Guest blog: Many Faces of Jack Sparrow – Agile Retrospective Exercise

Many Faces of Jack SparrowAgile retrospectives can be done in many different way, the Many Faces of Jack Sparrow is one example how to do them. I love it when people design new exercises that help people to reflect and learn, specially those exercises that help to explore and discuss feelings in teams. Here’s a guest blog post on from Corey Scholefield and Selina McGinnis in which they share their experiences from doing a retrospective exercise called Many Faces of Jack Sparrow.

Here at the University of Victoria, we have adopted agile processes within our Development Services organization. Development Services is responsible for developing software applications that support the learning, teaching, and research mission of the university. Our agile team was formed in the past year to tackle the renewal of applications in our identity and access-management environment.

One of things we have been working on is developing unique agile retrospective activities.  This activity was quite fun, and based on Johnny Depp’s famous “Pirates of the Caribbean” character “Captain Jack Sparrow”.

Many Faces of Jack Sparrow

The Many Faces of Jack Sparrow was a retrospective activity adapted from an exercise created by another team project manager to help talk members through how they felt about an upcoming project. The outcome of that exercise was particularly interesting in that each team member had identified with an image (in some cases the same image or expression) for various reasons and spawned a lot of good discussion and laughter.

Agile retrospectives come in many forms that often outline the positive aspects of a sprint while also identifying areas of improvement. For our group, we generally have several pre-defined categories to sort our thoughts into. On one hand, this makes it very easy to determine which points were pain points and which were achievements. On the other hand, it is nice to open up the floor to more general themes that may not fit into the traditional categories.

In a past exercise, we determined what our team values were and were interested to find that our team heavily valued “support” and how we “felt” about our work and teammates. The Jack Sparrow retrospective was selected to allow team members to emote freely about their work and their sprint. Because the categories are not words that are clearly defined, team members are able to project their thoughts through the expressive Johnny Depp as their own. For example, the image of Johnny firing guns in the air was both seen as “celebratory” by one person (this person felt great about what happened in the sprint) and “tense” by another (this person felt they were overwhelmed by their own work load).

Many Faces of Jack Sparrow - agile retrospective exercise

The instructions for the retrospective activity were as follows:

  • think about the activities that took place in the last sprint (a 2-week sprint just ending)
  • reflect on how generally you felt about the sprint including what went well, what challenges there were, what we learned, etc.
  • come up with as many reflections as you can, using the many pirate faces of Johnny Depp as inspirations for your thoughts
  • write down 1 reflection on each sticky note.  Come up with as many reflections as you can in about 5-8 minutes

When time was up, each team member (8 people) was invited in turn to share their thoughts, by placing their sticky notes next to the picture that inspired the thought they were sharing.

By the end of the exercise, here is what our board looked like:

Many Faces of Jack Sparrow - results of the retrospective

Speaking of opening up, one of our team-members felt safe enough in the reflection-sharing to offer their thoughts in their best “pirate-voice”!  ARRR! This activity provides enough latitude for team-members to really make it their own, and offer unique observations that perhaps otherwise would have gone un-spoken.

Talking about feelings in a retrospective

While we do encourage honest, transparent, and insightful reflections, sometimes we don’t dig “deep-enough” at the itches that might be really scratching the team. This exercise may allow a deeper level of discussion on issues, as long as team members feel safe enough to share these in the team-setting.

For teams that find their communications struggling, or have perhaps already “run aground”, this activity allows a playful-approach to reflection that may allow team members to open up a little more than usual. Since completing this activity, our team has continued with a variety of retrospective activities, but none quite as fun as this one! The ongoing benefit from this retrospective activity is that it can stimulate better team communications, which is a key element of the agile approach.

It was a great checkpoint to get a candid look into how people were feeling about the sprint while getting some good team chuckles!

It turns out that our retrospective organizer developed this activity locally, and was inspired by another of our local agile teams.  That team was doing an exercise for a sprint, and used the many faces of Han Solo to inspire their work.  It has been great to see our agile teams cross-pollinate each other in this way!

Exercises for Agile Retrospectives

retrospective exercises toolboxA big thanks to Corey Scholefield and Selina McGinnis for sharing this retrospective exercise! I’ve added it to my Retrospective Exercises Toolbox.

My mission is to help teams all around the world to increase the value of their agile retrospectives. There’s the book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives, the Retrospective Exercises Toolbox, workshops on Valuable Agile Retrospectives in Teams and Increasing your Agility with Retrospectives, you can ask your agile retrospective question, and there are lots of blog posts on retrospectives. All these things help you to spice up your agile retrospectives.


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mark Drei

    I love that idea!
    One could combine this with the “Treasure Island” retrospective that I found on YouTube:
    to identify the “pirate skills” and “treasure chests”.
    Remember September 19th is the talk like a pirate day 🙂

    1. Ben Linders

      That could be a nice combination, thanks for sharing this Mark!

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