Retrospective: things I can and can’t do…

When the new team forms or the project/team changes it is always good to know who can do what and who need help with what. It is important to find out with what the team can deal on their own. However, I think that most important is to know with what they need help.

Of course, you can ask the team what they can and can’t do on the first day / first meeting. However, very often people are not aware of what they can handle and what not. Moreover, they are not aware of some issues they are going to face. It is good to let them try and learn and only then ask the question.

We all know that the team is as strong as the weakest member. But no one is perfect. One person might be good at some things and not so good at others. Nevertheless, self-organizing and cross-functional team in order to be efficient need to be aware of what every team member is able to do. And more importantly, who needs help with what.

To make team realize those two important things a “game” has been invented (by me if that wasn’t clear so far, at least I think so)

What you need to play?

What you need to play this game? Something to write for everyone and the sticky notes in two different colours – one colour for “the things I can do without help” (green) and a different colour for “things I need help with” (red). You also need a place to put all those notes (table, whiteboard or a wall).

How to play?

Step 1:

As in each retrospectives’ scenario give the participants some time (let’s start with 5 min time-box) to write down “things they can do without help” and “things they need help with”. It’s good to have as many notes as possible so you may ask to prepare at least 5 each. Please follow the rule: one thing one sticky note.

Step 2: things I need help with

The first person is randomly selecting one of the notes from the “things I need help with” group and stick it to the wall. The next person should check if she/he has the same or a similar note – if so, the notes should be grouped together. If not, we should put it in some other place on the wall. We repeat that until nobody has any more “things I need help with”.

At this stage, the whole team should be aware of some things which are problematic for some of its members. It is the time to check if there are people inside the team that can provide some help.

Step 3: Things I can do without help

The first person is trying to match his/her “things I can do without help” with “things I need help with” that already on the wall. If it is possible, a green sticky should be placed next to the red one (or group of red sticky notes). The next person is doing the same until nobody has any more “things I can do without help”.

In case someone cannot much “things I can do without help” with any of the “things I need help with” – the note should be placed in some other place on the wall. Please do not be afraid of bragging. It is important to let the team know, with what you feel comfortable. And if someone will have a problem in the feature, he/she will know who asks for help (instead of trying to resolve the issue on its own).

Now the team should know all the problems they can solve within the team. What is more important, they should know what kind of help they need to look outside the team – that would be all the red sticky notes (or red groups) which don’t have at least one green sticky next to it – let’s call it “uncovered areas”.

Step 4: Did we missed something?

Before we start working on some things to improve, let’s take a minit and think if someone from the team can help with “uncovered areas”. If so let’s put the additional sticky notes on the wall for visibility.

The outcome of the game?

Step 5: We need help with… …and action points

Based on uncovered areas team should decide on Action Points to mitigate those problems. It might be as simple as “ask someone from the other team” to something more complex as “training/workshop is required” or “we need to change technology” or “we need to add someone to the team to help with that”.

At this stage, it is also worth to spend some time and discuss how everyone dealt with the problems that have been brought to this game. Did you ask for help? Why you didn’t? Who you asked? How you asked? Did you know that Mr X know who to do it?

And as it always, please remembers that discussion itself and awareness of the problems is important. However, the most important is to follow the agreed Action Points. And to validate its merit. Otherwise the team waisted the time.

It is recommended that each sticky notes used in that game should also have information about the author. Why? Once the game is done you can easily find who has a problem with what and who can help with that.