The retrospective timeline is a useful exercise for gaining a better understanding and a richer context for a particular retrospective. This means that this exercise becomes less useful when you do retrospectives more frequently and especially useful when doing a retrospective spanning longer periods or you run retrospectives less frequently.
The timeline aims to give a very visual overview of the events that occurred during the period for which you are doing the retrospective. The facilitator should use distinct and bold colours to identify distinct events so that it is easier to interpret the results. The timeline is a great way of determining trends over time for periods in the project and a useful mechanism for getting a feel for how the team felt throughout the course of the project.
When To Use It
As mentioned earlier, the timeline retrospective is useful for refreshing the memories of participants and you might find it useful in the following circumstances:
- For projects that are run without any intermediate retrospectives
- For projects that require more formalised processes (i.e. not necessarily uber-agile)
- If you need to communicate a more complete perspective for outside parties that may require reporting to
- If all participants did not necessarily work on the project during the entirety of the project (people rolling on or rolling off)
- The end of a project retrospective
The Fundamentals (Part One)
There are two major parts to this exercise. The first is noting all the events. Make sure that everyone has access to different coloured pieces of paper where:
- Green represents good events
- Yellow represents significant or memorable events
- Orange represents problematic events
The types of events that you might want to consider suggesting include things like when people rolled on or off projects, when things kicked off, when someone in the business made a decision that affected the team in a great way, when the team did achieved something really amazing, etc.
Get everyone to scribble each event down on separate pieces of paper and then get them to tack it along a standard timeline along a whiteboard or several sheets of paper stuck to the wall. This is where sticky notes or lots of blu-tack helps. It should look something like the following:
It is a good idea for you to get everyone to explain events, especially if the participants may not have full knowledge of what was going on. The significant events help to put things into context and might answer a few of the puzzling questions some people might have about the project, and the good points help to identify strengths while the problematic points should lead you to discussing action items. I find this exercise is most useful for first putting context for a retrospective spanning a large time and then using other exercises to draw out further conclusions. It is a good mechanism just to get the discussions flowing within the team and allows the facilitator to try to put different perspectives on things.
The Fundamentals (Part Two)
The reason you want to reserve some space underneath the timeline is for the second part of this exercise. In this part, you split the remaining area into two sections where you get the team to fill in how they felt about each event or how they felt in general for that period. You can try to limit them by getting them to put three dots per significant period (week/month) or perhaps one per event posted, with the idea that you want to get a general feeling for the overall morale of the team. You should end up with a scattergram that looks like the following:
Once the team has finished plotting all their points, you can then try to draw a trend through them that helps to establish a real idea of how the project went such as below:
Trawling The Timeline
The visual nature of the timeline allows you to easily draw out a number of trends from the project. Large concentrations of a particular colour may attract your attention to a certain period and it would be worthwhile trying to pinpoint its underlying cause so you can attempt to replicate (or avoid) the same circumstances in the future. The general trend at the bottom may or may not coincide with the events above the line so there might be another discussion point for explaining why morale might be low even though there might be lots of green or why it is high even though there were problematic events (maybe it was a good team building experience or people were growing and learning).