Undercover Boss

[Done in 60 minutes]

This retrospective is intended to encourage the team to look at themselves from a different point of view; it is especially useful for teams who get bogged down in the same discussions each iteration and need something a bit different to help re-energise their cycle.

Materials

  • Something for each team member to write comments on (e.g. Post-It notes or index cards).
  • Pens (ideally fibre tip, so that it can be read more easily from a distance).
  • Whiteboard (ideally magnetic) or other suitable visible display area.
  • Flip chart to capture ideas/actions.
  • Blu-Tack and/or magnets.

Preparation

[5mins – should be done in advance]

Preparation is simple for this retrospective:
  • Each participant will require 2 Post-It notes and a pen .
  • As the facilitator, you’ll need an area that will accodate 2 comment postings from each team member, preferably a large whiteboard.

Introduction

[5mins – describe the purpose and format of a retrospective]

  • There’s a lot of information on this on the Internet and in books, there are also some good articles on why retrospectives fail which are also worth a read – just have a search.
  • The retrospective landing page also provides some additional information.

Set the stage

[5mins – describe the goal of this retrospective]

The premise is simple but effective, imagine the boss (main stakeholder) has been secretly been working within the team for the last iteration (or longer if you feel that would be more interesting); what impression did he come away with? It may be a good idea to use a fictional boss as opposed to an actual stakeholder,  this will help the team avoid focusing on the personality traits of the actual boss.

In this retrospective, each team member will make a note of one thing they think the boss would have been pleasantly surprised by, and one thing they think the boss would have liked to change (which is what any action produced needs to address).

Gather data

[10 to 15mins – populate the board]

  • Allow the team sufficient time to think back over the past iteration and select the two observations they think the “Undercover Boss” may have made; get them to note these down.
  • Once everyone has finished noting down their observations, ask them (one by one) to approach the whiteboard and present their thoughts to the team whilst adding their Post-It notes to the whiteboard.

Generate insights

[15mins – prioritise and validate]

Now that all the Post-It notes have been gathered, as the facilitator you (or you can get a volunteer to do this bit) now need to :

  • group observations that are related together, making sure that everybody is happy the grouped items are coherent.
  • summarise the findings.
  • get the team to vote (using any preferred method) and choose a grouping that they’d like to discuss further. Try to stick to just a single topic for discussion.

Decide what to do

[20mins – generate actions]

  • Start an open discussion around the identified topic; depending on your team size, this could involve splitting into smaller groups and brainstorming, or just having everyone share ideas and (over time) propose actions.
  • Record the proposed actions, remembering that they should be something within the team’s remit.
  • When the end of the 20mins is approaching let the team know that you need to bring the discussion to a close.
  • Review the proposed actions and through a show of hands vote, select only the one or two actions that the team feel will make a difference.

Close

[5mins – verify actions against goals]

As always it’s important to verify that the actions produced have some hope of addressing the target that was defined during the “Set the stage” section; a simple way of doing this is to ask the team whether doing <Action X> (replace with actual action) will actually address <Goal A> (replace with actual goal) – a show of hands vote is usually enough to gauge the team view.

In addition to verifying the actions, it can also be useful to ask the team if they feel that the time they’ve spent in the retrospective was worthwile; Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great has some good tools to help determine this.

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