Retrospective Scrum Ideas: 6 Thinking Hats

6 Thinking Hats


As I have said in a previous post, sprint retrospectives are by far the most important ceremony in Scrum.  While most people think of Scrum as a software development method, it is more of a continuous improvement method, and it can be used in all kinds of non-software-centric scenarios.

The purpose of a retrospective is to give the team an opportunity to inspect and adapt.  That is to say, take a look at what has been done so far, and figure out ways to do it better.  One of the most powerful facets of Scrum is that you get the opportunity to do this on a regular basis, rather than a single “lessons learned” event at the end of a project.

As important as this ceremony is, sometimes it gets stale going over “What worked well, what didn’t work well, and what can we improve”, so here is another idea, based on 6 thinking hats, that can help you and your team diversify your retrospectives

6 Thinking Hats Description

De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats is described as a “thinking tool for group discussions and individual thinking.”  It provides groups a way to think better together.

Each ‘Thinking Hat’ represents a different style of thinking.:

White Hat:

The white hat is the data-driven hat.  When thinking like a white hat, you look first to see what data you have available, then see what insights you can draw from the data.  The data helps you recognize gaps in your knowledge and fill them.

Red Hat:

The red hat is the emotional-intelligence hat, using gut reaction, emotion, and intuition to solve problems.  The red hat is also the hat that tries to think about other people’s emotional reactions, especially those who might not understand the reasoning behind a particular solution.

Black Hat:

The black hat is the pessimist hat, look at all the negative sides of a decision.  The black hat is the hat that looks for weaknesses in a plan.  Thinking in this style helps you systematically look a plan, poke holes in it, and create even better plans.

Yellow Hat:

The yellow hat is the positive thinking hat (like sunshine).  When you are wearing this hat, you have a sense of optimism and look for the benefits of a decision an the value in it.  The yellow hat is particularly helpful when things look gloomy and difficult.

Green Hat:

The green hat is the creative hat, constantly thinking of creative solutions to problems.  When wearing the green hat, any solution is up for discussion, no matter how outlandish

Blue Hat:

The blue hat is the process control hat that represents an organized repeatable thought process.  When creativity is needed, a blue hat may tap into green hat thinking.  On the other hand, when we need a backup plan, a green may tap into black hat thinking.

6 Thinking Hats Retrospective

  • Step 1:  Give everyone an overview of the 6 thinking hats.
  • Step 2:  Tell the group they will all put on the same hat and have the typical retrospective discussion (what went well, what didn’t go well, how can we improve) for 10 minutes wearing each hat.
  • Step 3:  Every 10 minutes have the group change hats and have the discussion again.  Repeat until all hats have been worn.
  • Important Note:  Keep people honest, if anyone starts talking in a way that is out of character with the color hat they are wearing, guide them back, “That is excellent white hat thinking, but we’re not wearing the white hat at this time.  We are wearing green hats so let’s creatively think through alternatives and learning”

As the facilitator of this discussion, try to stay out of the direct discussion and focus on facilitating, asking questions, and taking notes.

At the end, take a look at the answers and try to find underlying themes associated with how each of the hats thought through how things could improve.  Use these insights to add to your improvement backlog

Any other retrospective scrum ideas you would like to see examples of?

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