Kanban, Meeting Facilitation, Scrum

“Sexy Not-So-Sexy Tasks” Retrospective Activity

In one of the last retrospectives a team member complained about the “not very sexy” tasks the team had to do. Well, we all know that life is not all beer and skittles. Nevertheless I think, the team member was actually pointing out, that the “sexiness” of tasks can have impact on the general motivation of the team, of course. That’s why I was introducing the “sexy <> not-so-sexy” activity in the last retrospective. (As this idea originated in the team member’s comment I also call it “The Thomas S. Approach”. 🙂 )

sexy-not-so-sexy-tasks-agile-retrospectiveIn general, the team’s job is split in tasks on a support level (approx. 65%) and project tasks on a product development level (rest of their time). The team is working with a Kanban system and is using several Scrum ceremonies (regular retrospectives, review meetings, agile estimation for project tasks etc.).

The “sexy <> not-so-sexy” activity fits perfectly in between the check-in (“Setting the stage”) and “Gather Data” activities and is as easy as this:

1) Prepare a chart that shows a line between “sexy” and “not-so-sexy”.
2) Put all “done” tasks on the table and let the team stick them on the line accoring to the task’s “sexiness”.
3) Discuss (“Any suprises? Any patterns?”)

Why I think this acitivity works:

  • The team is reviewing their finished tasks while sticking it to the flipchart. (Reflection: “Cool, we have done quite a lot.”)
  • The team is re-evaluating the tasks. (Reflection: “Wow. That was a cool task.” or “I really hated that task.”)
  • The PO (Note: The team decided to have their retrospective with the PO.) realizes that different tasks can have different motivation.

Of course, the activity also shows the big gap between doing tasks that have value (“sexy”) and tasks that are simply stupid mechanics (“not-so-sexy”). Team members are aware of that. And it does have impact on the motivation if you are only doing “not-so-sexy” tasks.

As there will always be “not-so-sexy” tasks: Maybe there is a way to morph “not-so-sexy” tasks into “sexy” tasks? Any suggenstions?

UPDATE FEBRUARY 2013
The activity has been refinded after discussing it with one of the team members. He pointed out, that value is more “valuable” than sexiness. As a consequence I added the value dimension to the chart.

Sexy-Value-Added
Sexy & Value-Added Matrix
Books, Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation, Scrum, Scrumban

Check-In Activity for Agile Retrospectives

Fortunately retrospectives are already a standard at our company now. Not only our developers teams, but also our sales team, our team assistents and as of late also our management (surprisingly, the last.. :)) have regular retrospectives. Because it has become standard to have retrospectives there is also the chance of falling into a dull routine, both for the team members and the facilitator (mostly myself). To counteract this dull routine we try to do different activities. I tried the following Check-In activity in the last weeks:

Esther Derby and Diana Larsen suggest in their book “Agile Retrospectives” as a Check-In activity to ask every participant “In one or two words: What are your hopes or wishes for this retrospective”. No post-its, no explanation, just one or two words. This always works great.

This question inspired me to ask participants an even more general question as a Check-In excercise: “Why are we doing retrospectives anyway?” I do this as a kind of fast brainstorming and jot everything down on a flipchart. It is surprising what the participants are coming up with. I heard everything from “I don’t know.” (Oops!) and “Because you told us to.” (Ooooooops!) to “Kaizen. Continuous Improvement.” (Thx.) and “We don’t want to do mistakes a second time.” (!!!)

It is also a good excercise to remind the participants of the principles of the agile manifest, one of them is: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” (Dare to ask if everyone knows and understands the Agile Manifesto… and maybe be surprised.)

And, of course, it is a good excercise to jolt the participants from their retrospective routine.

BTW: I recognized only days ago that Esther Derby and Diana Larsen book “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” is legally available also as eBook! Buy it!