My first 6 hats retrospective

Today I ran my first 6 hats retro. 

I have run mad/sad/glad retros before, but this required more prep and more involvement from me.

The basic concept is that the team discusses the last iteration from 6 perspectives – i.e. the 6 hats – in turn.

The hats essentially break down the retro into the following sections : objectives for the session, facts & information from last iteration, what went well, what didn’t go so well, ideas for resolving any problems or adding business value & finally a chance to put forward ideas/problems which have preoccupied them the most.

Breaking the session down like this means that the discussion is very focussed & hopefully more effective.

The team are aware of what they can talk about & when, as opposed to cyclical discussions around the same topic.

From my perspective, the session went as well as I could hope for. It was a new style retro for the team, so input was a bit stunted at times, and I could have done with having more relevant examples of what is required for each hat – this might have helped the flow.

Our team retro is always held in the ‘boardroom’ which consists of a large table surrounded by many chairs. I decided to move the table away and get the team sitting in a circle. This was a great ice-breaker, and several AA / help group comments were made which helped lighten the mood. It was interesting to note that like a missing limb, people still sat around the invisible table.

Each hat is divided into set durations which I sometimes struggled to maintain, but I felt that the discussion had purpose at that time so I let it run. Also, the earlier hats (blue & white) did not take the allocated duration, so I knew I had some time to play with.

Also, the aim of the 6 hats is to not talk about topics under different style hats simultaneously. Again, I found this tricky, and did push back if the discussion went too far away from the designated hat, but I felt if it had importance I would note it under the appropriate hat so that it wouldn’t be forgotten later. 

We didn’t really get much output from the red hat, I think largely to the way I pitched it. When I referred back to the mad/sad/glad style, we got a few more responses.

Feedback from the team was largely positive – They enjoyed the circle of chairs & absent table & they felt it was more conducive to free flowing discussion.

One criticism I received was that as it was a largely discussion based retro, there was a great risk for stronger members of the team to over power the discussion, as opposed to raising their views on post-its & sticking them to the wall. Responses to this also felt that the hats reigned in those who had a tendency to control the discussion.

A couple of lessons I have taken from the retro are :

  • No need to be so strict with the times – if some are shorter as the team cannot find ideas to fill it, dont drag it out.
  • This style of retro might need longer than 60 minutes if the team is over a certain size – I had to curtail & gloss over some discussions which I felt were relevant, but there were too many people trying to talk
  • No need to keep to strict order of hats – if people branch out under a different hat, let them go for a while, make a note under the allotted hat, then draw the discussion back to the correct hat. I found it too obtrusive to keep saying thats a different hat.
  • Iteration retros might be too general for this style of retro – 6 hats might be more suited to a more specific, more emotive topic. Again, this might just be due to the size of the team (30ish), */or my inexperience at running retros.

Either way, I had a great time doing the 6 hats retro – even if I was nervous as hell. Luckily the team were on my side & didn’t get too carried away! 

Further reading on 6 hats retros :