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An Improved Safety Check

I think retrospectives are the most informative and fun kind of meeting you can have with a bunch of software developers without involving large amounts of some kind of alcoholic beverage. Okay, maybe seconded by giving them a huge set of Scalextrics.

When doing retrospectives, the facilitator often chooses to do what’s called a ‘safety check’. It’s about trying to get a feel for how much confidence there is in discussing the current topics with everyone else in the room. The facilitator gets everyone to write a number from 1 to 5 on a post-it note, anonimously, and sticks them up in a wall or whiteboard, tallying up the results. Usually, a safety level of 1 means ‘I don’t feel safe here, I’ll nod and agree to what everyone else says’ while 5 goes something like ‘I feel I can talk about anything and anyone in this room freely’, and that is a very important measure to have as it can completely change the discussion. Sometimes, asking a one or a few team members (project managers, for instance) to step out of the room can improve confidence, and everyone’s happy.

But what about the other measurements that may affect the effectiveness of a retrospective and work in general? My colleague Tim Mackinnon (get a blog!) brought a very nice idea to one of our monthly meetings this week: using the same mechanism to scale how much fun, productivity and enthusiasm people are having at work. If I had an equivalent of MS Paint on my Mac, I would amaze you all with my drawing skills, but for now, picture this: you draw as many axes you want on a whiteboard, ideally three or five, as choosing an even number can look a bit confusing. Each axis represents some measurement you want - fun, safety, productivity, effectiveness, collaboration, you name it. And get everyone to tick their level on those, preferrably anonimously.

I’m still yet to be a facilitator on a retrospective, but I’ll be definitely trying this out.

Oh, and if you’re interested in the subject, make sure you’re subscribed to Pat Kua’s blog. He has some very interesting thoughts on timelines and other retrospective tools.