Timeline done right
I am really lousy at remembering the past. You know, in the movies, when the police asks “Where were you on April 17th at 5:05 pm” I start thinking that I could not remember where I was yesterday at that time.
Being not good at remembering the past makes me uncomfortable to run Timeline exercise in retrospectives. I feel for those who can write down only two things and I envy those who ask for three extra packs of PostIts to write down their memories. I did not find timelines useful, I did them hastily and could not use the data during rest of the event.
This was bugging me: everyone else was doing timelines and people were happy with those. What’s wrong with me?
Then I got it. Second pass. Walk through the timeline, create collective memory of events.
I tried once more. This time I prepared for an explicit Second Pass.
First, I asked everyone to write notes alone. As usual, after 5 mins that seemed to be done and PostIts were pasted on the wall. Instead asking everyone to walk the timeline alone, I gave more specific instructions: Everyone take few PostIts and a pen, then walk the timeline together and discuss anything you find there. If something new comes to your mind, write a note and paste it on timeline.
Something extraordinary happened. Walking through the project timeline (4 months) took 45 minutes instead the usual 10 min. Lot of new notes appeared on the wall, there was laughter, walking back and forth. And most importantly, people saying “Hey, I think I’m getting somewhere with this“.
I’ve repeated this a few times since, always asking people to walk the timeline together with pen and paper. Often the group needs a little guiding (“How about moving on, what do we have here next” or “Not so fast, I think we missed something” or kick-starting a quiet group with a provocative question). I am starting to be very happy with this style.
Having people walk together and discuss on the events helps to create shared, collective memory of events. It creates common ground for further discussion and helps to reach consensus later on when team needs to make decisions.
Note: So far I’ve used the explicit Second Pass technique only in (large) project retrospectives. There timeline covers longer period (2-12 months) and all participants don’t work closely together, i.e need for discussion and sharing is bigger. I have not yet checked how this would work in Sprint retro.