Asking why?

Asking WhyHere is another retrospective technique for Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives: “Asking Why?”. “Why” is one of the most valuable question that I use in retrospectives. You might wonder why? Because it gives insight in people’s behavior and their feelings and motives that drive them. It helps to find the root causes of problems, and reveal the strengths that people have. And can help teams to see common goals, and find ways to collaboratively reach them.

There are lot’s of ways to ask why in retrospectives. For instance you can ask “Why did you do it like this?” or “why did this (or didn’t this) work for you?” if you want to build an understanding how people do their work. Why questions are one of the different kinds of the questions that you ask in retrospectives. It is often a great follow up question, as helps the team to create a better understanding of the problem that they are investigating.

Some people find it difficult to ask why, because they fear that people feel offended if they ask why. I have less difficulty with asking the why question, probably because I have a genuine interest to understand situations and find out how people work together, without judging them. Ones people know me, a “why” question doesn’t scare them, as they know that my motives are to support and help them in the best possible way that I can.

Sometimes after asking several why’s, I get a why question back. Like “why do you want to know?”, “why do you ask this?”. Explaining usually helps, but if not then I’ll rephrase my questions, or switch to an other kind of questions 🙂 . Just to make sure that there is an atmosphere where people feel safe, and can be open on things.

Examples of Asking Why

If you are doing a 5 times why retrospective you can ask “Why did something happen?” or “What caused it?” (if you prefer not to use the “why” word) to get to the root causes of problems.

In a 1 word retrospective, asking “Why do you feel this way?” or “Why do you consider this to be important?” would give insight into the feelings of team members.

When you are using solution focused in a strengths based retrospective, asking “Why did you do it”, “Why did you do it like this?” or “Why did your approach to solve the problem work” can give you insight into the strengths that people have.

If you want to improving collaboration in agile projects, you can ask “Why did you ask for help?”, “Why did you involve the xxx department?” or “Why did you decide to work together on this?”. Finding out the reasons why teams have done things can convince other teams to do the same, and to work together towards common goals.

The “Asking Why?” retrospective is another technique for “Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives”, the  pocket book that Luis Gonçalves and I are writing. This book helps you to get benefits out of doing retrospectives. We love to hear from you, your feedback helps to make this a great book!

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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