Rory Cubes for the Sprint Retrospective

People love stories. We love telling and listening to interesting stories. The need for this is embedded deeply by the nature. The first stories were told by our ancestors and can be seen in the preserved rock paintings. Paleontologists found them in caves around the world. They depict animals, hunting scenes and life of our ancestors from the Stone Age.

caves
Stories in caves


My little daughter is no exception to this rule, and she also loves stories. She is especially fond of the collections of Russian folk tales. Her favourite tale character is the Wolf. For some reason it causes the child to express a whole palette of emotions – from interest to enthusiasm mixed with fear.

Stories are easier to remember than the bare facts. We are accustomed to thinking in stories.

When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. And that is the essence of the aptitude of Story—context enriched by emotion (A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink).

Storytelling and business. I do not know personally about you, my reader, but I always get the most important information on the job not by re-reading the official papers or flipping through a corporate portal. Organizational culture in its natural and undistorted form can be found elsewhere – in the canteen, cafeteria, kitchen with coffee machine, next to the boiler with hot and cold water – in places where there are people willing to tell their stories.

Storytelling for the Retrospective. Sprint for each Scrum team is a separate project, a small life lived by the whole team. This is a different story with its own ups and downs, negative and positive emotions of its characters. When you open Retrospective (Set The Stage) as a facilitator, try to connect the team on an emotional level.

Setting the stage helps people focus on the work at hand. It reiterates the goal for the time the team has together in the retrospective. And, it contributes to creating an atmosphere where people feel comfortable discussing issues.(Making Good Teams Great, Diana Larsen, Esther Derby).

There are plenty of ways to effectively open the Sprint Retrospective, but there’s one tool which I am really fond of and it is the Rory 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.

cube_sets
Rory Cubes sets

Basically there are 3 Rory Cubes sets (Basic, Voyage, Actions), Each of them has 9 cubes within. Each cube has 6 faces with pictures. The overall number of the combinations you can get is 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 * 6 = 10077969. More than ten million potential stories! Rory Cubes opportunities are almost limitless.

How to use Rory Cubes during Sprint Retrospective. I insist on following recommendations of the Rory Cube creators. You need to use exactly nine (9) 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

As you understand, the possibilities to enrich our Sprint Retrospectives are only limited by our imagination. We get an emotionally connected and energized team as the output of the storytelling activity. Here is the the short video clip illustrating this activity.

 


I am sure that Rory Cubes can be used in other contexts as well and not only during the Sprint Retrospective. If you have any ideas that you can share – you’re welcome!

More games and tricks for your Retrospectives you can find in my LeanPub book “A Scrum Master’s Practical Toolbox”.

 

Illya Pavlichenko. Practicing Agile Coach and Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) from Scrum.org. One of the founders of the coaching company Unusual Concepts. Also an active member of the Agile community and a person who studies a lot and thinks that reading is a great fun. A big fan of gamification approach in Scrum. In many bloody battles for the Agile clearness received the following certifications: PST, PSMI, PSMII, PMI-ACP, CSP, CSM, CSPO, ICP. Co-author of "A Scrum Master's Practical Toolbox" book.

  • Neil Padgen

    I ran a retrospective today using the basic set of Story Cubes, with great success. We ran three exercises. In the first, the team each took a cube and used it as a metaphor for something (usually positive, though I didn’t set any expectations around that) about the team. In the second, I got the team to organise the cubes into what they saw as a narrative for a typical day – fortunately the speech bubble was one of the pictures on display, so obviously that was the Daily Scrum! Then in the third exercise we used the pictures in a traditional retrospective manner, looking for things we could improve on.

    I’ll certainly be returning to Story Cubes in future Retrospectives! There’s a lot of good ideas in your book, too, which I’ve purchased. Look forward to hearing more great ideas!

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