Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.
– Norm Kerth
After a bumpy release and before a retrospective was held, a couple articles were sent around about what a “Blameless Post-Mortem” really is. In our previous retrospectives our team would come together and draw up an action list to resolve our main (top 4-5) issues/pain points. In terms of agile development I think it is the best feature of the methodology.
A lot of features of a retrospective require a lot of team sensibilities as described in Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The team must not be afraid of digging into issues and discussing how they we could have managed them better. A key component of the blameless post-mortem is not to attack people but to discuss how to help in the future. We see this all over the place where egos get wrapped up in something and any critic is felt as a personal attack – code reviews can sting.
With the strong team we can work over the issues without being emotionally run ragged defending ourselves.
Still detaching our emotions and egos is incredibly difficult. I initially laughed in derision at Patrick Kua‘s suggestion on how every retrospective should consider the Prime Directive:
Whoever reads it out should do so as enthusiastically as possible and, even better, leave it hanging in the room to give participants a visible reminder of the statement’s powerful potential.
Yet Martin Fowler points to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow as an example of how the simple act of priming the group does have a physical impact on the attendees.
In an experiment that became an instant classic, the psychologist John Bargh and his collaborators asked students at New York University—most aged eighteen to twenty-two—to assemble four-word sentences from a set of five words (for example, “finds he it yellow instantly”). For one group of students, half the scrambled sentences contained words associated with the elderly, such as Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, or wrinkle. When they had completed that task, the young participants were sent out to do another experiment in an office down the hall. That short walk was what the experiment was about. The researchers unobtrusively measured the time it took people to get from one end of the corridor to the other. As Bargh had predicted, the young people who had fashioned a sentence from words with an elderly theme walked down the hallway significantly more slowly than the others.
– Daniel Kahneman
Stepping back, I wonder how else this can and should be applied to other facets. How could we prime different meetings to achieve the outcome we wish. Pushing the desired persona onto the people present. At a hackathon just before people started talking about their ideas the organizer mentioned a crazy thought:
I want a chewing gum that, by chewing it, I get a taste of the company. Where is it positioned, what the cost and risk is in it. Then I can try half of company A and half of company B and get a flavour for my actual portfolio.
This off the wall idea was so far fetched that it changed and encouraged people to push the boundaries, not to go for what is known to be possible but try to find a way to make the impossible.
In conclusion, you need to prime to really get the desired result.