24 March 2012

A piece of paper that'll improve your team

Today we tried using a dialogue sheet in our retrospective for the first time. In my experience, when you try something new it invariably means you won't get it right. This was different.

I'm not going to pretend it was perfect. There are things we will do differently next time (we've already agreed that there will definitely be a next time). Overall it was certainly a success.

To begin with, let's look at what a retrospective is and why it's important. I like quoting principles from the agile manifesto so let's include one now:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

A good scrum team will hold a retrospective at the end of each sprint. They get together to establish what they will do to make the next sprint better. There are many different ways of doing this, up until now our most used format is where everyone is given some sticky notes that they use to write what they feel went well, didn't go well, and would like to improve. They're stuck on the wall and with the ScrumMaster facilitating, are discussed and then voted upon to establish actions for the next sprint. My colleague Andrew Jutton has written a good blogpost that explains the process in more detail here.

Continuous improvement is something we always strive for and holding these regularly has proved beneficial. Even if you just use it to get something off your chest in a therapeutic style it helps, I can vouch for that! The best thing to come out of them are some great ideas that we've adopted, making us more efficient and our lives easier.

Our team is in a period of transition at the moment (isn't everyone's?!), we've recently lost a ScrumMaster and while our novice stand-in has been great, we've shared many of the responsibilities. Having come across dialogue sheets about a month ago I've been chomping at the bit to give them a go. Here was my opportunity so I seized it.

From what I had read, these were the answer to some of the issues I'd noticed in our retrospectives where not everyone had an equal voice. The ScrumMaster and more vocal team members tended to dominate the discussion and not all views got equal billing. Good ideas were being missed.

With a dialogue sheet there is no facilitator, the session almost runs itself. The team uses the dialogue sheet (printed on a sheet of A1 paper) to go through 11 steps, with each individual taking their turn to lead the conversation. Starting by drawing a timeline showing key events in the sprint, then discussing and listing the successes and difficulties, the things you want to keep doing, stop doing and do differently, you end up establishing three actions for the next sprint. By doing this we found that the actions almost chose themselves. These are now stuck on the wall where we hold our daily stand-ups as a helpful reminder.

At the beginning of this post I said that there are things we can improve for next time. They are:

  1. Whoever is nearest to the question being discussed should lead the conversation. That didn't always happen.
  2. We had attendees today who were not involved in the sprint. While they were trying to be helpful by contributing to the discussion, it became a distraction and conversations went off in unwanted tangents. Next time we will politely ask them to observe only.
  3. Not everyone needs to agree on something for it to be noted on the dialogue sheet. Next time, if somebody suggests something it should be written down first and then discussed.

If you'd like to try using dialogue sheets yourself, everything you'll need to get started is here.

I'd like to thank Allan Kelly for developing dialogue sheets, the work he's done has undoubtably helped our team and many others. Also, credit must go to my teammates for the enthusiasm shown in trying something new.

If you've tried this I'd love to hear about your experiences. Please comment below, or if you prefer there are links to my social network profiles in the sidebar.


1 comment: