A walking retrospective that only turns up the good

Posted by Marcus Hammarberg on April 27, 2017
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Today with my team I tried something new for our retrospective. There were a few reasons for me trying something new.

Although I think that retrospectives are a fundamental practice of any agile team and the foundation for a continuous improvements mindset … I still think that I suck at facilitating them. And I cannot get excited about doing so.

Most retrospectives become a wailing-fest of the bad things that happens and very seldom leads to actionable small (!) items that we can implement to improve.

Also … I forgot to book a room after moving the retrospective in time.

These things led me to be a little bit innovative and we ran the retrospective today as described below.

The post will be the description of how to run the retrospectives, a few lines of correct attributions and then a few thoughts about why this worked. Because it was really good! Actually.

Recipe - the walking-turn-up-the-good retrospective

We gathered in our team area and I presented the questions that would form the theme for our discussion. Both of them at the same time:

What was the best thing we accomplished the last sprint?

What is the smallest change we can do to increase the likelihood of that happening again?

I then showed the team a well-known position on a map of Stockholm and said that we would go there and then back again. It was an easy stroll, about 15 minutes away through the lovely Stockholm weather and a park where the cherry blossoms were blooming.

A reflective stroll through a beautiful spring Stockholm

We divided the team up into groups of three people that I think is reasonable to be able to walk and still have a conversation.

And we set off. I secretly took the stairs and reached the main entrance when the groups (pretty confused and bewildered about this way of doing retros) went out. I did that to remind them about the thing that we were going to discuss while walking.

As they walked I joined one group and listen in on the reasoning. I’m part of the team too, you know!

When all the groups reached the designated location we had a short summary of each of the team’s discussion. We then reshuffled the teams again and walked back towards the office again.

This time I asked each group to come up with one single thing that we could try to become a little bit better during the next period (2 weeks).

Once we got back to the office we had another short round of presentation of ideas that came up in the final discussions.

The outcome

We got three really good suggestions for small simple things that we could change to amplify the goodness we saw in the earlier period.

  • We saw that having a goalie that took care of daily duties was good because that person could support others.
    • We decided to amplify this by having two goalies as an experiment. Now they will also share knowledge and also be able to do other improvements that the rest of us seldom get the chance to do
  • We saw that focusing part of the team for a group of deliverables was a good idea
    • We decided to consider this while planning to see if we can find new things that we can work in small groups on
  • We saw that when we complete things we often learned new stuff and overcame hurdles that previously was unknown
    • We decided to book knowledge sharing sessions where we share the things we learned as we finished chunks of work

Attribution

These ideas were mostly not my own. I put them together now, but they came from other places:

The idea of focusing on the good parts is awesome is how Woody Zuill and the team at Hunter Industries came up with Mob programming

The idea of walking while talking is … as old as time. I’ve used that in a couple of other teams.

Limiting the scope and number of items to improve is based off an idea from Lean Startup and Kanban. Posing our ideas as experiments is more of the same, stemming from the scientific method.

Conclusion

This worked. Me and (I hope) the team felt invigorated and I think the ideas that we had was, for the first time, very actionable and small. Here are few things that popped up as potential reasons of this succeeding.

The walk-and-talk… outside

It’s really powerful. Get out. See new things. Walking and get some fresh air into your lungs. That’s good for you and your brain.

Turn up the good

Afterward, we reflected the shift in focus; only focusing on the good and not considering the bad. That sounds irresponsible, right?

But what I realized that one of the reasons that retrospectives, that becomes whining-fests, often doesn’t reach actionable results might be that;

Focus on negative (often) ends up focusing on stuff that we cannot control or change

Focus on positive stuff and amplifying it naturally puts focus on stuff that we are in control of

Or if we find stuff that is positive but out of our control… well, we got an excellent opportunity to go over there with a token of gratitude. A cake for example. Further spreading positive thinking.



Published by Marcus Hammarberg on Last updated