Brain-writing Retrospectives

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There are many techniques that can be applied during Scrum retrospectives. The excellent book “Agile Retrospectives” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen has several suggestions. As a Scrum coach I try to keep retrospectives fresh and interesting by using different techniques and I regularly dip into this book for inspiration.

One of the simplest retrospective approaches is to get the team to make three lists:

  • Continue – what has worked well and should be continued
  • Stop – what has not worked well or has hindered us and should be stopped
  • Start – what things have we not been doing which we should start to do

With the support of a facilitator, the team can produce the three lists on three separate flip-chart sheets. However, sometimes the team dynamics makes this difficult, for example if one or more of the team members are very dominant so that other team members are effectively excluded. Brain-writing is one way to help all team members to contribute.

In this article I describe how brain-writing can be applied as part of a Scrum retrospective.

Brain-writing proceeds as follows:

  1. Each participant is given a sheet of paper containing a table with three columns “Continue”, “Stop” and “Start” (attached as Powerpoint in English and German).
  2. Each team member spends up to 5 minutes writing entries in each column.
  3. The sheets are then passed to another participant (e.g. to the left).
  4. Each participant reads what has already been written and may then write additional ideas if inspired to do so (5 minute time-box).
  5. This continues for at least one round – i.e. until the sheets are back at their starting points.

Once ideas have been generated using brain-writing, the retrospective can continue as follows:

  • Consolidate the lists – producing three lists (“Continue, “Stop” and “Start”) on a whiteboard or flip-chart.
  • Prioritise the list items by voting with coloured stickers or marker pen “dots” – each participant gets three votes per column.
  • From the highest priority items (e.g. the top three items), generate a list of SMART (simple, measureable, achievable, realistic, time-boxed) actions.
  • Consider creating Product and/or Sprint backlog items from the actions.

Brain-writing Retrospective Sheet (German and English) – Microsoft Powerpoint

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