Facilitating a retrospective through questions

Repetitive things gets boring too soon. I observed team retrospectives to be one of them. I introduced this format in my current project and it worked out well by making everyone speak and voice their opinions. Here are the steps to do the retrospective in this format.

Ice breaker or energizer – Any simple ice breaker which can be completed within 5 minutes is a good start. It loosens up people and also makes them forget work if they were pre-occupied with some problem.

Reflection time – Give the team around 10 minutes of silent time to think about what went well and what needs to change. They can write it down if they think they will forget. Make sure to run through the previous retrospective’s action items with the team.

Writing space – Have white board markers in two different colours such that you can capture points in alternating colours. It is easy to read the board from everywhere in a hall. One whiteboard is sufficient

Questions round – Prepare questions which reflect the priority of the business and team. Some examples

  • Do we manage product owner’s expectations well?
  • Do we understand the business drivers?
  • Are we satisfied with the quality of solutions that we are providing?

Questions

  • How do we rate our delivery standards?
  • What is our elevator pitch?
  • Do we understand the best practices and follow them?
  • Is the team proactive or reactive?
  • Is this a fun place to work?
  • Are we gaining something as an individual and as a team?
  • Is our staffing model right?
  • How well do we interact with other teams and share knowledge?
  • How are the Ownership and Satisfaction levels?
  • What are your inputs to the project management?
  • Do we understand the various milestones?
  • Are dependencies/risks/issues tracked and addressed?
  • Are risks and issues tracked?
  • How is the Team Morale?
  • Is there a work life balance?

Ask these questions to individuals in a round robin format and capture the highlight of that point on the whiteboard. If someone else also has an opinion or an alternate answer, then capture that as well. Some questions could be made on the spot to spark discussions. After the questions are done, open the floor for people to provide inputs which might not have been covered by the questions.

Analysis time – This phase can get longer if not facilitated properly. Read each point and capture ‘Action items’ and ‘Ideas’ from the team. If any point gets into a debate or a solution mode then quickly interrupt and capture the resolution of that problem to be an action item for a focused group or the team itself based on how severe it looks.

Ownership for actions – Request for volunteers to implement the action items and try out new ideas. Capture their names against the line items on a poster to put it up in the team area later.

Recognition time – Though teams should not have heroes, it is natural for individuals to go through phases of ups and downs, which makes some individuals contribute more than the others in a given span of time. Give the team the last five minutes to reach out to the individuals whom they think that life was made easy because of their help or contribution; and thank them mentioning what made their life easy.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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The rich gets richer and the poor stays where they are

Rich gets richer and poor stays where they are, it is not about money. It is about knowledge acquisition. Information overload and ease of access to the information means, there is less emphasis on gaining knowledge than how it was used to be during the pre-internet era. While it is easy to do a lookup and find the required information, it may not be true that the comprehension of the new information is easy.

Is it necessary to have factual knowledge at the finger tips when the internet is your friend? In the book “Why students don’t like school”, the author mentions about the limited space in working memory and how knowledge is essential for reading comprehension. It seems the working memory can hold only seven objects and they have to be meaningful objects. A person might either think in terms of words or pictures, but it is not possible for them to relate to unknown terms or words. Even a shallow knowledge of something is very useful for quick comprehension eliminating the need for reference material.

If someone was talking about Large Hadron Collider to me before I knew what a hadron was, then I would have assumed it to be an anti missile device. Just a shallow knowledge of ‘A hadron is an elementary particle’ makes me interpret that to be a particle accelerator. I also need to have a shallow knowledge of what an elementary particle is and what it means to make these particles collide to understand the importance of building such a device. The key concept behind shallow understanding is the ability to chunk information. Chunking allows us to keep more information in our limited working memory space. Chunking is also the basis for lazy evaluation. I don’t need get into details until the point I need to work it, for example I know that antibiotics kill bacteria but how deep I get into what it means depends on whether I am taking that medication and need to be aware of side effects or I am involved in antibiotic research. To understand the sentence that ‘A development of a new class TB antibiotic failed’; my basic knowledge of antibiotics kill bacteria and TB is short form of tuberculosis, a disease caused by bacteria is enough.

Our brain is a very efficient storage device, knowledge is always about retrieval. Our retrieval of information from memory is always dependent on how well did we comprehend, visualize and relate information. Brain is so effective that it records too many parameters associates with memory. For example try smelling a perfume that you have used during school days which you have not used for a long time, may be years. The moment you catch the smell, it can bring vivid memories back which we had no clue that such a memory existed. More information is available about this at Olfaction and Memory. We need to create as many handles as possible to retrieve our assimilated knowledge and that comes only after constant exposure to information, at least at a shallow level to facilitate chunking and visualization resulting in better comprehension.

Our ability to chunk information grows only with knowledge and chunking in turn helps quicker comprehension which in turn increases knowledge. It forms a rewarding cycle, the more we learn, the faster our knowledge begins to grow and we will be able to recollect information better.

Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net