Six hats for your retrospective meeting

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If your retrospective meetings are boring and ineffective, use the six thinking hats  for putting the retros back on the right track.

The retrospective meeting

Retro Meetings are the heart and soul of Teams Agility. The Agile Manifesto says, principle #12:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
its behavior accordingly

A similar consideration can be found inside the Scrum Guide:

The Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the Scrum Team to inspect itself and create a plan for improvements to be enacted during the next Sprint.

So the retrospective is really a continous improvement engine, cyclically available to the team. You should pay the greatest attention to make it the most effective. Problem is, retrospectives often get lost. Some common problems are:

  • Blaming
  • Lack of solution/ideas
  • Bored participants
  • Focus on negatives only

I am suggesting here a new format. Use it as a tool, together with a good facilitator, to improve your retrospectives and solve the aforementioned problems.

The Six Hats for Thinking

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I was first introduced to the six hats thinking during my MBA years, while attending an organizational design lesson.

The Six Thinking Hats (STH) technique was invented by Edward De Bono in the 1998 (Six Thinking Hats, Edward De Bono. Penguin Books, 1998) as an approach to improve creative thinking, promote different points of view, avoid blaming. You wear (metaphorically) a hat, to see the world with different eyes.  Each hat is a style of thinking, and the technique challenges meeting participants to think in the six different styles of thinking.

The tecnique is commonly used in creative agencies, but Agile Teams, either BU or IT, are rarely aware of it. Here’s a description of the six hats, and how they are used.

  • White Hat. The white hat is data, or information strictly data based. Evidence. Questions to be asked to obtain evidence. You could pretend to be a cyborg, answering questions from humans. So when you wear the white hat, you are looking for facts, figures and evidence of those facts.
  •  Red Hat. I am not talking about open source here. The red hat is the emotional one. You wear it, and you put forward your feelings about facts. That’s the opposite of the white hat. You don’t give reason, you don’t justify. Just say “It makes me feel unconfortable”, “I like it, I don’t like it”, “That’s not fair”, etc.
  • Black Hat. That’s the Devil’s Advocate Hat. Is there an error in your reasoning? Does the conclusionm follows from the analysis? Open the door to criticism and try to disassemble the argument on the table. For example  “Figures are too old”, “Evidence from other industries do not apply”, “that’s just a possibility, not a certainty” etc.
  • Yellow Hat. Wear the yellow hat and you are in the land of sunshine. Wear it to see the potential and value of your own ideas, and (temporarily)  forget of risks and dangers.
  • Green Hat. Under the green hat creativity and growth are requested. It’s alloted time to be creative and divergent thinking is admitted. Just think in temrms of possibilities, alternativies, change and new way of doing thinks. It’s the land of provocative and lateral thinking
  • Blue Hat. Tht’s a different hat. It’s the only one that is permanently worn by the facilitator. It’s the managing hat, it keeps discipline and gives cadence for hat changin’ to the whole team. It can be worn temporarly by anyone during a blue hat session, tough. During a blue hat session anyone can suggest procedural changes.

A possible framework

Fascinating, right? But how do you use it for a retrospective meeting?  A one hour, six hat thinking retrospective  could be structured as follows:

  • Blue hat session (5′). Set the stage for the retrospective
  • White hat session (10′)  Facts and information about what went well and not so well  during the last iteration.
  • Yellow Hat & Red Hat (15′) Share positive feedbacks and assess value of good things happened. How did you feel about that?
  • Black Hat& Red hat  (15′). Now go to risks, bad events, errors and problems occured. How did you feel about that?
  • Green Hat (10′). Now explore potential solutions and improvements
  • Blue Hat (5′) Wrapping up and next steps.

Try this framework, or experiment with different ones, mixing up the hats in different order.

Final thoughts

Don’t sing just one tune. The six hats technique allows you to get out of your deafult thinking, and sing the intere repertoire.


Marcello Del Bono is coaching and leading Agile Teams, and supporting Transformation programs. He has multi-year experience as a Product Owner, Scrum Master and Agile Coach in e-commerce, IT, Marketing and Decision Support Systems in Media, Telco, Finance, Fashion industries.

Contact him on LinkedIn.