they get to roll the dice.
- They then choose a card from the pile based on the dice roll. A roll of 1 through 3 is an “In the Moment” card, 4 is a “Pulse Check” and 5 to 6 “Dreams & Worries”
- They then read the card question on the card out loud and then pass the card to the person on the right.
- The person on your right is the scribe, they will capture notes in the Insight and Actions boxes of the card for this round.
- Once they have read the question, they have a chance to think and then answer the question out loud to the group. Nobody else gets to talk.
- Once they’ve answered the question, others can provide their thoughts on the subject.
- After 3 minutes, you may wish to move on to the next round.
- At the end of each round the person whose turn it was chooses the person who listened and contributed to the discussion best. That person is given the card to keep.
- The person to the left is given the dice and goes next.
Winning the Game
- The game ends at 10 minutes prior to the end of the meeting.
- At the end of the game, the person with the most cards wins!
- The winner gets the bragging rights (and certificate) indicating they are the retrospective champion!
- You should spend the last 10 minutes reflecting on the experience and organizing on the action items identified.
Concepts at Play
Context & Reflection – Preparation is key, particularly for the “In the Moment” section. The topics will be relevant and connect with what the team wants to talk about. Also when presented in the form of a question they will likely trigger reflection for all those present.
Sharing the Voice – Everyone gets a chance to speak and be heard without interruptions. The game element also incentivises quality participation.
Coverage of topic areas – The 3 question categories spread the coverage across multiple areas, not just the items in the moment. The probabilities are not however equal, for example there is a 50% chance of “In the Moment” being chosen in each turn.
Fun & Safety – The game element encourages play and friendlier exchanges. You are likely to have dialogue over debate.
Want to play the game?
I’d love to hear how this game worked out for you. I’ve included everything you need here to setup your own game. Let me know how it went and how it could be improved!