Michael Tardiff (@mjt) tweeted:

Forget pleased & surprised: I'm astonished at the energy & number of seat-switches in "Park Bench" when tackling "creating insights." Wow.

I've used "Park Bench" at the end of workshops as a way of reflecting on the day or as a debriefing technique after a training exercise to uncover group discoveries. You may be surprised that I hadn't thought of it for retrospectives. I was. Luckily, Michael thought of it.

"Park Bench" a great technique to engage a team in the "Generating Insights" segment of the Agile Retrospectives framework. It injects fun into the session with a bit of "role-playing" on everyone's part, though no real acting talent is required.

Set Up the "Park Bench" Activity

Start with a set of data gathered from all the team members - a timeline, team radar, FRIM, charts with effort or velocity data, or other substantial sets of events, attempts, accomplishments, tasks, that happened during the iteration or release.

Line up 4-5 chairs in the middle of the seating circle or across the open end of the seating "U".

Envision an imaginary "park" and visualize the line of chairs as a "park bench."

Describe the Park Rules:

There must always be at least one open seat on the bench. Anyone may join the bench (and talk) whenever there is an empty seat. If the last seat fills, someone else must leave the bench. People who are not on the bench may not comment, only people on the bench can talk. People who are not on the park bench listen closely to the conversation, take notes, and join the bench when they have something to contribute to the discussion.

In the Park

The retrospective leader (RL) sits in one of the chairs and begins to talk about a few observations of the (imaginary) park, the day, and the data, while wondering out loud what meaning other people might have made of it. The RL hopes that someone will sit on the bench too, to share and discuss their insights, thoughts about implications, and other interpretations of the data.

In the imaginary park world, people walk by, then join the RL for a while on the park bench (i.e., in one of the chairs). They share their insights, discuss, and go on their way. There may be several people on the bench at the same time. The RL may leave the bench to make room for someone new. The rotation of keeping an empty seat gives more people the opportunity to share their thoughts.

Eventually dusk falls in the park (the flow of comments slows) and everyone leaves the park bench, including the RL.

Moving into Action

Choose the next activity to help the team synthesize their insights and ideas from the Park Bench into proposals for improvement or impediment removal actions if ones have not already emerged.

Michael offers a great reminder! And not only about this activity. It's a reminder of how many activities can serve multiple purposes in supporting groups of people learning and thinking together if retrospective leaders think creatively about applying them in new situations.