Most Scrum Masters know the ‘Glad Sad Mad' retrospective exercise. In the non native english speaking world, people trying out this exercise usually struggle to distinguish between ‘Sad' and ‘Mad'. In every retrospective where we did this exercise I ended up with several stickies on the line between ‘Sad' and ‘Mad'.
I tried to make it clearer by rephrasing the words to something more suitable that all of the team members would understand (like ‘I can't take it anymore' instead of Mad and ‘Get stuff off my chest' for Sad for example, see this blog post by Mike Pearce). Although it helped, I still felt that the distinction was not 100% clear to everyone. Frankly, I got tired of having to explain it over and over again.
In a retrospective a few weeks ago when lots of those ‘in between' stickies were placed on the wall we joked about making a new column for them. During that retrospective I noticed that a lot of the time my team was talking about things that came as a surprise to them that had an impact on the sprint or their feeling towards the project and things that they were scared of that could threaten the project or fears they had about the project's current status. So I decided to add more columns reflecting that and came up with ‘Glad, Sad, Surprised, Scared'.
Retrospective vs. Futurespective
Adding a ‘Scared' column opens up the possibility to also talk about fears for the future, which is usually not part of a retrospective but rather a futurespective. However, these fears typically uncover risks and uncertainties relevant to future planning. It also helps me as a Scrum Master to better understand the team's feelings. Few people will talk about what actually scares them on their own. During the exercise I observed that once someone put a sticky in the ‘Scared' column, others followed. Of course most of the stickies covered the same topic. But simply realising that they all share the same fear helped them to see that it's not just their own private problem but that everyone feels that same way and that they actually needed to do something about it.
One can argue that stickies placed in a ‘Surprised' column would also fit in the ‘Glad' or ‘Sad' columns and that's true. And of course, stickies in that column cover a very broad spectrum of topics. But the value of this column is twofold.
Firstly, it helps to uncover things that arise unexpectedly – both in a positive and in a negative way. This way potential impediments can be spotted and dealt with or it can help to find out why a sprint failed (similar to the ‘Expected and Surprised' retrospective).
Secondly, ‘I am surprised that…' often uncovers a richer seam of information than simply ‘Glad' or ‘Sad'. It allows discussion about why it was surprising and how the person feels about it. Software developers tend to primarily add stickies like ‘Sad about the slow server.' or other very technical problems on the board. I felt that the ‘Surprised' column opens up a way to illuminate the other, more personal side of problems which helps the team members to better understand each other and their connection as a team.
Try it out and tell me what you think!