Sunday, September 01, 2019

The ORID technique for Focused Conversations and Learning

Reading upon some resources for better scrum setups, I came across an acronym - ORID - for managing retrospectives better.

The general problem with retrospectives is that people keep jumping to conclusions, or keep repeating the same things in different words.

But even during meetings involving larger number of people, such as postmortems, reflections, Root cause triaging etc, conversations degrade in quality, and at times, people fail to arrive even at the common interpretations of the same set of events. Thus, objectivity takes a hit, and it is hard to arrive at good action items that everyone will agree to. 

Things keep dragging on, until the initial momentum slows down, and is finally lost by cherry picking the top few low hanging fruits that work for everyone.

So, what is a good way to keep the discussion focussed, when people want to have good learnings from a common events and decide on what to do based on them?

One answer is ORID. In this post, I will explain the understanding I built from reading around various sources, and thinking back on situations I've observed.

ORID stands for 4 steps in questioning the shared event:

  • Objective
  • Reflective
  • Interpretive
  • Decision


ORID is driven by a facilitator experienced in the method, such that the participants may not even feel like the conversation is structured. It is a group exercise, in which everyone together forms the cohesive unit, hence also being useful in scrum which is naturally about one team. A lot of the output of ORID depends on how the facilitator structures the questions and modulates the discussions. Being a 4 step process that requires carrying context, ORID requires uninterrupted time, which can be a constraint in different setups.

In the first Stage, Objective, the group tries to remember the event and sequence of events that happened. From these, the facts are distilled, which all can agree upon to be facts. The facilitator has to keep an eye out for the discussion spiraling out of the objective into emotional territory - that is a later stage. The facts are stated and heaped together, but no analysis happens. So effectively, people tell what they heard, saw, know, read etc, but not what they feet, think, imagine, worry, doubt etc.

In the second Stage, Reflective, the emotions are dealt with. How do people feel about the topics - these can be positive, negative, apprehensive, or mix of other emotions. The focus here is to get the gut reactions of individual members, which may or may not be supported by facts of the first step. The idea is to get all the fears and concerns out in the open.

In the third stage, Interpretive, the focus is on the larger stakeholders/actors. By now, all people are aware of various facts about the events, and about the way others feel about them. So more or less, everyone has an idea of what others think. However, the focus is not the individuals, but taking a broader perspective. For example, What does this mean for the organization? for the business unit? for the individual teams? for classes of people involved (leadership, developers etc)? This step is all about analytical phase, but seen from the Point of view of different hats, and not an individual

In the fourth and the last stage, Decision, the group decides. The idea is to to think about the future, get concrete action items, so that they can actually be put into practise. The focus can vary from the practically achievable to the best course of action, given the resources.

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