Emo-lines

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If you coach a scrum team but you’re not around to observe them during the sprint, how do you know how they felt about it?

Ask them.

You can interview them individually or as a group. Both approaches have their problems and limitations. Individual interviews take a lot of time, and sometimes you can’t share the results without breaking confidence. If you ask them as a group you usually only get answers from the most outspoken people because:

It’s hard to talk about your feelings among strangers.

One of the teams I coach had mixed feelings about Scrum. Some were healthily skeptical, and some positive. The first sprint went very well, with a good sprint planning, a lot of initial energy and a demo that actually showed customer value. But I felt that some of the team members were not too sure how the others felt about the whole thing. I wanted to help them with that and also get some feedback myself (I admit I was a bit nervous about not being around).

I used Emo-lines.*

Here’s how you do it. First draw a time-line representing the whole sprint and ask everyone to put up notes, marking memorable or unusual events. The team’s looked something like this:

Then you prepare for the Emo-lines, start by drawing a line directly underneath the time-line. The line represents neutral feelings, with feeling good above, and feeling bad below:

Next, have each person draw how they felt during the spring using different colored markers, starting at the sprint planning and ending with the sprint demo. Here’s a simplified version of the team’s chart:

The team members’ feelings varied greatly, you can see from the chart that the sprint demo went well though because everyone felt pretty good at the end.

The next step is to ask each person to comment on his/her line. Here’s what the team said:

Mr Green – a skeptic at first.

Mr Green is a very influential person in the group and the architect, he was the first to go. He said that he was a bit skeptical at first (as everyone had noticed during the scrum training right before the sprint started). He was worried that sitting and working in a team room would interfere too much with his flow and his privacy. As the sprint went on, he came to appreciate how quick and easy communication was with the new setup and realized that it was rather fun working that way. And when the first demo went well, well…

Mr Blue – a scrum advocate who got lonely.

Mr Blue was one of the driving forces in introducing Scrum to the company and the only one who was a certified scrum master. So I was a bit surprised and worried that he had such a dip after the first week. As it turns out, during the second week he had to work from home because his kids were sick, so he felt isolated and unproductive.

Mr Orange – an enthusiast both when skeptical and when not.

Mr Orange was also one of the skeptical-at-first but enthusiastically so. At the beginning of the sprint he felt that it was fun and that it worked for him. The problem was that they actually completed the whole sprint backlog mid-sprint and he thought that was boring and unproductive. As soon that they got some extra work from the product owner he was happy again.

Are Emo-lines useful?

The team thinks so, and they decided to use them at the next retrospective. The second time they got even more out of the chart, each line showed more variation and the explanations were more detailed.

They are also valuable to me as a coach. Even when I am not with the team during the sprint I get detailed feedback about how the team feels at the end of each sprint.

I also noticed more than one surprised look on the other team members’ faces when Mr Green talked about his line, and I think some team building took place.

Here’s a picture of the whiteboard:

*If someone has another name for these, please let me know, I heard about them from my colleague David Barnholdt, and he didn’t have a name either.

Emo, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emo

5 Comments

  • 1
    kari
    2010-02-06 - 10:25 | Permalink

    When i read this article, my first thought was Niko-Niko calendar.

    http://www.geocities.jp/nikonikocalendar/index_en.html

    Nice text ūüôā

  • 2
    2010-02-07 - 01:10 | Permalink

    Cool idea!

  • 3
    Arne Evertsson
    2010-02-13 - 06:30 | Permalink

    Interesting. I wonder if we could do this in a distributed team.

  • 4
    2010-03-19 - 06:04 | Permalink

    Hi Hans

    Cool to see good ideas popping up at new places. ūüôā

    I use emotional lines a lot, and in fact include them in my presentation that serves as a “standard” description of an iteration retrospective. I use this overview to give people something specific when talking about retrospectives.

    See presentation on Slideshare

    I am not sure where I got the idea from first, but I know Diana and Esther mention them in Agile Retrospectives. In the description of the Timeline activity there is an example photo showing emotional lines, and they are mentioned in the text example as well (without a specific name though).

  • 5
    2011-12-18 - 23:55 | Permalink

    Lyssa Adkins, an Agile Coaches Coach calls these Journey Lines in her book “Coaching Agile Teams”

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