Agile Retrospective with Six Thinking Hats

The retrospective is a critical component of any Agile team’s journey to high performance. Agile process and frameworks are based on the pillars of inspecting and adapting, as well as transparency through quick feedback loops, and retrospectives help strengthen these pillars. But often retrospectives are perceived as a dreaded ceremony.

Principle #12 of the Agile Manifesto is “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly” and teams do this by holding regular retrospectives.

Unfortunately teams, whether new or seasoned, often find it difficult to run an effective retrospective. Some of the behavior patterns observed are:

  • Lots of finger pointing and blaming for failures
  • Difficulty in coming up with creative ideas
  • A general feeling that the team has optimized their behavior and there is no need to change\
  • An unwillingness to challenge things beyond teams control

Edward De Bono, guru of creative thinking, has devoted his life to creating simple tools to improving think and also challenging the assumption that thinking is a natural process but instead a skill, which can be learned and improved. One such tool is his Six Thinking Hats – a simple, effective process that helps people be more productive, focused, and mindful.

Retrospecting with the Six Thinking Hats

While De Bono does not recommend any particular sequence of using six hats in a meeting or brainstorming session, during retrospective teams can use the six hats in following sequence first. Then they can experiment and learn using different sequences as well.

Blue Hat (5 minutes) – Participants discuss the high-level objectives for the session.

White Hat (10 minutes) – Participants raise and discuss anything from the last iteration which can be said to be a fact or information. Hunches and feelings and any discussion of reasons or other non-information-based output should be left for the appropriate (red) hat.

Yellow Hat (10 minutes) – Participants talk about the good things that happened in the last iteration, any positive feedback worth sharing.

Black Hat (10 minutes) – Participants talk about the bad things that happened, any negative criticism they have or worst-case scenarios they can think of.

Green Hat (10 minutes) – The discussion moves on to any creative ideas people have about solving problems or things that may add more value to the business or help in any way. Outside-of-box, blue-sky thinking is encouraged.

Red Hat (5 Minutes) – Participants spend a short period of time coming up to the board and write down two statements each about their emotions in relation to the last iteration. These could be issues that stood out for them the most or an idea for solving a problem. These statements should be instinctive, which is why you will give them very little time to do this.

Conclusion and Actions – Spend a little time as a group having a look at the Red Hat output. Are there any themes? What relationships do you see? What stands out? After this, the group determines if there are any action items or takeaways. As always ensure the actions items are actually actionable.

If your retrospectives are getting boring or spiral out of control or you are not getting new creative ideas, I recommend the six hats retrospective. It is a simple framework, easily understood and with good facilitation, it can work wonders!