Archive for the ‘Root Cause’ Category

6hatsThis is my take on using “Six Thinking Hats” to reflect on a period of time. You could use a light version for a retro – or the full version to review something longer like the stage of a project or a release. It’s usually most effective after some milestone event and where the learnings can be applied going forward. There is still value in doing it at the end of a project, but what you get out of it for future teams may not be as valuable as you won’t always know what will be applicable.

Preparation

In order to save time in the session, you do need to do a fair bit of preparation. Try and collect as many facts about the time period as you possibly can before the session. Facts are anything backed by data and some common “facts” one might include are:
– Team changes (people joining/leaving)
– Events (e.g. release dates)
– Sprint information (velocity; commitment; actuals; sprint goal; etc.)
– Changes in process
– Special workshops or meetings
– Any data provided by metrics

I’ve found the most effective way to use the facts in the session (and the rest of my post assumes you have done this) is to map them onto a really large timeline. I typically use a sequence of flip chart pages that can be laid out so that attendees can literally “walk the line”. I’ve stuck them up on long walls or laid them out on a row of tables and even used the floor where I needed to.

It is also useful (for the reflectors in the team) to send out a description of the hats in advance and ask them to think about each one before the session.

Before you start your workshop, you have to set up the room (also see the tips at the end of this post):

  1. Lay out your timeline
  2. Ensure there is space for people to easily walk along it
  3. Have various stationary points along the timeline with pens and stickies
  4. Don’t forget to have a whiteboard or some other space for grouping the ideas

Materials

Besides your “timeline” of Facts, you will also need:

  • Small pieces of paper that people can write appreciations on
  • Pens
  • Stickies: one colour per hat
  • *Optional* Snacks

For the different hats, I usually use the following colours

  • Facts: N/A (people write directly on the timeline)
  • Instincts: Red
  • Discernment: Blue
  • Positives: Yellow
  • Ideas: Green

Process

The process I follow is largely based on this one and, as they mention, I have found that the order is fairly important.

For an average team, I time-box each section to about 10 minutes. Breaks need to be at least 5 minutes, but could vary depending on the time of the day (e.g. you may need a lunch break). If you are going to use the data in the session to come up with actions and improvements, then your time-box for that part will depend on what technique you plan on using. Obviously these may need to be adjusted based on the size of the group, but as most of the steps are self-paced, one advantage of this workshop is that it works quite well with larger groups.

Round 1: Facts

Have the attendees “walk the line” from the beginning to the end. This is a walk down memory lane and also a chance to fill in any blanks and ensure everyone agrees that the facts are correct. There are no stickies for this step – if people want to add or change anything they do that by writing directly onto the timeline (at the right point in time, of course). Remember to remind everyone that they should only be adding facts.

Round 2: Instincts

“Gut Feel”

Hand out your “instinct” stickies. Remind every one of the definition of an “instinct”. I sometimes skip this round because people struggle to differentiate between “instincts” and “positives/negatives”.

Appreciations and Break

Give everyone a chance to write appreciations (these will be shared later – either at the end of the session or afterwards). It’s also a good point to have a short break.

Round 3: Discernment

“Devil’s Advocate”

Make sure you’ve collected the “instinct” stickies and that the next colour of stickies is available. Remind everyone what the definition of “discernment” is. Everyone repeats their walk of the timeline, this time adding stickies to the timeline for things that didn’t go well or were disappointments.

Cool off

Have another break (in case things got emotional). Have people write more appreciations.

Round 4: Positives

“Keep doing this”

This is the last walk of the timeline. Again, remind people of the definition of “positives” and ensure there are only “positive” stickies lying around for people to use. They walk the timeline one final time and add stickies for things that went well.

Lastly: Ideas

“If I did it again”

There are various ways to capture and categorise ideas. The intention of this round is that attendees use the timeline to stimulate their thinking of how they could have done things better. Or how they would do things differently if they had to do it again. This is  sometimes also described as “green fields” thinking.

And then (now or later)…

If you were using this technique for a retrospective, you would ideally get actions from the information as part of your session. If the session was to reflect on a project, perhaps the data would be grouped into things like “Good ways to kick off” and shared with other teams. I’m quite a fan of the quadrant method of grouping similar stickies to find topics to address (see photos below for examples from a retrospective I did). What you do next all depends on the ultimate purpose of your session.

quadrants

Tips

  • Only let the attendees have access to the writing materials relevant for the round i.e. gather up the stickies from the previous round and “change colours” for the next round.
  • Have a number of “stationary points” – so that people can grab stickies and pens as soon as they have a thought.
  • Related to the above, have an excess of stationary and pens so people don’t have to wait for each other.
  • When preparing your timeline, try use pictures/symbols/colours to create visual patterns and cues for repeat facts e.g. document your sprint information in the same colour and layout for every sprint on the timeline or have a bug symbol where you have added statistics around bugs.
  • Don’t forget to share the appreciations! Especially if you’ve decided not to do so in the session.

I have applied this technique a couple of times and used the output for various things:

  1. We’ve used it to gather data for a team which was unfortunately not very transparent and then used that data to paint a “real picture” for external stakeholders.
  2. We’ve used it in retrospectives to identify improvements to team / process / products.
  3. We’ve used it at the end of a project to create guidelines and lessons learned for future projects and teams.

timeline

Have you used this technique before? What worked or did not work for you? Where might this approach be useful?

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This is a useful technique you may want to try next time you need to quickly prioritise some actions with a large group of stakeholders who have varied levels of experience with agile.

In our case, we were trying to find a framework to help decide what actions to take to improve one of our testing environments. The stakeholders ranged from the development teams who used the environment to test their work, to the IT Ops team who used it to test the deployment process, to the head of the division who obviously had an interest in ensuring things got to Production as efficiently and correctly as possible. After a process of re-affirming the goals of the environment in question and highlighting the issues that were currently being experienced, we found ourselves with a list of thirty problems that needed prioritisation.

In order to do so, I first had everyone plot the problems across a horizontal axis based on the effort/cost/difficulty they associated with solving the problem. As not everyone knew about sizing (and, sometimes when people are familiar with sizing, it can also confuse things), I used a scale of animals. I made the scale clear (an image) plus had a picture of each animal plotted along the horizontal axis. The group quickly grasped the concept and set about categorising problem solutions from cat to blue whale.

Animal sizes scale

Animal sizes scale

Once they had plotted all the problems along an investment (time and/or money and/or skills) scale, it was time to categorise the problems according to impact. For this I added a vertical axis with three sections: showstopper, major and inconvenient. The important bit was that I provided a clear and simple definition for each of these to make sure everyone was speaking the same language.

We used stickies plotted on big sheets of paper on a table so that people could move around easily. At the end of about 15 minutes, a group of about 16 people from different teams and backgrounds had categorised thirty problems by size and impact to form a useful framework for prioritising actions. Documentation was as easy as taking a photo with my cell phone.

Grid

UPDATE 16/11/2015: Animal images resource (for printing).

Cause & Effect

Posted: March 26, 2014 in Root Cause
Tags: ,

Cause-EffectOne of the techniques I don’t think I’ve fully mastered is the well-known “Five Why’s” technique. On paper it seems fairly simple: keep asking why until you reach the root cause (which typically involves a ‘people/management’ factor). In practice, it seems far more challenging. I find the causes usually stay at the superficial/symptom level or one ends up down a rabbit warren. This is one techniques that I need some coaching on before I will be effective.

That said, one of the complementary tools I did stumble across in my reading is the cause-effect diagram and I have found this very effective when mapping a problem-solution type conversation. So far I’ve intentionally used it twice: once in a five-why session and once to track a conversation my team was having during a retrospective about a statement I had made around our delivery for the sprint. In the latter instance, I did have a technique prepared which I was going to use to facilitate some analysis of the sprint outcomes, but after making my introductory statement, the team ran with the analysis without any prompting at all. While they spoke, I silently tracked key points using the cause-effect diagram and later used it to come back and probe points that required further unpacking. We then used the picture on the board to identify actions – both immediate (for the next sprint) and longer term. Documentation was also easy: a photograph of the diagram with highlighted actions.

 

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