Agile retrospectives – Cause and effect

Thanks to Rachel Davies for sharing her approach to constructing a diagram of effects.

Rachel proposes that the diagram of effects can trigger a team to discuss how a variety of issues relate and goes on to highlight advice from Bas Vodde and Craig Larman in their first book “Scaling Lean and Agile Development”, the First Law of Diagramming is “The primary value in diagrams is in the discussion while diagramming—we model to have a conversation.”

I have been using a slightly different approach in retrospectives recently. With a similar intent to Rachel I hope to trigger conversations that result in a team sharing there concerns and issues and coming to a shared view as to how these relate and where would be a good point for intervention.

I’ve used this approach a couple of times recently when running retrospectives that cover a few months i.e. not iteration retrospectives where we choose to commit a few hours to investigating issues in some detail.

My favoured approach is borrowed from Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, it is one of the 5 TOC thinking process and is know as a current reality tree. A current reality tree is a tree of undesirable aspects of your current situation, these are connected to indicate cause and effect.

My approach to constructing this diagram is as follows:

Identify undesirable effects
Invite the whole team to stand around a table thinking of undesirable / unwanted traits of their existing approach (process, tools, methods etc.). Each item should be written on an index card and placed on the table in no particular order. Team members can try to avoid duplicats but if one pops up it is not a problem.

Begin to identify cause effect relationships
Invite the team to select two related cards. These should be stuck on the board and joining with an arrow pointing from cause to effect.

Continue to grow the diagram
The whole team should collaborate to add the cards to the diagram. When I first tried this I wondered how I would cope if groups of cards were not related. I’ve not seen this actually happen yet but should it then I guess we allow for the growth of separate diagrams until we discover a relationship.

Review relationships
In CRT literature there are a set of steps for assessing the existence and relationships between UDEs. My approach is to invite team members to consider where items are missing. Often where many causes relate to a single effect there is a missing intermediate effect.

Since I tend to run this approach in a time boxed session I an looking for the point at which returns begin to diminish. As the group settle on a basic shape and begin to look for intervention points I move to support this.

A good candidate point to intervene at would be contributing to a number of effects or participating in a feedback loop. By focusing on one effect we can select actions that will contribute to reducing this effect and by association those related effects.

Of course, an added benefit of this approach is that we can use the cause and effect diagram to review the effect of our interventions; did we get it right, if not was there something we missed in the analysis?

I hope that this is useful. Do share if you’ve used this approach or something similar yourself.

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