Boring retrospectives 10 – Walk the board

It’s hard to come up with new retrospective exercises as a facilitator.  However, I believe keeping it fresh helps the team to boost their continuous improvement results.

In my previous ‘boring retrospective’ posts I introduced a number of new retrospective exercises you can use, depending of the state of your team and project.

walktheboard

Today’s exercise is called ‘Walk the board’.  I have done it several times with different teams and it led to some amazing insights and improvements.

It is ideal for teams who have done a couple of sprints and struggle to deliver their sprint backlog.

Here’s how it goes:

1. Invite the team to gather around the task board.  You might want to pull out some chairs, this is not a standup J

2. Explain the purpose of the exercise: “Let’s reconstruct the history of each user story.  Together we will try to tell what happened, when somebody started to work on it, which difficulties popped up, when it was tested, why it was on hold, etc…

Explain the team that our goal is to find patterns which help us to understand where our process flow is obstructed.  In other words, where our biggest bottleneck lies.  If we can understand it, we can think about improvements to reduce or remove it.  This way, fewer user stories will be stuck in the process and our chance of delivering what we planned increases.

3. I always start with a user story that is only recently finished.  This is easier because it is still fresh in mind.

Ask questions as a facilitor and help the team to think what happened to the user story in each step of the process.  When the story is told, agree with the team on the major bottleneck of this user story.  Write it on a post-it and put it on the user story.  Continue with a next user story and so on.

4. When you’ve done a handful of user stories, move to the second part of the exercise, which is exploring patterns.

As a group, look at the ‘bottleneck’ post-its which you put on the user stories and discuss if there’s a pattern.  In most cases there will be a pattern, which you can use for the last part of the exercise, which is thinking about improvements.

5.  As a group think of actions you can take to reduce or eliminate the bottleneck.

It’s a simple excercise, with very little preparation and high interaction.  Depending on the knowlegde of the team, it might be appropriate to do an introduction of the theory of constraints first.

photo credit: Leventali cc

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.

3 comments

  1. To me, this sounds a lot like Value Stream Mapping (VSM), but on a smaller scale, i.e. for a project and not for the entire process. Same thing, different scope. Nevertheless very useful indeed.

  2. Tried the “Walking the Board” retrospective today. We spent 1 hour in total. 30 minutes were spent looking at 4 stories in Jira; no physical board to walk, so we wrote up bottlenecks on a whiteboard instead of putting post-its on the stories. We spent about 15 minutes identifying patterns, which led to some useful observations about practices we used to follow, but which have been mislaid in our transition from Scrum-like planning games to Kanban style just-in-time discussion and estimation. 10 minutes at the end of the meeting were spent deciding a few actions.

    Everybody gave the retro a thumbs up in a straw-poll at the end of the meeting. I was given feedback that it was a nice change to have a retrospective that focused on a recognised issue, as many other retros are performed at such a high level that they tend to cover the same old subjects and rarely provide lower level insights.

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