The Factory Bottleneck Retrospective

By Mark Carpenter - August 15, 2019

The Factory Bottleneck Retrospective
August 15, 2019 By Mark Carpenter

The Factory Bottleneck Retrospective

Sprints are often one of the first practices teams adopt when transitioning into an agile methodology, and with good reason. A sprint creates a container within a project in which a Scrum Team can carve out a chunk of work and achieve short-term goals. It sets the pace of the project as a whole, allowing the team to establish a work rhythm and tempo. Unfortunately, the world outside of a Scrum Team or teams is likely not working in sprints. This can really throw off the Scrum Team's tempo, turning their sprints into more of a jog. This is especially true when your Scrum Team is collaborating with other teams that are not using Scrum, or your organization is new to Scrum.

Identifying the Bottlenecks

As Scrum Masters, we need to help our organizations identify and work through these "bottlenecks". To take this on, we first identify what these blockers are, then prioritize each item and begin tackling the highest impact items first.

To identify these bottlenecks, I created a retrospective I like to call The Factory Bottleneck Retrospective. The idea is to imagine your Scrum Team is a factory that churns out value. We want our factory to flow as steadily and efficiently as possible, which means removing the 'bottlenecks' that slow us down.

When starting this retrospective, it helps to set the premise by making the following statement: "A factory line can only move as fast as its slowest component. No matter how much you improve upon the other components, the factory can still only move as fast as its slowest". In other words, until we fix the bottlenecks occurring outside of the Scrum Team, we'll never be able to increase our velocity beyond what those bottlenecks will allow.

Visualizing the Bottleneck

Next, present the image of a bottleneck to the team that's similar to the one below. It just needs to portray a path that's wide on the left side, then suddenly bottlenecks on the right side. Then, draw a dotted line vertically down the middle to divide the wider path on the left from the bottlenecked side on the right. Label the left side, "Things speeding us up" and the right side, "Things slowing us down".

If your team is remote, you can easily recreate this using a collaborative, online retrospective tool, or even just a Google Doc, by creating a place to list the items that caused the team to move faster and a place for items that caused them to move slower.

Factory Line Bottleneck Retro.png

Collecting Data

Now it's time to start collecting data. Using Post-It Notes, ask everyone on the team to post things that helped them work faster in their most recent sprint on the left side of the dotted line, and things that slowed them down on the right side of the dotted line (where the bottleneck is drawn). It's good to time-box this portion of the retrospective so it doesn't drag on. Five minutes is often enough time for everyone to come up with a few items for each category.

Now that you have your data, take a few minutes to combine like items and vote on which are of the highest priority. Take the time to talk through these items with your team so you can get a clear picture of what's getting in their way and why. If their explanations are on the generic side, ask them to tell you about a time when they struggled with that issue.

By the end of the Bottleneck Retrospective, you should have a list of things that are helping your team move faster, which can be carried into your next sprint, as well as a list of bottlenecks that you as the Scrum Master can begin chipping away at.