Effective retrospective with Rory’s Story Cubes®

Simone D'Amico
Mar 11, 2018 · 4 min read
Take all nine cubes and give them a shake, then roll them and start your story

Last November I spoke at Italian Agile Day about make effective retrospective with Story Cubes. Slides are available here.


According to founder:

Rory’s Story Cubes® is the pocket-sized creative story generator that encourages creativity, develops social confidence, enhances language development skills and creates connections and unique moments between people young and old alike.

In other words those cubes were born as a storytelling game for children but they are much more than a game. You can learn how to use the cubes here.

I discovered Story Cubes thanks to Emanuele and I fell in love with them immediately. I bought the entire collection even if I had no idea how to use. One of the thing that struck me when I first met cubes was the simplicity in which I can express my ideas and opinions clearly.

I started playing with my wife and reading on web about the cubes and I found a lot of ways in which they are used. One post in particular caught my attention: Rory Cubes for Sprint Retrospective. Thanks to this post, a light bulb went on over my head and I started to think about integrate and adjust the format in order to moderate retrospectives in teams I work with.

After some sprints in which I used Story Cubes I refined the technique by making some adjustments to what was written in the Ilia’s post. Before to explain how we use the format in our retrospectives I’d like to dig a little deeper on pros and cons we experienced.

Our first retrospective using Rory’s Story Cubes

PROs and CONs

Story Cubes enable people to tell their stories encouraging the storytelling. People love stories. We love telling and listening to interesting stories. The need for this is embedded deeply by the nature. Each sprint for a team is a different story with its own ups and downs and needs to be treated in a different way.

Using cubes allowed us to created relaxed environment and encouraged more contribution from attendees. Also they allowed us to generate items that the team wouldn’t have normally considered.

Another advantage of Story Cubes is the ability to avoid repetitiveness and standardization. In other standard formats like Mad, Sad, Glad or KALM (Keep, Add, More, Less) attendees already knew what to expect and retrospectives lost their effectiveness. With Story Cubes each retrospective is a new story and every attendee contributes actively.

Different sets of Story Cubes can be used in different types of retrospectives. For example Voyages are more effective for futurespectives.

I recommend this format in teams with difficulty in brings out problems or team members with “blank page syndrome”. I also recommend to use cubes in teams who never made retrospectives.

The other side of the coin in using the cubes is that it does not work for every team. Some of the criticisms I received mainly concern distrust in randomness of the story. Story Cubes are based on conceptual reasoning which brain is great at making links between things.

Every time you roll nine cubes, your unconscious mind takes in patterns the cubes have made and begin to make connections between them. Rory’s Story Cubes uses this link between images and words to help us to tell stories.

http://www.cocoonprojects.com/labs/rory-story-cubes/serious-game-rorys-story-cubes-starting-journey/

Not everyone feels at ease in using the tool.

Other not negligible cons are:

  • Story Cubes are not suitable for remote approach. We are a remote company with colleagues distributed throughout Italy (often also Europe) and it’s not easy to shake and roll cubes through a video call.
  • Story Cubes are not suitable for large teams. The main concept is a story created through 9 cubes in which everyone actively participates. When one or more of the attendees can not tell their part of the story, the format loses its effectiveness.

How we use Story Cubes in retrospective

The format we are using is based on 5 steps:

  • Ice-breaking
  • Look back
  • Gathering Insights
  • Look forward
  • Closing

Ice-breaking

During the ice-breaking step one person rolls, then each participant picks one cube and complete the statement: “Last sprint was great because…”

That phase allows people to break the ice and start thinking to last iteration in a positive way.

Look back

Let’s tell a story about the last iteration. One person rolls, picks one cube and begins the story with something like “Last sprint was…”. Each participant picks another cube and continues the story. Story should follow the basic rule of Story Cubes: 3 cubes for beginning, 3 cubes for middle part, 3 cubes for the end.

Gathering Insights

Keeping the story in the middle of the table, in this step team discusses about the last sprint: the way things wend down, issues, ideas, … We use Post-it notes to enable conversations.

Look forward

Now it’s time to look to the future. I like to use Actions cubes for this step. Team tells a new story, this time focused on “What should we do differently next sprint to be more successful?”

Closing

Similar to Ice-Breaking step each participant picks a cube and complete the statement: “Next iteration will be great because…”

I like to make connections between Closing phase of a retrospective and Ice-Breaking phase of next iteration. It’s a funny way to analyze team progress and see if ideas are actually turned into practice.

Intro Image Credits: http://www.deskovehry.com/en/review-rorys-story-cubes-voyages-max/

Simone D'Amico

Written by

Agile software engineer and speaker at @FlowingIs

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade