Blog Archives

Gather Data: Pyramid Building

I use this retrospective activity when the team I am facilitating needs help focusing on the items in their control.  This activity is for the Gather Data phase.

Have the group break into groups of 3-5 members.  EVERYONE gets a pen and sticky-notes, thus, everyone can write.  Within their group, they will discuss the last iteration (or whatever your retrospective is covering) and write down events, issues, and general happenings that have occurred, one per sticky-note, falling into one of these two categories: “Holding us Back” and “Pulling Us Forward”. The events can be personal or work related that affect teammates individually or as a team.

Its up to the each teammate to decide how much they want to share. Let them know at the start how much time they will have to get their comments jotted down. I generally give them about 10 minutes but, it will depend on the subject and number of team members. As with any activity, keep an eye on people getting board or off topic. Its a sure sign time should be up. Let everyone know when they only have about a minute left and if they are ready, they can begin placing their notes on the board.

While the groups are breaking up and having discussions, I draw the following on the white board.  Artwork is clearly not part of being a good facilitator 🙂


After everyone has settled back down, let them know you are adding a new category, Gravity.

Gravity are the things out of the team’s control. If we have any kind of control, even if it is relativity small, it doesn’t fall into gravity.

Reading each aloud, review the sticky-notes with the team.  Ensure everyone knows what the comments mean by asking questions like:
“Does everyone know what this means?”
“Does anyone agree/disagree?”
“Why do you think this is true?”

Ask your own questions if you feel the team is just ‘going through the motions’.  Ask for clarity on blanket statements like “We communicated great!” What does that mean? Communicated with who? How?

Following the close of each sticky-note, ask the team: Is this in our control or out of our control? If its out of their control, for example, the weather sucked this week, then move it to the gravity category.

When all the notes have been covered, ask if we have missed anything else? Then, using the Four-step method, debrief the activity and transition the the next part of the retrospective.

The Four-Step Method?  I learned about it from the Agile Retrospective book from Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.  They reference it from the following:

The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace:
1. Start by asking for observable events and sensory input. “What did you see and hear?”
2. Ask how people responded to those events and inputs. “What surprised you? Where were you challenged?”
3. Ask for insights and analysis with questions, like “What insight do you have about this?” followed by “What does this tell you about our project?”
4. After you’ve established the link between the activity and the project, complete the learning cycle by asking group members how they will apply their insights: “What’s one thing you might do differently?”

Here’s a couple of examples of the board after the team has completed the activity. I’ve had the team break the sticky-notes into themes for the ‘Looking for Patterns’ stage of the retrospective.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Terry T




Words Retro for Team Building

Once and a while I add some team building activities to my retrospectives.  I find it lightens up the mood for the team and uncovers some issues we never seem to get to in a typical iteration retrospective.  The idea is a simple one: free space to ask any question to anyone in the team and everyone gets a turn.  I like the start the retro with a checkin, like most of my retros, so it breaks the silence contract (everyone participates).  I then bring up the following power point document: WordsRetro.

The order goes like this:

  1. Pick an available theme word from the words list
  2. Pick someone in the team or a customer (no directing a question to everyone in the room)
  3. Ask your question
  4. The answerer responds
  5. Everyone gets a chance to respond whether they agree or disagree
  6. The word is removed from the list
  7. The person to the right is next
  8. Rinse and repet

Its important everyone gets a chance to ask a question and its best if you can go around the room twice but, once can be good enough.  I like to think of this activity as a set of mini-retros put together with the format of gather data, look for patterns, and decide what to do all within asking the question to ending the discussion.  Although, I tend to avoid making decisions.  The idea of this activity is to understand each other better, not make tweaks to the team.  I do something similar when forming the team, however, I spend more time guiding the questions and getting everyone to answer the question before having a discussion (I’ll cover that activity in another post).

In facilitating this activity, its important to keep the meeting moving forward.  I find its a good idea as a new member begins their turn to give the next person at heads up to start thinking of their question.  Another strategy I use if dealing with remote customers is to start in the middle of the group you are physically in the room with, giving the offsite members a chance to figure out how the activity works.  Then, I rotate the turn to the offsite people.  Breaking up the group like this seems to create a everyone is included feel and keeps the discussions from becoming a us verse them senario.

I’ve used this activity on several teams and had some great feedback not only about breaking up the monotony of our Agile ceremonies but, also learning about their co-workers opinions and concerns.

Let me know what you think.


Terry T