Tumbling Tower Retrospective

Value Star

Ever wanted to bring the excitement of tumbling wooden blocks into your retrospective? Want a way to demonstrate how our daily decisions impact our sprint goal? Got a few folks in your team who enjoy Role-Playing Games (RPGs)? Then have I got a retro for you!

Recently I’ve been prepping for a Halloween game of Dread with my DnD buddies. Dread is an awesome RPG, created by Epidiah Ravachol, which replaces dice with a familiar wooden block tower game for decision making and suspense building. Prepping our Halloween game got me thinking – how cool would it be to try this mechanic out in a retrospective? It occurred to me that the tower would work well as a representation of the teams sprint goal, and using this you could facilitate a role-playing retro that allows the team to take a look at their sprint from an abstract perspective.

Want to know how to facilitate it? Read on…

What you will need…

  • A wooden tower block game
  • A large bowl or jar
  • Several scraps of paper
  • Pens
  • Optional: Character sheets (make your own or feel free to use mine. You can find them on the resources page)

Objective

As a team, inspect the last sprint in an abstract and fun way. Using the tower and predefined scenarios, take your team on the journey of their last sprint, allowing them to collaborate to solve issues as they arise. If the tower stands at the end of the sprint then the team are victorious!

Optional Extra

Have the team role-play each other using the character sheets! Adding this element allows the team to explore their team dynamics, build relationship and empathy, and have a little fun. Thinking from another team member’s perspective also helps folks apply a different lens to the scenarios they were presented with.

Safety Precaution!

Use your best judgement when deciding on whether or not to incorporate the role-playing aspect with your team. If they are likely to feel uncomfortable or are not in a psychologically safe space then it might be wise to leave it out. If you do go ahead with it, watch out for any team Dynamics or social contract issues that crop up. As the Games Master you will need to facilitate those situations with care.

Stage 1: Collect Scenarios

Kick off the exercise by collecting sprint scenarios from the team. These would either be things that happened in the last sprint, if you are playing through a specific sprint, or things that could happen in a sprint. For example, maybe all the developers comedown with a stomach bug, or you find that a story sneaked in to your sprint that wasn’t quite ready and now you need to clarify some details. Here’s how I facilitated this section…

  1. Hand out a small pile of paper scraps to each team member (I used a memo block but you can use ripped up A4, sticky notes, etc)
  2. Give the team 5 minutes to write down as many scenarios from their last sprint as they can think of.
  3. Collect up the scenarios, fold them individually and put them in your bowl / jar.
  4. (Optional) Ask the team to fill out their character sheets as themselves. Encourage them to add as much detail as possible. At this stage the team will not know that they are not going to be using their own sheets, so encouraging detail will help their team mates when role-playing.
  5. Place the wooden tower block in the middle of the table

Stage 2: The Game

And so the games begin. You will facilitate role-playing the sprint that the team is inspecting, acting as their Games Master (hmmm Games Master / Scrum Master… nice coincidence…). This means you tell the story of the sprint, pulling scenarios from the bowl for the team to handle. The team will need to work collaboratively to resolve the issues, explaining what they will do in each situation. Based on their solutions you will ask them to pull a number of blocks from the tower. The number you ask them to remove should be indicative of how their decisions would affect the sprint goal. If the team come up with a great solution that would preserve the goal then you might not ask them to pull any blocks, if they choose to do something catastrophic then you might ask them to pull 5 or 6 blocks. For example, when I facilitated this, one of the team decided to take a whole day to go shoe shopping when the team were presented with pressure from stakeholders. This resulted in 5 blocks being pulled (and me being mildly amused). Here’s how I facilitated this…

  1. (Optional) Ask the team members to pass their character sheets to the left so that everyone has somebody else’s sheet.
  2. Explain to the game to the team. You might want to use something similar to this handy dandy description… “We are going to play a role playing game and I will be your Game Master. Together we are going to walk through one sprint, each day of the sprint I will draw scenarios from the bowl for you to resolve as a team. The tower represents your sprint goal. Your objective to is to keep your sprint goal stable. As you resolve issues I will ask you to pull different numbers of blocks from the tower, depending on how the resolutions might impact the sprint goal. I’ll be using Agile principles and the Scrum values to help decide on the number of blocks to pull, and I will explain my decisions as we go. If the tower is still standing at the end of the sprint then you have successfully met your sprint goal. Good luck!”
  3. Make sure everybody understands the rules.
  4. Start role-playing the sprint by welcoming the team to day 1. I said something along the lines of “Good morning team, welcome to day one of your sprint. You’ve just had a fantastic planning session and are super excited to deliver [insert relevant thing here] in [x] days. Just as you get your desks the news comes in that [pull a scenario from the jar and read it out]. What do you do?”
  5. Allow the team time to decide how they would like to resolve the issue. If they are struggling you could ask some open ended questions to help them along.
  6. Once the team has a resolution ask them to pull the number of blocks you feel is representative of the impact to the sprint goal. Make sure to explain your reasons to the team so that they can adapt as they go.
  7. Repeat steps 2 – 4 until you have completed all your sprint days (I used 5) or the tower has collapsed.

Stage 3: After the Game Ends

At this point take a little time to chat to the team about the exercise. Ask open ended questions to see what they learned and work out an action to take into their next sprint

In Conclusion

I really enjoyed facilitating this with the team and hope you guys find it useful too! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

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