Problem Solving Methods in Agile Teams

Agile methods promote creative, flexible, person-rather-than-process-oriented approaches to delivering customer value. Six Thinking Hats, a book by Edward de Bono, describes an approach to problem solving and for group discussion and individual thinking. Each ‘hat’ has a different meaning. Combined with the idea of parallel thinking which is associated with it, the thinking hat tool provides a means for groups to think together more effectively, and a means to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way.

Six Thinking HatsThe premise of the method is that the human brain thinks in a number of distinct ways which can be identified, deliberately accessed, and hence planned for use in a structured way, allowing one to develop strategies for thinking about particular issues. De Bono identifies six distinct modes in which the brain can be “sensitized”. In each of these modes, the brain will identify and bring into conscious thought certain aspects of issues being considered (e.g. gut instinct, pessimistic judgment, neutral facts).

A compelling example presented is sensitivity to “mismatch” stimuli. This is presented as a valuable survival instinct, because, in the natural world, the thing that is out of the ordinary may well be dangerous. This mode is identified as the root of negative judgment and critical thinking which can subvert an Agile team.

Six distinct modes are identified and assigned a color:

  • Information (White hat): Considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
  • Emotions (Red hat): Intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
  • Bad points judgment (Black hat): Logic applied to identify flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch
  • Good points judgment (Yellow hat): Logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony
  • Creativity (Green hat): Statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes
  • Thinking (Blue Hat): Used to manage the thinking process. It’s the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats® guidelines are observed.

Colored hats are used as metaphors for each mode. Switching to a mode is symbolized by the act of putting on a colored hat, either literally or metaphorically. These metaphors allow for a more complete and elaborate segregation of the thinking modes. The six thinking hats indicate problems and solutions about an idea the thinker may come up with providing yet another creative tool for Agile teams to deliver customer value.

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