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Highly effective retrospective technique

September 14th, 2017 No comments

Link to the sample Retrospective Trello board:  https://trello.com/b/0rdEWAmQ

A while back, I did a blog post titled Online Brainstorming Technique about using technology to do effective brainstorming sessions. So it goes on that a similar technique can used for Retrospective sessions.

This blog post is an updated version that leverages tooling while still maintaining all of the benefits of the old manual technique; now enables simple and easy access for remote folks and simple record keeping.

If you are anything like me, you will have attended many brainstorming sessions that have gone horribly wrong where:

  • the person with the most senior title rules
  • people position themselves before the brainstorming in an effort to establish some credibility ( in my experience the largest time consumer)
  • someone has dominated the session with their diatribe(s)
  • people who won’t stop talking about their ideas
  • it has deteriorated into a session of I am right and you are wrong and it turned out that they were saying the same thing, just a little differently
  • the most aggressive / loudest person wins
  • people were so intimidated that they did not contribute
  • people belittle the ideas thrown up
  • it becomes more about who’s idea it is rather than what the suggestion is
  • remote employees are not able to participate fully
  • the documentation is always after the fact and late….

The purpose of a Brainstorming session is to capture as many ideas as possible. The term, think outside the box is often used when it comes to brainstorming. It is very common to have a totally unrealistic statement stimulate an idea with someone else that was just brilliant. In an effort to get ideas out quickly and without most of the preamble, here is a mechanism that is quick, fair, enables remote participants, and is personality sensitive.

Pre requisites

  • Online agile planning tool, I will use Trello for this blog post. I am currently biased towards Trello because I have successfully used  for audiences in excess of 100 people.
  • Create a board on your tool of choice so that people can capture their ideas – here is a sample Trello retrospective board
  • Depending on the tool that you use, you might need to adjust the visibility of the board. If you are using Trello and not have Business Class, you will need to create the Team first and then create the board under the Team. I have found that people need to trust each other in order to contribute fully. So be aware of that if there is one person that is not trusted, it will lead to some people holding back.
  • Depending on your tool, you might need to create a group and invite people to board that you created. Depending on the sensitivity of the topic, you might have to limit the visibility; however I believe that every retro should be public and visible to the whole team, even as people join the org because it allows them to see that issues are dealt with in an open and transparent manner.
  • Enable the ability to vote on the cards
  • If you are doing this session with remote folks, I do suggest some form of screen sharing mechanism so that everyone can be focused on the same screen. At minimum, a phone conference mechanism although video does enable the facilitator to be more personal.
  • Using the board, create some existing groups/lists such as the following to streamline the brainstorming session.
    • Timeline
      • laying out the timeline of everything related to the event often leads to observations that would otherwise be missed
    • What went well?
      • Don’t be tempted to skip over this one – wins are always good!
    • What needs improvement?
      • use this list of items that need improvement
    • Start Doing
      • sometimes, people have an ah hah moment and this list gives them the ability to capture and share their thoughts on something that needs to start happening
    • Stop Doing
      • again, observations of behaviors that the someone believes should stop
    • Vent
      • this list allows people to complain, knowing that complaining doesn’t help solve the issue but it does provide a release
    • Duplicates
      • allows duplicates to stored and allowing adherence with the guideline of don’t delete ideas
    • Parking List
      • sometimes things are just too big and need their own retrospective or drill down outside the retrospective
    • Collect Input
      • for items that too complex and need further investigation – just schedule a retrospective for each of these
    • Action Items
      • if there are no actions items – you’re perfect! (if you believe this, why was there a need for a retrospective?)

Participant Guidelines

  1. one idea per card (ideally 8 or less words) You can use the card description for more data or explanation.
  2. do not discuss what you write down
  3. have fun
  4. respect all ideas
  5. do not judge (especially your own ideas), just put them on a card
  6. think outside the box
  7. ideas can be added at any time time during the session (especially during the discussion)
  8. don’t delete any ideas

Instructions for the Brainstorming session

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the participant guidelines. How do you know this? Ask.
  2. Everyone needs to capture their issues as a card in the Issues list. One idea per card and if your idea needs data or explanation, you can include that in the card description.
  3. Prioritize the issues by moving the higher priority cards to the top of the list. Feel free to add more to the list as people understand other cards. Merge duplicate cards and move the old cards to the Duplicates list.
  4. Brainstorm – review the cards in the Issues list and add ideas on how put ideas on cards. One idea per card and if your idea needs data or explanation, you can include that in the card description.
  5. Read what others have put up remembering it is about the idea and not who created the card
  6. Put more ideas up, especially if they were stimulated by what you read.
  7. Now group the similar themed suggestions together. It sometimes helps to create additional list/groups in order to collate the similar themed ideas together. I have also color coded ideas with similar themes.
  8. Move the the duplicate cards to the Duplicates List, leaving one card on the list. It might be necessary to change the title.
  9. Have everyone vote on their top five items.
  10. Arrange the cards with the highest number of votes to be at the top of the lists.
  11. Variations
    1. Option 1: Now discuss all of the ideas; as an active participant, it is your responsibility not to belittle any idea or person. I put this step in as a transitionary step. As people get more comfortable with this approach, this step should be eliminated because it favors the talkers and over shadows the introverts. That being said, it also enables the talkers to think and do as a team, you will need to time box this step or it will never end. Create cards with Action Items for the next steps or actions to bring the ideas to fruition.
    2. Option 2: This is the more effective method. Have the team create create cards with Action Items for the next steps or actions to bring the ideas to fruition.
  12. Some suggestions will require additional input to be collected and they can be moved to the Collect Input list.
  13. To help with the flow from idea to Action Item, word tag the idea or color code it

Helpful Hints

  • To help the folks in the group that need time to think and process, it is advisable to include the brainstorming topic in the meeting invitations.
  • Provide a link to the topic and these instructions as part of the advanced notification.
  • Do not shoot the messenger!  Brainstorming is all about getting the most hair brained ideas out.  Remember that your crazy idea can stimulate someone else’s thinking that results in that killer idea.
  • Do not be afraid to screwup. Please refer to the point above.
  • The ideas can now be evaluated on the merits of the idea and not who’s idea it is.
  • If you have written it down, you do not need to talk about it too. It might make you feel better but it is also taking up time. This is especially difficult for first-timers.
  • For the discussion phase: Some folks need to talk in order to think. It helps to have these folks remote as they can mute themselves while they talk.  don’t worry, because you’re on a conference call it comes naturally. I would also suggest time boxing the discussion; you will see there is a rhythm and when folks start to repeat themselves, it is time to cut it off and move on.
  • It is pretty common to have similar ideas, so just merge them and move the duplicates to the Duplicates list.
  • Some folks will not be able to move off their points and will attempt to convince others that they are right. remind them that they are not respecting the ideas of others and are assuming that they are right. All ideas need to be able to stand. If explanation is needed, then add the collateral to the card.
  • For folks that are used to discussions, they might feel that this method is impersonal or that their voice is not being heard. For these folks, explain to them the purpose of this technique is to capture everyones input as efficiently as possible and they should not focus on the busy exercise of them being able to talk.

Variations

When time is a factor, I have had the participants complete steps 1 to 3 before the meeting. Alternatively, I have also split into two meetings by completing steps 1 to 4 at one meeting, sorted the ideas out off line and then conducted the discussion at a followup meeting.

 

Link to the sample Retrospective Trello board:  https://trello.com/b/0rdEWAmQ

To copy the board for your own use:

  • Click on the Show Menu link in the top righthand corner of the board
  • click on the …More option just above halfway down
  • click on the Copy Board option

Feedback on how to improve the board is very welcome!!

What is important to you?

September 10th, 2015 No comments

“Gavin, these guys are late again!  I am really tired of them not delivering as they said they would!  I really want to give them a piece of my mind and explain to them the concept of accountability.” Joe said explosively.

I am sure that we have all found ourselves in a similar situation where we would like to blow off some steam, send a flame mail, and/or even give the person a piece of our mind.

For those of us that are aggressive results driven people, we tend to find this lack of accountability painful and frustrating.  Here is a suggestion that was shared with me years back and I am sharing on a technique to handle this type of situation:

What is more important?

We need to be conscious about what is more important to us.  The results that we are trying to achieve or being able to vent at them?  By asking this question, it forces me to think about the situation, what the business needs and what what the costs are of an emotional outburst are from me.  Sometimes I am more successful and other times not so much…..

filling up the glass

April 15th, 2010 No comments

I read this post on overcoming negative thinking shortly after I posted my glass half full post where he shares some guidance on how to fill up the glass.

http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/2010/02/23/negative-thinking/

Categories: Emotions, Mindset Tags:

Glass half-full or half-empty?

March 14th, 2010 No comments

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

Too often we look at the glass being half-empty which leads us to be perceived as negative, a downer or even not being a team player.

Try to look at things from the perspective of the fish.  There is water in the glass and therefore things are good.

Having the self awareness to know that there is still room for more water is good and we can make efforts to add more water to the glass but don’t forget that there is already water in the glass.

Categories: Behavior, Emotions, Expectations Tags:

Optimistic Mindset

January 13th, 2010 No comments

I was born and raised in Africa and like most places in the developing world (politically correct term for 3rd world) , culturally, we looked to the 1st world countries for leadership and guidance. As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a number of visitors from various 1st world countries. This exposure allowed me to see, firsthand, some of the cultural generalizations.

Working with American, the first thing I noticed was how they increased the volume of their voice when they perceived that someone did not understand them.

The second thing I noticed was their optimistic mindset.  They were always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt and listened to their input, ideas and feedback in a non-judgmental manner. I watched in amazement how these people responded very well to this behavior. They changed from being interested parties to involved participants. It was awesome to see how the energy levels increased and how the folks cooperated together.  Needless to say, the goals were achieved quickly and with little fanfare.

I believe that one of the biggest advantages that the Americans have, is their optimistic mindset.

Over time, I have come to realize that the behavior that I was exposed to as a teenager was a combination of the optimistic mindset and also an ability to listen.  Listening is a skill that all managers should have in their arsenal and constantly practice.  For some of us, this does not come easily, but for the sake of your people please continue to work on it.

Is Passion a Key Element for Success?

September 9th, 2009 No comments

I recently attended a talk by a famous professional photographer.  At one stage in his career he had grown his company to a point where he was hiring a lot of people, wearing a suit and no longer shooting photographs himself.  Therefore he was looking for and hiring talented photographers, to do the shooting, while he ran the business.  He started off basing his hiring decision on the normal criteria of skills, work ethic, interpersonal skills and sales ability.  Often he had numerous candidates that all had the same skill level and could all perform the job.

Over time he found that the folks that were passionate about photography, would go the extra mile needed to do a great job thereby ensuring a higher level of customer service and satisfaction.  Therefore he came to conclusion that passion should be his primary decision making point, followed by the rest of the criteria.  As a result of this change, he found that his pool of candidates was significantly smaller.  Surprisingly he also found that his pool of candidates had a slightly lower skill level but were more than willing to go that extra mile to ensure a great job.  So he took a chance with the lower skill level and moved ahead.  It was a successful gamble and he now attributes this change of hiring policy as one of the pivotal points that contributed to his business growth.

The image on the right, shows quite a gap between what is needed and the skills and and passion combination.  This gap (the visible red portion) is a massive opportunity that someone else can easily step into.

As I am writing this post, a rerun of Hells Kitchen was playing in the background.  Gordon Ramsey said the following to one of the contestants:   “I can teach a chef to cook but I cannot give you a heart.”

So is Passion a key element for success? I believe that passion can be a key differentiator.  It can be a great multiplier for your capabilities and can help close the gap between skills and the need.  (as shown in the image on the left)

I say that passion can be a great multiplier because passion is a blade that can cut both ways.  You need to channel your passion in a manner that complements your capabilities and not against your capabilities.  For example, throwing a temper tantrum when things do not work out your way is a good example of passion going against you.  Leverage your passion to complement your capabilities while being very aware of the possible price of passionate behavior.

So if passion is so important, what do I do if I am not passionate about what I am currently doing?  The answer is short and simple.  Do something that you can be passionate about.  Go and experiment and try different things.  A well known author only discovered her passion when she was her early 40’s.  It took her 8 years to write the book and it has since been reprinted 43 times.  Those culinary blood hounds will know that I am referring to Julia Childs.  So if you do not know what your passion is, go an experiment, learn from failures and try new things until you find your passion.  Until then be very passionate about what your current word provides you with.

When you do what you are passionate about what you are working on, it comes through in not only the results but also in how you go about your efforts.  Not only will your passion be evident to others but it also provide you with an additional level of energy.  When channeled appropriately it will provide yu with an additional 10% without you realizing it.

Categories: Behavior, Emotions, People Tags: , ,

Effective Communication

May 11th, 2009 No comments

I was discussing communication with a number of people this week where they were expressing some frustration around not achieving the results that they were expecting.  I have adopted a  fictional character called Larry who wants to communicate an idea to some key stakeholders.  In an effort to communicate effectively, Larry has adopted a structured approach where he has laid out the the problem, the options and finally the solution. In the graphic below, I have created a graphical representation of the flow of the communication.

communication-flow

Now, let’s take a look at this this flow.  The black lines illustrate where Larry is communicating the problem, the options and finally the solution.   The yellowish lines indicate the flow from element to element.

Although this is a very structured approach that is well laid out.  Unfortunately, as Larry found out his listeners wanting and he was not able to convince his stakeholders.  This is often the case when a new idea is being presented or when the listeners are unfamiliar with the background.  Because people need to catch up and from zero to where they can understand Larry’s definition of the problem.  Literally they need to from 0 to 60 in 2 2 seconds flat.  Also because they are still processing one element while Larry has moved onto the next element, the listeners missed portions of the options or solution definitions.

Now let’s take a look at a modified version of this flow where Larry actually took a breath and checked with his listeners to make sure that they were grasping the concepts that he was trying to communicate.  Quite literally he slowed down in order to speed up.

effective-communication-flow

Just like the previous graphic, the black line illustrate the problem definition.  The yellowish lines indicate the flow from element to element.  Now let’s introduce some key elements that will change the flow drastically.  The green circles with the cross inside are there to provide the stakeholders with some time to think and process what Larry told them.  As the stakeholders process the information, they might have questions, as indicated by the question marks.  Larry needs to provide them with the opportunity to ask questions and/or provide feedback.  Why feedback, you might ask.  Well it is human nature that we all need to feel heard and respected and therefore it is common for the stakeholder want to add their 2 cents.

This dialogue portion is critical to overcoming any fears or concerns that the stakeholders might have.  As the stakeholders buy into what Larry is telling them, he needs to draw them in, with open ended questions and encouraging them to provide input.  In the graphic, the blue line denotes where Larry has gathered the stakeholder input, feedback and incorporating it into the definition of  Problem, Options and Solution.  By getting the stakeholders to help, all that remains is for you to paint in the remaining black portion.

This approach has some key benefits:

  • people feel respected because they were given time to process and ask questions
  • people do not feel dictated to
  • the options and solutions move from a single person;s idea to a collaborative idea
  • it takes less sales to get everyone on board because the baby is partly theirs and we all know that your baby is never ugly

Try this technique and please let me know what you think.

Categories: Communication, Emotions Tags:

Simple brainstorming technique

May 11th, 2009 No comments

If you are anything like me, you will have attended many brainstorming sessions that have gone horribly wrong where:

  • people position themselves before the brainstorming in an effort to establish some credibility ( in my experience the largest time consumer)
  • someone has dominated the session with their diatribe
  • it has deteriorated into a session of I am right and you are wrong and it turned out that they were saying the same thing, just a little differently
  • people were so intimidated that they did not contribute
  • people belittle the ideas thrown up

I have always found it surprising that folks do not understand that brainstorming is all about getting as many ideas out.  The evaluation of the ideas comes later. In an effort to get ideas out quickly and without most of the preamble, here is a mechanism that is quick and fair.

Necessary stationary supplies

  • Sharpies or pen (I use Sharpies because this helps limit the number of words and makes the writing visible)
  • Post-it Pads (small sheets of paper can also be used)

the Rules

  1. one idea per sheet (ideally max.3 words)
  2. do not discuss what you write down
  3. have fun
  4. respect all ideas
  5. do not judge (especially your own ideas)
  6. think outside the box
  7. ideas can be added at any time time during the session (especially the discussion)

Instructions for the Brainstorming session

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the brainstorming topic.
  2. Ensure that everyone has at least one Sharpie and at least one Post-it pad.  If you have multiple colors of the pens and/or pads, then it helps to provide extras so that it is not obvious which ideas came from a single person.
  3. Now, everyone needs to write their brainstorming suggestion on the post-it sheets using a Sharpie.  One idea per page and no more than three words to explain the idea / suggestion.
  4. As the folks complete writing down all of their ideas, stick them up on a board / wall.
  5. Now group the similar ideas together.
  6. Now discuss all of the ideas and as the facilitator it is your responsibility not to belittle any idea or person.

Helpful Hints

  • To help the folks in the group that need time to think and process, it is advisable to include the brainstorming topic in the meeting invitations.
  • Provide a link to these instructions as part of the advanced notification.
  • Do not shoot the messenger!  Brainstorming is all about getting the most hair brained ideas out.  Remember that you crazy idea can stimulate someone elses’ thinking that results in that killer idea.
  • In the 30 plus sessions that I  have used this technique, there are always a clear set of ideas that are similar.  The ideas can now be evaluated on the merits of the idea and not who’s idea it is.

Variations

When time is a factor, I have done steps 1 to 4 at one meeting, shorted the ideas out off line and then conducted the discussion at another meeting.

Categories: Behavior, Emotions Tags:

conflict

January 22nd, 2009 No comments

I recently had a discussion with one of the folks in my org regarding conflict and his perception was that conflict was negative.  During our conversation it became very apparent that we did not classify conflict the same.

To me, conflict is a necessary evil for a healthy environment and that it is necessary for success.  I believe that open and respectful communication about a point is good because this dialogue ensures that all of the various point of view are shared.   Often this respectful airing of opinions stimulates new perspectives that are superior to the ones originally brought to the discussion.

Back to my discussion, it turns out that he in fact did not have an issue with conflict, rather he had an issue with not being treated in a respectful manner.  In particular, he was perfectly happy with the decision as long as he felt that someone had listened to his opinion.

In his book Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni defined conflict as “Conflict is nothing more than an anxious situation that needs to be resolved”.  He defined it far better than I every could have and therefore I have adopted that definition and added  “in a respectful manner” to create my own definition.

“Conflict is nothing more than an anxious situation that needs to be resolved in a respectful manner”

Categories: Emotions, People Tags: , , ,

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