Why you should play games at work – Gamestorming for Retrospectives

By January 11, 2013blog

Bad retrospectives

Retrospectives are essential not only to scrum, but to every agile practice. Reviewing the process frequently in an iterative way is key in a learning environment.

But most of the time, retrospectives are just “classic” meetings:

  • Too many people
  • A lot of talking by a few people
  • Little interaction from the majority
  • No clear agenda
  • No actionable outcome at the end of the meeting
  • (I could go on a few pages)

Next to that, classical meetings tend to procrastinate, leading to more meetings, without real decision making.

Good retrospectives and Gamestorming

But there are alternatives. The essence of a good retrospective, is the fact that it leads to action. (Read an article on good retrospectives by Pawel Brodzinski) One of the most powerful tools for generating action-oriented retrospectives is gamestorming.

I’ve been using gamestorming for retrospectives since a couple of years, but most of the time I tend to use the same set of 4 or 5 games. (mostly speedboat and actions for retrospectives).

The retrospectives were always good, but I always found it difficult to really put dates and owners on actions at the end of the session.

Better retrospectives with Gamestorming

In December, I got the chance to do a gamestorming retreat with the guys from Co-Learning. The topic was Games for Retrospectives, so I was very curious and eager to learn.

There was a scenario based on a default “I don’t care – scrumteam”, who had to do a retrospective. We were given a set of 5 games we could use to open – explore – close. Three iterations of a retrospective were done, each time with another participant as facilitator, each time followed by a retrospective of the retrospective (you could say meta-retrospective).

We ended up with a combination of the following games after 3 iterations:

Did this combination result in actions?

It did actually. In particular, I was surprised by the potential of using circles and soup for closing. (Hat tip to @johan_tre) With this game you can divide actions in 3 concentric categories: what you can do yourself, what you can ask others, and what you can’t influence. Which is really interesting, because it demystifies ownership in a very natural way. (Read more about circles and soup)

The advantage of atomize for opening and exploring, is that it combines post-up with root cause analysis (5 Why’s), which gives the opportunity to make the shift from problems, through causes, to solutions. (Read more about atomize)

Brainwriting is the ideal tool to change dynamics in your gamestorming session, and to empower more introvert team members to contribute. (Read more about brainwriting)

This week I did a “real-life” retrospective on the collaboration with one of our partners in 2012, using the same combination of games.

I was happy to see that this resulted in 5 actions with timings and owners, that will have an immediate influence on the process.

Do you have good experiences with particular games for retrospectives? Feel free to share  them in the comments section.

Further reading?

Do you want to practice before using gamestorming at work?

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Aleem Khan says:

    I completely agree, lead to take an action is a key. Most of the time we have great meetings, up to the point that everybody agree on the improvement areas but what do we do next and how? they answer lies in few actionable item, one or two at a time.

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