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How to Facilitate an Agile Retrospective Using "Rory Story Cubes"

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If a team uses a same retrospective technique in each sprint, it becomes monotonous and ineffective. To make retrospectives lively and effective, scrum masters should try various techniques. It also gives teams, a new direction to brainstorm and come-up with action items.

Ellen Grove, agile coach at LeanDog, shared her experience on usage of Rory Story Cubes for team retrospective, in her recent blog . She mentioned that Rory Story Cubes share some of the magical properties of using LEGO Serious Play to spark a serious conversation. Using this, in the spirit of playfulness, people share ideas that haven’t shared in previous retrospectives.

lIlya Pavlichenko, agile coach and professional scrum trainer (PST) tried a story telling method for retrospectives. For storytelling, he found Rory Story Cubes as an effective tool. He explained the usage of Rory Story Cubes for retrospective in his blog on Rory Cubes for the Sprint Retrospective.

There are plenty of ways to effectively open the sprint retrospective, but there is one tool which I am really fond of and it is the Rory Story Cubes. In 2008 these unpretentious cubes created a furor in Europe and became one of the most popular toys of the year. Now they are a formidable weapon of the agile coaches and the scrum masters.

lIlya mentioned to use Rory Story Cubes consists of three sets - basic, voyage, and actions. Each of them has nine cubes within. Each cube has six faces with pictures. The overall number of the combinations we can get is 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 = 10077969.

Ellen said that Rory Story Cubes are easy to use, and can be adapted to a number of different purposes. The original set is enough to work with, though, including another set such as the actions (particularly useful for retrospectives) or some of new mix-ins can help inspire greater creativity.

lIlya mentioned his way of using Rory story cubes in retrospective as follows:

You need to use exactly nine cubes for your story. It allows to construct a complete story, consisting of the beginning (3), the middle part (3) and the end (3). The story can be diversified by replacing some cubes with their friends from other sets (voyage, actions). I like adding a few cubes from the action set. Throw down a combination and tell the story with the whole team. Everyone takes a cube and tells his/her part of the story. The story topics can differ quite a lot:

  • A story about how our sprint was
  • A typical day for our team
  • Sprint planning
  • Our retrospective
  • The future of our team
  • Our last team building

Ellen shared her experience of using Rory Story Cubes in retrospective as:

  • Check In: One person rolls, then each participant picks one cube and offers an associated word to complete a simple check-in statement, such as “The last sprint was great because…” or “Today, I’m feeling like…”
  • Data Gathering: Use the cubes to inspire the story of the retrospective.  
  • Gathering insights: To mix things up and really boost ideation, try combining Story Cubes with brain-writing to encourage everyone to generate ideas about why things are the way they are.
  • Deciding what to do: This is where the actions or voyages cubes might be particularly useful to draw out creative ideas about “What is the thing we should do differently next sprint to be more successful?”
  • Closing the retrospective: Similar to the Check In, let participants select an image from a cube to help them complete a closing statement, such as “Our next sprint will be better because….”

Omar C. Bermudez, principal consultant at ZettaGo Consulting Group, applied this technique of Rory Story Cubes in retrospective with two teams. He shared his experience in his blog. He mentioned that the teams liked the results and narratives they did.

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