Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dialogue Sheets feedback and stories

Retrospective Dialogue Sheets continue to be a popular download, and I’m off to Sweden in a couple of weeks to present the sheets at Oredev. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to review the downloads to extract any useful information from the several thousand downloader details but I do continue to get some interesting feedback.

A few months ago Gail from Siemens Healthcare e-mailed me to tell me how she had used the sheets to conduct a distributed retrospective. The team in India had one sheet and conducted their retrospective in their work hours. Several hours later when the US team arrived at work conducted their own retrospective using another sheet. Gail then gathered the findings and reviewed the two sheets and conclusions which were complementary.

More recently I heard from a Scrum Master at Stattnett in Norway about their use of the sheets. What follows is a (slightly edited) account which nicely describes why many people like the sheets:

“thank you for the sheets! We've now used them in two retrospectives, and we will continue to use this technique for the future.

My main reasons for applauding their use:

  • The sheet stimulates equality among team members during the discussions, by the fact that all must be seated around a table (no one standing up and facilitating the discussions).
  • The sheet rules demand at least some contribution to the process from each team member during the session, by reading out questions loud - and also decide for themselves what is needed to read (and not to read).
  • The sheet is very physical and with few/no barriers for participants to express themselves on the sheet for everyone to see - even if it is only by drawing "stick men" on the edge (next time, maybe even the stick-man-painter will write some words on the sheet).
  • The sheet and rules (when followed) prevent the Scrum Master from falling into a "team leaderish" role when the rest of the team gets lazy and wont't bother to involve in the process - they all have to take their part of a common responsibility for getting through the questions and to the end of the "game".
...and there are more.

These characteristics make our retrospective sessions less bureaucratic and more inspiring than with our old technique. We have been using the more traditional technique for several years, with each team member preparing notes before the meeting, writing successes and suggested improvements (often as complaints...) on green and pink paper memos.

The notes were then collected on a whiteboard and discussed and voted on at the end - with the Scrum Master (me) as facilitator. This preparation of notes [was rushed] and no one really likes to do this. Going through each and every note was time-consuming duty with debatable value. [In the end] the retrospective meetings became quite uninspiring form for all of us.

But with the dialog sheet, we now have a better, more inclusive and more constructive climate in the meetings. We spend our time on issues of real value to the team instead of ceremony parts no one really likes, and more in line with the original intentions for this session.

The sheet can be put directly on a wall after the meeting, for everyone to see. I don't have to make any kind of additional summaries anymore (as I did, even if core scrum doesn't prescribe this). I can instead take a photo of the sheet for the record, if needed.”

I regularly hear that of teams who hang the completed sheet on the wall as a reminder of the discussion and conclusions. I have also heard of a team who hung a blank sheet on the wall at the start of an iteration and team members filled in the timeline as they did the work.

Finally, I recently discovered a blog posting from University College Dublin which used the Dialogue Sheets as part of student retrospective exercise. I don’t believe these are the first College to do so, University of Central Lancashire might have that honour.

Since I learned about the sheets from Cass Business School in London I like the idea that the sheets are going back to college!

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