Retrospectives: The Cool Wall

In the agile world we are continuously looking to improve. The retrospective is a period of time conducted at the end of a sprint to enable us to look at what happened and to identify ways we can improve. There are various techniques we can employ in the retrospective that will enable us to get to our goal, which in our case is, to identify some actions which the team can then work with which will help us to get better.
 
Recently I felt we fell into a rut with our retrospectives and occasionally we were unable to agree on any actions for us to help improve the team. I began to look at alternative techniques for running our retrospectives and for helping the team to think about the previous sprint from a different angle.
 
I came across the cool wall (https://waynedgrant.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/sprint-retrospective-techniques-2/). I felt that the team would enjoy this technique and respond in such a way that we would be able to come up with something useful.
 
I selected 20/25 different topics for the team to discuss and took the team through the process (these are listed at the bottom of this page).
 
During the data gathering process I noticed that the team were fairly consistent in their assessment of many of the topics. Some topics were easy to grasp and we quickly placed them on the board while others took a little bit of discussion before the team were happy. The team were a little unsure about the context of some of the topics I had chosen. I agreed that some of the topics were difficult for the team to grasp and pulled them from the list.
 
At the end of this process we then moved on to the discussion phase of the retrospective. We deliberately targeted the topics which had been placed at the lower end of the list. This provoked a productive discussion about these topics and we quickly came up with actions to help improve each topic.
 
Overall the team enjoyed this approach to retrospectives and felt that it produced new insights into various aspects of our work which we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
 
I feel that this is a particularly useful technique to use when we want to analyse the broader context of the life of the team rather than focusing on the previous sprint which normally happens. While teams wouldn’t want to carry out broad retrospectives like this all the time I would recommend this technique to be used periodically to help improve more general topics. 
 
Learnings:
  1. Make sure the topics you choose are related to the team – not all topics fit all teams.
  2. New retrospective techniques will help to inspire different thought processes around your team.
  3. The cool wall is a great technique to help drive a more general understanding about the work of the team.
  4. This technique is most helpful when we want the team to think about the broader context of their work rather than focusing on the most recent sprint.

The topics chosen:

Testing
Dealing with bugs
Devops Role
Team Efficiency
Driving down on waste
Communication with other teams
Planning
Code Reviews
Investing in tech
Morale
Maintaining our codebase
Time keeping
Pairing
Teamwork/communication
Investing in process/tooling
TDD
Story granularity
Keeping a clean build
Asking for help