There’s no doubt that asking the right sort of questions [not just in sprint retrospectives] can elicit the kind of information which empowers teams to reflect on what they’ve just said, what has happened and then, ultimately, lead to changes in behaviour, processes, etc.
So why is it then that children find it so natural to do just this i.e ask the kind of questions that really force you to think about what it is you’ve just said? Well it’s obvious isn’t it, they’re simple beings and so can only come up with simple questions right? If you haven’t got kids yourself then maybe it’s harder to remember the kind of things they say or that you used to say when you were a young ‘un. Here’s an example:
Son (who’s 4): “So why was the rabbit afraid of the dark?”
Me: “Er, well, because he was on his own and wanted to get home.”
(I should probably say at this stage that we were reading a story)
Me: “Well, because he had lost his sister and she was looking for him and at night, when it’s dark, lots of animals get scared?
Me: “Well, they’re like people; you sometimes get scared when it’s dark don’t you?”
Son: “Yes. Why?”
I won’t bore you with the full conversation but it certainly made me think about how powerful simple questions can be.
The “five whys” technique in retrospective meetings is just one of many tried and tested techniques to generate insights into any data gathered from looking at what happened in the sprint. In my short career as a ScrumMaster, I haven’t yet been on the receiving end of the five whys questioning so it was interesting for me to feel the effects of a technique about which I had read and tried out several times on others. Ok, it may have been a four-year-old, but it still worked!
Kids don’t have the inhibitions which we all pick up along the way and can think and act in a very pure way without even trying. Our own self-awareness, confidence and experiences just get in the way sometimes both as the person asking the questions and the person answering.
It’s not very practical to suggest that we all start acting like a four-year-old but we could all learn something from them!