Getting mad and sad

When I’ve attended retrospectives where activities such as Mad/Sad/Glad or Liked/Learned/Lacked/Longed for are used I’ve noticed that attendees often express confusion about what seems like two negative states. Mad and sad both suggest a negative influence has occurred, as do lacked and longed for.

When I planned my recent retrospective I deliberately avoided this confusion by making my emotive states liked, loathed and learned. While this did work, and the team seemed very comfortable with the differences between states, I’m starting to think that there is an argument in favour of a bit of confusion.

If all things are equal, two individuals are perfectly capable of experiencing different emotions in a given situation. Add in additional factors like the person’s role in a team, or their proximity to the event in question, and it might seem like the stated emotional response becomes less useful. I actually think that this increases the value of the input, especially to the individuals in the team.

Lets take an example: James the developer says that he’s sad that he did not get a timely response from the product owner when he needed clarification on his task. This resulted in the task not being completed and the team failing to meet their commitment. John the team lead says that he’s mad about the absent product owner throughout the sprint.

In this example, both points refer to the same incident, but the way that the individuals have been affected seems to be different. While there is an obvious action to make the PO more available, the effect it has had on the individuals in the team should also be noted. I think this kind of information is especially useful when a team is in its infancy, and team members are still learning how each other work. It should also provide insights for the scrum master on approaches for one to one coaching.

Of course there’s another, more practical reason why several emotive activities have a bias towards negative input. The main purpose of a retrospective is to provide insights into how a team can improve itself. While it is important to recognise the positive things that have occurred during the period you’re retrospecting over, focusing on things that went badly or that had a negative effect on the team is going to produce the most useful data from which to draw insights and actions.

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