Saturday, November 21, 2009

Retrospective Using Six Thinking Hats technique

While googling for some thing, I found this topic called parallel thinking. Just out of curiosity I opened Wikipedia to know more about this and landed up in reading 6 Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono who coined the term Parallel thinking. This triggered me to map 6 Thinking Hat (STH) steps in various practices in Scrum which involves decision making. I zeroed in on trying this with Retrospective. Retrospective is a way to inspect and adapt to design our way forward. By the time I finished reading this I had started feeling that knowing this technique as Agile Coach might be of great benefit as well.

Why another technique?
The very purpose of retrospective meeting is to seek feedback and figure out how we intend to work in future. Different techniques like Plus-Delta, Good-Bad-Ugly etc which I know have no emphasis on creative thinking or systematic thinking to design efficient ways of working. Many times team members throw some random thoughts and vanish making the retrospectives ineffective. Certain team members do not even contribute. So I guess STH  with Affinity Clustering & Brain Writing should address these concerns. Or simply consider this as one more technique to do retrospective when you are bored with earlier techniques.

Warning: Though I am convinced that this works well for retrospective, I am yet to try with actual project teams. However I have used it in many occasions of my life and found to be very useful.

Have a set of 6 colored (white, red, black, yellow, green and blue) sticky notes. Ensure each one in the team has enough sticky notes to write. Also ensure pens to write on dark colored cards. If arranging such sticky notes/pens is difficult, just use the white board; write down the hat in consideration or any method which gives a visibility about the hat team is wearing.

Identify a person whose responsibilities would be to facilitate the meeting, identify who is deviating from the Hat in consideration, ensure the discussion won’t turn into nonproductive argumentation and keep a check on time. In essence the facilitator is actually wearing Blue Hat throughout the meeting. Needless to say, even others can support the facilitator. But ensure you are time boxing every hat.

General guidelines:
Brain Writing: That is each member of the team pick up the respective colored sticky notes based on the Hat in consideration; start writing the points independently without getting influenced by others; for a fixed duration. Remember one point per sticky note. 
Affinity Clustering: Team members collect all the notes, remove duplicates and categorize them in to dynamic themes that emerge. Put the sticky notes on a white board under respective headings for further analysis.

My idea is to apply STH technique in 2 stages. One is in the beginning where we start identifying problems and root causes. Second is, once we identify the actions to address the problem, to refine if those actions are workable and efficient. The reason is, many times teams don’t really think much about the action items once they are identified. It can so happen that we later find that an action item listed is not feasible, leading to unresolved problem in the next sprint. 

If you find the technique heavy weight or time consuming, try out in sprints of bigger duration like 4 weeks or after your release cycle. Once you get acquainted with the technique I am sure teams can finish it quicker with better result.

Few Basics about STH:
To know basics of STH methods one can refer De Bono's book or Wikipedia or many links available in internet. I am not explaining the same here.
There are 2 ways to use the hats. Single use and Sequence Use.
In Single Use method, the hats are used as symbols to request a particular type of thinking in quick succession. 
In sequence use, team uses one hat after the other in a certain sequence.

1.    The durations for each hat I have put are only for reference. Teams can decide what suits them better.
2.    6 thinking Hats” technique discourages argumentation. In case of conflict, put both the views in parallel and assess them.

The method I am suggesting here is Sequence Use.

STEP 1: Data Analysis and Designing future

BLUE HAT (Thinking the Thinking): (5 mins)
Without objective it is not possible to think in right direction, so start with Blue hat. List out specific objectives for the retrospective (remember not generic). Start the Brain Writing exercise with blue sticky notes, listing 1 or 2 high priority objectives per member. More would be difficult to achieve!

Maximum 2 minutes for writing; 3 minutes for removing duplicates, paraphrasing (if necessary) and sticking them to the white board;

WHITE HAT (Neutral Information): (10 Mins)
List down all main events of the past sprint in brief, key objectives of earlier sprints, defects list, feedback got etc with a neutral view, as many as possible within the time period decided. Data related to defects, review comments etc can be directly pulled out from tools in use to save time. Stick the notes written on the white board.

7 mins to write; 3 mins to remove duplicates and sticking;

YELLOW HAT (Positive thinking): (10 Mins)
List out every thing you think deserves appreciation and you would love to continue such things in future sprints. Don’t worry about the ambiguities at this stage. Be more constructive and generative. You can also be speculative and opportunity seeking. If there is no unanimity in agreeing upon any claim/point, provide justification, data/reasons.
The white hat thinking also would be handy to segregate “Plus” and “Delta”.

Alternatively, you can also segregate the positive points from the White Hat section and move them to Yellow Hat where ever possible.

5 Mins: Identifying positive points.
2 Mins: Remove duplicates, categorize and stick;
3 Mins: For any reason/justification giving.

BLACK HAT (Risks, Threats, Potential problems): (30 mins)
Black hat is more about being cautious, identifying risks, identifying potential problems and obstacles. Identify what are the weaknesses that we need to overcome. Members can also look at identifying, by continuing “what” the sprint/project might be jeopardized (e.g. symptomatic solutions, organization direction etc).

Once you are done with this, together start working on getting root causes for the problems by applying techniques like 5 Why, Ishikawa etc.

7 Mins: Identifying weakness areas, potential problems.
3 Mins: Remove duplicates, categorize and stick;
20 Mins: Root cause identification (may be for 5 biggest problems faced)

GREEN HAT (Creative thinking): (15 mins)
By doing what I can improve the situation? What are the new ideas, options and alternatives to try out in the next sprint? In the beginning this is irrespective of what problems the team had faced.

Green hat thinking is applied for 2 categories to identify the solution
1) For the initial objectives/goals defined.
2) For the root causes identified.
In both the cases, the attempt is to identify a concrete solution for the problem.

12 Mins: Idea generation, identifying best feasible solution possible.
3 Mins: Remove duplicates and stick;
S T H has another option in Green Hat thinking and it is called PO (Provocative Operation) but I am not suggesting this in retrospective.

RED HAT (Emotions and Feelings): (5 Mins)
De Bono says red hat legitimizes emotions and feelings as an important Part of thinking.
All you need to do now is get all your emotions on the red sticky notes. It can be related to an event during the sprint or about an action/decision or about their feeling of current reality in the project. No one needs to give any justification/logical basis to prove their feelings. Again categorize them and put them on the white board under “Red hat” heading. This is more of intuitive.

However though there is a freedom to express one’s emotions, people should be cautious in showing displeasure to a person or their displeasure to work in the project etc. This is not a platform to handle such emotions. It should be goal/objective oriented.

STEP 2: Working with Action Items
At this stage, apply 6 thinking hat technique in a “Single Use” method on each solution/action identified to quickly get a concrete, feasible action item. There is no dire need of using Brain Writing at this stage.
Pick each action item or solution identified and recursively apply STH technique in quick succession.

Once completed, collectively figure out the best action you think is going to work effectively. Finding an efficient solution is equally important as identifying the real problem.


Boheme said...


Thanks for the information — I've used a slightly different version of the six thinking hats technique but with the same structure.

Shalin Siriwaradhana said...

Six thinking hats is a technique used to provide direction to decision-making and group thinking. It is a popular brainstorming tool that helps everyone involved to come up with different points of view. You can use these visual tools to illustrate 6 thinking hat techniques .