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Allan Kelly has held just about every job in the software world, from sys admin to development manager. Today he provides training and coaching to teams in the use of Agile and Lean techniques. He is the author of "Changing Software Development: Learning to become Agile" (2008) and "Business Patterns for Software Developers" (2012) and a frequent conference speaker. Allan is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 77 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Dialogue sheet observations

08.15.2011
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Regular readers will know I’ve been pushing Dialogue Sheets as a new retrospective technique. I have observed a number of dialogue sheet sessions - both the retrospective sheets I’ve made public plus some other sheets I’m still testing. Someone from Motorola recently asked for my observations on using dialogue sheets and I thought it would be a good opportunity to make my observations public.

As a facilitator I find there is very little for me to do, the sheets are designed to be used without a facilitator. As an observer I have been asked to intervene occasionally. Usually I try to say nothing, if the group is willing they can usually work out what to do themselves. When people in the group are either suspicious (something new) or unsure about the retrospective they usually need a few words of explanation.

The most common sticking point is Kerth's Prime Directive. Some people seem unwilling to accept it for the duration of the retrospective. They start making comments about how they don't think people did not do their best.

I don't like stepping in when this happens because I think the group needs to come to an understanding themselves. This eventually happens even if it is something like "well we kind of ignore that" but it can take a while.

The second thing I have noticed is time: It is not how many questions there are on the sheet that determine how long the retrospective will take but the number of people involved. When there are 4 people it is quite fast, when it is 8 it takes longer. So far I haven't found a good rule of thumb for determining just how long the sheet will take.

Sometimes I intervene to just remind people of the time and move them along.

The other bit which can be difficult is the end questions. They are intended to bring the group to set of conclusions which they can act on. Still sometimes the items are "Better communication" which while right isn't very specific or actionable.

There have been plenty of dialogue sheets downloads now and I occasionally e-mail downloaders for feedback. Of those those who have used the sheets “energized” is the most common comment.

I’m planning to revamp the three existing sheets and add one for project start-up. I’ve also had a request to translate them into other languages - specifically German. Once the revamp is complete I’ll start on some translations. I’m also thinking of creating a mailing list for discussion dialogue sheets.

If you haven’t looked at the dialogue sheets they are free for download, and you can buy pre-printed dialogue sheets.
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Published at DZone with permission of Allan Kelly, author and DZone MVB. (source)

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