Thursday, October 22, 2020

Let's now group the similar ones together - run away from that meeting!

After attending really many retrospectives, meetings related to lean initiatives, process improvements, etc, etc. I developed an observation I want to share with you. This is an anti-pattern.

On many of these occasions, after asking the participants to put their thoughts on sticky notes (and it can be about anything, problems, ideas, improvements, etc.) the meeting facilitator says: OK, so now that we have read all the sticky notes, I guess maybe let's group similar ones together.

This is exactly the moment when I say to myself (and this is also my advice to you): run away from that meeting!

Really, not a single meeting I was in that had gone through this "let's group similar together" activity, produced a useful outcome. I think this whole idea of grouping similar together is completely wrong in its very fundamentals. I mean, human mind is amazingly rich and powerful and a person that is put into a complex environment can usually make very insightful observations and far reaching analogies. This means, the request to the put it onto a piece of paper and to say that two pieces of paper represent something similar is very far off of reality. To me, it is like asking people to read books, then put short summary on sticky notes and then "group similar together":

  • Andy - Crime and Punishment
  • Jennifer  The Magic Mountain
  • Chris - Perfume

All are long, rich and intellectually involving books. Now, of course I'm only making a metaphor and I'm coloring it up a little bit but - based on based on sticky notes, even augmented with a short explanation, they could all fall into a really wrong bucket:

"A young man suffers after committing a murder".

"A young man experiences anxiety related to love and growing to be an adult".

"A young man feels displaced in society because of his high but very strange skills".

Andy, Chris and Jennifer have similar cards, because they all say about "a young man that experiences strong anxiety and mental pain". Is this really what you would agree with, if you were Andy, Chris or Jennifer? Absolutely not!

So, more seriously, my advice is not to run away from these meetings (although sometimes it may be a good idea), but for moderators, Scrum Masters and similar functions - to abandon the harmful practice of "grouping similar together". The world around us is amazingly complex and human mind is too powerful to just let our observations and reflections get oversimplified and incorrectly linked with each other.

See also