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String Theory (#129)

Surface shared traits and mutual interests among team members
Source: Eben Halford
This is an excellent activity for newly formed teams of 6 to 15 members. It speeds up team building by sharing traits and interests so that team members can build closer bonds than possible with just work-related stuff.

Have the team form a circle with everyone looking inwards. Leave about a foot of space between people. Depending on what you want to stress with this activity, you can ask colleagues that usually work remotely to stand about 5 feet away from the circle.

Hand a ball of yarn to a random player and tell them to hold on tight to the end of the yarn with their non-dominant hand and the ball in the dominant one. The yarn holder starts the game by saying something about themselves that is not work-related such as 'I have a daughter' or 'I play the guitar'. If this statement is true for any other team member they raise their hand and say 'Yes, that's me'. The yarn holder passes the ball to the person who raised their hand. If there's more than one, the yarn holder can choose one. If no one shares the statement the yarn holder has to make another statement.

The person who received the ball of yarn holds on to the thread and tautens it. This is the first connection in a network of shared traits. The new yarn holder now makes a statement about themselves, passes the ball while holding on to their part of the yarn and so on.

The game ends when time is up OR everybody has at least two connections OR the yarn runs out.

You can debrief with some of these questions:
  • What did you notice?
  • If you've got remote people: How does it feel to stand apart? How does it feel to have someone stand apart?
  • How do you feel about few (or no) connections?
  • What is it like to see this web of connections?
  • Can you be a team without this web?
  • What would happen if someone let go of their threads? How would it affect the team?
  • Is there anything you will do differently at work now?

This activity is only the first part of a longer game.

Quartering - Identify boring stories (#64)

Categorize stories in 2 dimensions to identify boring ones
Source: Wayne D. Grant
Draw a big square and divide it into 2 columns. Label them 'Interesting' and 'Dull'. Let the team write down everything they did last iteration on stickies and put it into the appropriate column. Have them add a rough estimate of how long it took on each of their own stickies.
Now add a horizontal line so that your square has 4 quadrants. Label the top row 'Short' (took hours) and the bottom row 'Long' (took days). Rearrange the stickies in each column.
The long and dull stories are now nicely grouped to 'attack' in subsequent phases.

(Splitting the assessment into several steps, improves focus. You can adapt Quartering for lots of other 2-dimensional categorizations.)

Remember the Future (#37)

Imagine the next iteration is perfect. What is it like? What did you do?
Source: Luke Hohmann, found at Diana Larsen
'Imagine you could time travel to the end of the next iteration (or release). You learn that it was the best, most productive iteration yet! How do your future selves describe it? What do you see and hear?' Give the team a little time to imagine this state and jot down some keywords to aid their memory. Then let everyone describe their vision of a perfect iteration.
Follow up with 'What changes did we implement that resulted in such a productive and satisfying future?'Write down the answers on index cards to use in the next phase.

Dot Voting - Keep, Drop, Add (#38)

Brainstorm what behaviors to keep, drop & add and pick the top initiatives
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Divide a flip chart into boxes headed with 'Keep', 'Drop' and 'Add'. Ask your participants to write concrete proposals for each category - 1 idea per index card. Let them write in silence for a few minutes. Let everyone read out their notes and post them to the appropriate category. Lead a short discussion on what the top 20% beneficial ideas are. Vote on it by distributing dots or X's with a marker, e.g. 1, 2, and 3 dots for each person to distribute. The top 2 or 3 become your action items.

Helped, Hindered, Hypothesis (#16)

Get concrete feedback on how you facilitated
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Prepare 3 flip chart papers titled 'Helped', 'Hindered', and 'Hypothesis' (suggestions for things to try out). Ask participants to help you grow and improve as a facilitator by writing you sticky notes and signing their initials so that you may ask questions later.

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Retromat contains 127 activities, allowing for 8349005 combinations (25x30x22x22x23+5) and we are constantly adding more.

Created by Corinna Baldauf

Corinna wished for something like Retromat during her Scrummaster years. Eventually she just built it herself in the hope that it would be useful to others, too. Any questions, suggestions or encouragement? You can email her or follow her on Twitter. If you like Retromat you might also like Corinna's blog and her summaries on Wall-Skills.com.

Co-developed by Timon Fiddike

Timon gives Scrum Trainings. As Integral Coach and Agile Coach he coaches executives, managers, product owners and scrum masters. He has used Retromat since 2013 and started to build new features in 2016. You can email him or follow him on Twitter. Photo © Ina Abraham.