Risk registers and meetings are boring – try a project premortem instead …

What is a premortem?

A premortem is a project postmortem that’s run before a project. During a postmortem people analyse and discuss what went wrong, what went well and what could be improved.

While postmortems are very useful the problem is that by the time we run them the project is usually over and not much can be done about success and failure.

A 5-why root cause analysis retrospective

The idea

For quite a while I have been waiting for an opportunity to try a 5-why root cause analysis in a sprint retrospective. 

The 5-why analysis has its origins within Toyota and lean manufacturing and is used to find the root cause of a problem through identifying a symptom and then repeating the question “Why?” five times. General wisdom and experience state that the nature of a problem and its solution usually become clear after 5 iterations of asking “Why?”.

Here’s an example from wikipedia: 

Problem: My car won’t start.

  • Why? – The battery is dead.
  • Why? – The alternator is not functioning.
  • Why? – The alternator belt has broken.
  • Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced.
  • Why? – I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule.

 
Solution: I will start maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule.

 

The plan

I have found 5-why root cause analysis very useful in the past but had never tried it with a group of people or a software development team. 

I “conspired” with our very talented Scrum Master and the plan was to share data from previous sprints, analyse the data as a team and see if we could identify a problem. If so, we would suggest a 5-why analysis to see whether it would point us towards a root cause and a solution.
 

The execution

1) We started by presenting velocity data:

The chart shows our planned (blue) and achieved (red) velocity over the last 10 sprints.