Why Dialogue Sheet Retrospectives Are Important

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Summary:
We all know we need to do retrospectives. And sometimes, it feels as if we go through the motions. Maybe with dialogue sheet retrospectives, we don’t have to. Here, Allan Kelly shares his perspective on dialogue sheet retrospectives.

Think back to your last retrospective—if it happened at all, that is. Most likely someone took a leadership role—although we politely call him a facilitator—and maybe this person asked everyone to do specific exercises. In all likelihood, I bet that some people spoke a lot and a few said next to nothing. Remember, for some teams, a retrospective can mean a lot of (expensive) paperwork.

Chances are that if you hold retrospectives—and unfortunately it seems most teams do not—that somebody leads and facilitates each retrospective. After all, someone needs to keep things moving, don't they?

Given all the ideas of self-managing teams in the agile community, it has always seemed a little bit odd to me that this major learning exercise tends to put one person at the front, literally. During the last couple of years, I, and many others in the software community, have been using a technique based on very large pieces of paper called dialogue sheets to hold facilitator-less retrospectives, as shown below in figure 1.

1

Figure 1. A blank sprint retrospective dialogue sheet

Teams that have tried this technique regularly report new dynamics in their sessions. I’ve worked with one team that said it was "the difference between night and day."

Another team that I heard from was split between the US and India. The ScrumMaster used the sheets to hold two separate retrospectives with the team members in each location. The ScrumMaster then collected and compared the result and coordinated action.

After this, a ScrumMaster in Norway commented that the sheets reduced pre- and post-retrospective administration and relieve the tendency to be "team leader-ish,” by which I think she meant the team did more self-organization.

Again and again, I’ve seen teams report that, contrary to what some expect, the sheets help give a voice to everyone in the room. People who are generally regarded as "quiet" will speak up, and there are few (if any) reports of individuals dominating the discussion.

We used two sheets in one retrospective that I ran with a large team. In this instance, the developers sat at one and the analysts and testers at the other. At the end, one of the business analysts commented "Normally the developers out vote us and we don't get to talk about our issues," but on this occasion they did!

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1 comment
Leyton Collins's picture

Looks very interesting. I've got some reading and reviewing ahead of me. :-) 

August 17, 2013 - 9:14am

About the author

Allan Kelly's picture Allan Kelly

Allan Kelly has held just about every job in the software world, from system admin to development manager by way of programmer and product manager.  Today he works helping teams adopt and deepen Agile practices, and writing far too much.  He specialises in working with software product companies and aligning products and processes with company strategy.

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