Lessons Learned from an Ice Cream Social (A Retro On A Sprint Retrospective)

By: William Baxter | Jan 18, 2017 |  Article,  Scrum,  ScrumMaster

ice cream social sprint retrospective - 3 scoops of ice creamSprint Retrospectives…the other bookend to Sprints. Retros mark the official end of the Sprint and provide teams the opportunity to reflect so the next Sprint is even more efficient.
Like all meetings, Sprint Retrospectives can be very useful or attendants can leave feeling confused and even angry if they feel like their time was wasted. They require planning from the ScrumMaster for teams to reap its full benefits. There are a lot of Retrospective activities out there; it helps to know what kind the team needs.

Types of Sprint Retrospective

Periodic Sprint Retrospectives are clockwork meetings that happen at every Sprint. They are more simple and lightweight, and the goal for these is to surface problems. If you fail to surface a problem, that, in itself, is a problem. Holding Sprint Retrospectives in a regular manner allows teams to identify repeating issues. A root cause analysis like the 5 Why’s is an effective exercise for recurring problems, just make sure to check your work by going up and down the chart. If A causes B which causes C, then C wouldn’t happen if not for B which wouldn’t happen if not for A.

Event-driven Retrospectives happen when something extraordinary happens. Not necessarily, but often, Event-driven Retrospectives are triggered by a negative event. ScrumMasters should have data prepared for the team to analyze and review how and why the event took place. Event-driven Retrospectives are also called post mortems.

The Ice Cream Social

During my last engagement, I coached a team suffering from a conflict between two members of the team, Bryan* and Marie*. The conflict bled into the Retros, making them unproductive and dissatisfying to everyone else. Bryan and Marie butted heads because they had very different perspectives on how to approach and accomplish projects. Bryan was a perfectionist who believed a plan should be in place before anything was tried, making experimenting very difficult. Marie was the opposite. She needed very little to go forth and test something.

Because past retros didn’t work, the ScrumMaster decided to try something different.

One day, the team walked into the conference room greeted by buckets of ice cream in four different flavors.

The ScrumMaster said that he had not eaten ice cream in a very long time but he wanted to start again and he needed their recommendations. Each team member needed to try the different flavors and write pros and cons of each one. After all, flavors were tasted and discussed, a final recommendation was given.

Instead of the discomfort and tension, the room was filled with chatter as the pairs worked together to reach the tastiest conclusion. After the ice cream social, the ScrumMaster was able to facilitate a successful discussion around the last Sprint.

Lessons Learned

The taste test melted the ice between the team members, allowing them to move past personal issues and work towards a common goal. Looking back on the event, there were a few lessons ScrumMasters can take and apply to their own teams embroiled in conflict.

  1. Use a light hearted and neutral topic to ease teams into reflecting upon meatier subjects.

This was an obvious lesson. Any engaging topic will do the job as long as it’s not directly related to their work.

  1. Detect language and cultural barriers quickly  

During this activity, team members learned how culture and language can play a big role in communicating. For example, one team member who immigrated to the US from India                     expressed he didn’t like a flavor because he “didn’t like so little salt.” The team interpreted this as “I’d like it to be slightly saltier.” What he really meant was that he didn’t want any salt at all. Resolving these interpretations showed the team they had to invest in understanding one another in order to work past their more serious disagreements.

  1. Use logic to attack the problem at a high level

The ScrumMaster instructed the team to analyze the flavor using positives and negatives. Some statements were very factual (This one is creamier) while others were more personal (I love anything chocolate). It didn’t really matter what the statements said. What mattered was that it allowed these thoughts to become externalized so that they can be discussed by the entire team.

What happens if the team still won’t communicate openly despite their differences? If there’s a team member that the entire team respects and thinks highly of, it can be effective to ask him/her to facilitate the discussion. In your experience, what are some other ways to inject more collaboration and openness during a Sprint Retrospective? Submit your ideas below.



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