Let me tell you a story

Story Telling.jpg

Stories have held an important place in our psyche throughout our history.  There is a tradition of communities using stories that harks back sitting around the camp fire to epic stories like Beowulf.  The legends and fairy tales from our past are part of the tradition.  Part of the reason that stories are important is that our minds are wired to use stories and scenarios as training exercises.  The advantage that we get by running through different scenarios in the form of stories rather than having to run them live is enormous.  This may be one of the reasons that human beings have their current place in evolution.  It is much ‘safer’ to learn from a story than having to run through it with a sabre toothed tiger.

Stories are used to share behaviours and values through the use of metaphors.  We see this even in the basic stories of our childhood: the three little pigs show the benefits of building strong structures; Goldilocks and the tree bears is a common metaphor for the happy medium and used to describe the zone in a solar system where a planet can reside with just the right conditions for life; and so on.

With all the new work on Neuroscience, there is evidence that imagining and running through activities in the imagination activates the same neural networks as doing the action.  So living through stories has benefits in preparing us for the future.

Story telling is also a big part of retrospectives.  Sharing individual stories of the sprint, or current cycle, project is how the data gathering starts.  What went well and what didn’t, make up the milestones of the story.  The timeline retrospective exercise is one way of telling a story. https://www.thekua.com/rant/2006/03/a-retrospective-timeline/  

Recently I have come across another great tool for story telling – Rory’s Story Cubes (http://amzn.to/2b2efzh)  The basic set is a set of 9 dice containing small icons on each face.  There are a number of different sets and add-ons.  My current favourites are the Batman and the Dr Who sets (http://amzn.to/2jYqept).

The ways that you can use these are limitless.  But to start you off, below is one way that I have used them in retrospectives.

I split the team into two and give each group one full set of story cubes.  If the attendees at the retrospective are quite large then you may need to split them into more groups, and more story cubes.  I then ask the teams to use the dice and the icons to help them tell the ‘story’ of the time period or event that you are retrospecting around, for instance a sprint in a scrum team.

Comparison of the stories from the different teams can highlight common themes and also distinctions.  Talking through these can bring out some interesting ideas.

The next step is to use the cubes to tell the story of the perfect iteration or sprint.  Again discussions of the distinctions between the two stories can highlight some interesting topics.

The final step is to ask the teams to come up with some actions that the team can take to turn the existing iteration into the perfect iteration.  After a few actions from are identified, the team negotiate and discuss which action is they think that they can take that will give them the most benefit.

Leveraging the power of storytelling and the open ended images from the cubes can add an extra dimension to a standard retrospective and take us back to our roots around the campfire, sharing stories of how you escaped the sabre toothed tiger.

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