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Improved Agile Retrospectives Through Addressing Cognitive Biases

This two day instructor led training course is aimed at improving an agile team’s performance in retrospectives by addressing the cognitive biases that prevent issues and events entering the retrospective or distort the team’s understanding of those issues.  This course also explores several options for mitigating the adverse effects of these cognitive biases, together with the potential consequences of a mitigation approach.

This two day instructor led training course is aimed at improving an agile team’s performance in retrospectives by addressing the cognitive biases that prevent issues and events entering the retrospective or distort the team’s understanding of those issues.

This course also explores several options for mitigating the adverse effects of these cognitive biases, together with the potential consequences of a mitigation approach.

Who should attend?

This course is for all people who are involved in agile retrospectives, irrespective of their role or level of experience. In addition, stakeholders to agile projects will benefit from attending.

The effectiveness of this course is enhanced if the whole team attends this course together.

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Learning Objectives

On completion of the course, attendees will have an advanced understanding of how cognitive biases adversely affect the retrospective process. In addition, attendees will be able to:

  1. Understand the event/retrospective lifecycle, whereby events and issues that have occurred during the sprint are identified, selected, discussed, resolved, and lessons learned.
  2. Understand how cognitive and other human biases inhibit learning during this lifecycle.
  3. Identify key risk points in this lifecycle, where team members are vulnerable to cognitive biases blocking an important event or distorting its understanding.
  4. Implement mitigation approaches to address the more serious consequences of these biases.

Pre-Requisites

Attendees should be familiar with agile processes and common retrospective practices. Ideally, attendees should have attended an agile training course, but this is not essential.

Although not a course requirement, prior attendance at the course ‘Introduction to cognitive biases’ is useful in helping attendees understand the concept of cognitive biases and their impact on software development.

Course Content

Course Outline

Introduction: agile retrospectives and cognitive biases

Students learn how cognitive biases can distort understanding of events presented in a retrospective, or even prevent the event ever appearing in the retrospective. Students also learn the importance of approaching the retrospective process with an appropriate mindset, together with the consequences of failing to do so.

Event-issue lifecycle

This module examines the lifecycle of an event or issue, from its origin, through discovery, analysis in a retrospective, to eventual solution and closure. It examines the distinct steps and how various cognitive biases can interfere at each step, preventing the issue from progressing.

Primary biases affecting retrospectives

Students explore in depth four biases that have a major impact on agile retrospectives:

  • Hindsight bias Hindsight bias causes us to perceive past events as predictable. It distorts our understanding and leads us to believe that, with increased vigilance, the events could have been predicted, when in fact this is rarely the case.
  • Outcome bias Outcome bias occurs when we judge a decision by taking the outcome of an event into account in a way that is irrelevant to the true quality of the decision. It distorts our understanding of events and also distorts decision making processes, by encouraging decisions to be made in a way that will avoid risk of future condemnation.
  • Memory failure If an event is not remembered, then it cannot be learned from. However, memory failure is far more encompassing than simple forgetting. We explore how memory failure also produces subtle distortions that inhibit events being correctly understood during retrospectives.
  • Survivorship bias Teams cannot learn from issues that are not visible. Survivorship bias occurs when we concentrate on an item that has ‘survived’ some process. If we limit our analysis and understanding to events and issues that survived a process, we risk developing a distorted understanding.

Other biases

Other biases examined in this course include; Semmelweis Reflex, Belief Perseverance, Groupthink, Bias Blind Spot, Déformation Professionnelle, Illusory correlation, Bikeshedding, Choice supportive bias, Self Serving Bias, Curse of knowledge, Naive Realism, False Consensus Effect, and 16 other biases.

Case study

Learning in a realistic environment is important for effective improvement. This course provides just such an environment, with a case study focussed on a simulated retrospective and accompanying sprint. Embedded within the case study are multiple events and issues that have been obscured or distorted by cognitive biases. Students use their recently gained knowledge of these biases to identify the distorting biases, understand the true underlying issues, and then apply mitigation approaches.

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