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Retrospectives are one of the keys to successful agile teams. The ability to reflect and identify how to improve, and then to action those improvements are the very backbone of an empirical process. I often see teams fail to action things from retrospectives for a couple of reasons:

  • The improvements identified are too nebulous to take immediate action
  • The actions are too large to be tackled in a single sprint
  • There are too many actions and people don’t know where to start

A great technique to solve some of these is to use a problem solving tree. What you need is some post it notes, markers and a large wall or whiteboard.

Start with an problem you need to solve, that you’ve identified in the retrospective.

Write this on a sticky note, and stick it at the top of the tree.

Now ask what participants what you can do to solve the problem.

For each different idea put a sticky note below the first, at the same level.

For each of these nodes do the same and build up a tree structure similar to an organisation chart.

For each idea you put up, ask if it can be done in a single sprint, and if everyone understands what they need to do. If the answer is no, break it down smaller and make another level in the problem solving tree.

Once you have some lower levels that are well understood and easy to implement in a single sprint, dot vote to see which to tackle in the next sprint. Try to only pick one and get it done, rather than lots that go nowhere.

If you use this, please post a comment about your experience.

Thanks to Bob Sarni for sharing this technique with me at the London Scrum Gathering 2011.

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