“Scheduling” retrospectives with a Jenga Tower

“We don’t need regular retrospectives. Can’t we just do them, when we need them?”

In my mind that always translated to “We will not do retros while problems are small. We will wait until it’s way too late and our problems are very big and intimidating and much more difficult to resolve.”

But at Agile Coach Camp Germany 2023 Falk Kühnel told me of an interesting way to “schedule” retrospectives at irregular intervals and it’s the first time I think that it might work. You just need a Jenga tower.

You set up the tower in the team room and play a game of Jenga (pull a brick, put it on top of the tower) drawn out over several weeks. When the tower falls over that’s your cue to schedule a retrospective ASAP. You pull a brick when:

  • Daily standup is over
  • A “disruption” happens – A disruption is something annoying / hindering that the team wants to keep track of. If it happens often, the Jenga tower topples earlier and you talk about the pattern of disruptions. (What is considered a disruption should change over time as old issues get resolved and new ones arise.)
  • Someone feels a retrospective should happen earlier rather than later

There is also an emergency override: If something drastic happens that one of the team members think warrants a conversation right fucking now, they can topple the entire tower to make the retrospective happen ASAP.

This mechanism is the brainchild of Timo Zimmermann and it’s the first time I’m in love with any alternative to regular retrospectives. It has a time component, because at least one brick moves every day and then several ways to speed things up, according to the team’s needs. 

Timo shares that they’ve used the Jenga tower for more than a year and would have continued if Covid hadn’t happened. The tower’s success was underlined by the fact that the table it stood on was cluttered in the beginning and then gradually cleaned up as the tower got pride of place.

Other evidence: When they successfully solved a type of disruption, the team picked new ones. And the utterance “arg, nah, I don’t wanna do a retro” became a thing of the past.

Thank you, Timo & Falk for sharing with us!