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October 28, 2009

Draw Me a Picture!

The "Dialogue Room" at last week's ScrumGathering in Munich was intended by conference organiser Tobias Mayer to create more space for high-bandwidth learning, in contrast to the many "talking heads" sessions planned for the Gathering. Activities there included a Haiku workshop with Liz Keogh, Innovation Games with Lowell Lindstrom and Paul Culling (video here), Tobias' self-organising Scrum Clinic (The Doctor is IN), and my own Retrospective Exercise workshop.

I invited conference participants to try a non-verbal retrospective exercise I call "Draw Me a Picture," which brings right-brain, intuitive information into team conversations. I first ran it in 2006 with team members drawing separate images, but this time I returned to Norm Kerth's original "Art Gallery" exercise, and ran it as a group effort on a single sheet of paper.

After doing a first drawing together (see instructions), we incorporated feedback from participant coach Rachel Davies (using fewer, fatter markers) and did it again, also swapping in a couple of new group members. This second drawing they entitled Chaos <--> Order. Interestingly, both this and the earlier drawing included "flow" shapes similar to the one I blogged about in 2006, (also made in answer to this question). For YouTube fans: you can see both drawings in Paul Cullen's video of Olaf Lewitz talking about the exercise.

After each drawing, participants asked "What else do we need to do?" as though they expected further steps. For me it's clear that the drawing and ensuing conversation are themselves the ends we seek. There is no great "Aha!" required, and there is no "what's next" step involved. The team simply discusses their drawing long enough to give it a title - in the process exchanging important and possibly new information.
After looking again at the drawing we created, I would say that the mechanistic way we attempted to implement Scrum in 2004 is much more obvious [in the drawing] than in the tales that I was telling people about this experience.
-- Jurgen Hoffmann, Agile Coach and Trainer
In his Retrospectives book (p 195) Norm Kerth briefly explained how this creative right-brain/left-brain activity tends to produce unexpected new insights. This new information and way of interacting can enhance relationships and provide important background for other retrospective activities, which will likely include more left-brain modes such as speaking, writing and analysis.

"Draw Me a Picture" is probably most useful at the beginning of a Retrospective, especially when emotions run high; when there are undiscussed undercurrents; when team members speak different native languages; or when relationships need to be built or repaired. It should be followed by activities that let the team discuss, analyse, learn and then also look forward constructively to "what's next". (To find such exercises, see these books). And given that each picture contains at least 1000 words, Rachel and I suggest that, in general, images should not be shared outside the group doing the retrospective. (The ScrumGathering drawings were displayed, with participant approval. These differed from most team retrospectives in that the drawings didn't delve into sensitive team relationships or controversial events).

Was it worth the time and energy, dragging all my art supplies to Munich and back, to run this workshop with a handful of people? If it truly improves the product and experience of even one team, my answer is "yes." Jeff Sutherland's more abstract "by making your Stories truly "Ready" for Sprinting, you can achieve 4x productivity" is broadly inspiring; my workshop was very personal, practical and specific. We need both, in my opinion. As it happens, the exercise has helped a team: this week I received this thank-you note from one participant:
When I came back from the gathering, my team was in a bad mood, people were unhappy and they didn't finish any story this sprint. I used the drawing method during the retrospective and I was really amazed how it allowed people to express their feelings -- I believe, more openly than when I had asked them to write stuff on index cards. It helped us talk about the bad team atmosphere and the reasons for it, and they came up with a lot of ideas for improvement. Without that method, this would have been "just another retrospective" with people discussing technical issues instead of the root cause of the problems.
-- Ute Platzer, Software Developer and ScrumMaster
Postscript: While reviewing the feedback from this event, I realised that doing this excercise at a conference had an unexpected side-effect: we discovered that, in addition to using it with established teams, it can quickly introduce strangers and help them connect! The key, of course, is a truly common experience. The question cannot be abstract, like "What is Scrum like?" It must be something specific and personally experienced: in this case, the group settled on: "What was my first contact with Scrum like?"
What I liked ... is that it gave us an easy and fast-forward way of getting to know each other much closer (in that one direction) than it would have been possible with words (only).
-- Olaf Lewitz, Process Consultant

The exercise created relationships between the four of us - and after the Gathering I am still exchanging emails with Olaf and Ute. There was no previous relationship - but somehow, a common history.
-- Jurgen Hoffmann, Agile Coach and Trainer


Blogger Deb said...

On a side note: The Dialogue Room's goal, to offer conference goers some alternative session formats, seems to have borne fruit. Not everyone visited it, which is to be expected: people come with a variety of expectations and ways of learning. From those who did visit, satisfied comments were often heard, including this one:

The dialogue room represented a daily inspect and adapt on the event. ... It may not be a "standard" for international conferences, but represents the scrum mindset. ... I wouldn't mind if my application for a talk next year is refused in favour of more dialogue-ish stuff. Bad thing is: I don't know if a ticket will get budget from my company.
-- Sebastian Schürmann, Scrum user

Wed. Oct. 28, 06:11:00 p.m.


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