What indicators, not necessarily data, could a Scrum Master be looking for given not all of them have a development background?
Well, in the retrospective, a Scrum Master is fundamentally their coach.
If we apply a sports metaphor, usually a coach is somebody who is an expert in the game. Maybe a former player. To be useful, they have to take the stance that they can’t help the players by playing themselves.
The person running the retrospective has to step outside the content of the conversation. They have to look more at the contour of the conversation.
So, it could actually be of benefit if they don’t understand certain things being discussed because those things could be a distraction. It could take their focus away from watching how the team is interacting. Let’s say somebody keeps getting talked over. That’s where the coach could step in. They can help to try and adjust the conversation.
While the content of the conversation belongs to the people having it, sometimes the mechanics of it go wrong. You need somebody there who’s only watching how it’s happening. They can be nudged into ‘playing’ better with each other.
They are helping to make sure that ‘play’ is optimized?
If they want to take things up a notch, what could the coach be doing?
Well, the phrase that comes to mind is ‘holding space’ from Open Space Technology.
Holding Space is its own job. That’s what a facilitator of retrospective would be doing whether they are a coach or a Scrum Master, whatever their title. That role of facilitating the conversation. You’re not in the content, but you’re creating the container, and watching the contour of the conversation.
That entails communicating how you’re going to have the conversation. You’ve arranged for the prompts for that conversation. You’ve set the boundaries. It takes a lot of design work.
In my experience, when a retrospective doesn’t go well, usually the thing that’s lacking is that the person facilitating it hasn’t taken the time to design it. They are just kind of winging it.
That’s not useful.
What’s useful is for them to establish a time box, say 10 minutes. When that time box is up that they’re not fluffy about it, they’re firm. ‘OK, we’re done talking about that, it’s time to time to make a decision and move on’.
So those parameters are really quite important to make it an effective space. What have you observed go wrong that a simple fix could have addressed?
In terms of retrospectives, the common mistake is to say, ‘let’s have a wide-open conversation’. Then the group goes on to talk about whatever is on their mind. While that’s an important thing to do in some spaces, you really want to get punctuated value out of the time that’s put aside for a retrospective.
Remember, we’re not working on the work. We’re working on the team. We’re working on how we work.
The thing that often gets skipped, on the way to discussing how we felt about what happened, is establishing what actually happened. Making sure that everybody in the room has a similar mental model of what we’re talking about.
So, an alignment. A calibration of ‘do we agree on the facts?’
Often, for me, a handy device to help do this is to take a few minutes and have the team establish a timeline of what happened. Draw a horizontal line on a board and start putting down notes on it. ‘Early in the sprint this happened, then there was this’.
This works against any recency bias. They’re not just going to think about the things that have happened in the last day or two, or hour or two. This is important especially if it’s a two-week iteration, or one month or longer. There are a lot of things you won’t remember.
Giving them time to actively remember is really helpful.
There might be parts of the team that didn’t feel the same or didn’t remember things as strongly. They might have heard about something, but they weren’t involved. So it paints a picture for them that’s a little more holistic and shared.
From that point, once the team agrees on what happened, then they can talk about what that means and how they feel about it and what could be better.
Amnesia can be addressed first.
Or just completely different points of view. Completely different mental models of what happened can be addressed before the retrospective starts.
So, imagine the alternative. Going right into talking about, ‘was that good or was that bad?’ You have people with their own versions of what happened in their head. Those stories are all completely different. It means the words that they use to describe things are going to be completely inappropriate from the other person’s point of view. There’s going to be no connection. No insight can come from that.