“The difference between dreaming and achieving a goal is having a plan with accountability.” -Every Inspirational Leadership Book EVER Written
Are you looking for a powerful exercise to help jump-start your team or organization’s continuous improvement efforts? Are you feeling stuck in a rut? Or are you just looking to mix up your retrospective format to keep things fresh? If so, tap into your creative side and let’s take a trip into the future.
Setting the stage
Imagine that we are 6 months in the future and you have a peek into how the team/program/department is performing. We have achieved our business goals, our staff is engaged, and customer satisfaction is at an all-time high. How did this happen? Given we don’t have a time machine, we will have to use our brains and imagination to figure out how we got to this ideal state. Think through the following questions and write down your answers. Then we will review them all together to create a shared understanding and vision for the future.
What’s the common goals everyone was moving towards?
What did we do start doing or do more of?
What did we do stop or do less of?
Facilitating the exercise
Write the three questions below on large sticky note posters or on a large whiteboard.
Bring regular sized sticky notes and pens and lay them out for participants.
During the exercise:
Set the stage by explaining the exercise.
Have participants start creating sticky notes
(one item per card)
Try to group into clear themes as they are being
placed on the board.
Do a readout of the cards, and quickly allow for
clarification by submitters if needed.
Dot vote on the themes and/or individual cards
to identify the top items.
Split the group into 3 teams. Send the teams to
different parts of the room or different spaces work on identifying the
following for each card/theme.
Bring the groups back together to share what
they came up with.
Discuss to gain alignment.
Identify action item owners.
After the exercise:
Document the results and distribute to participants.
Propose to the group that you come back together in 2-3 months or on a regular basis to work towards the outcomes you’ve created a plan for.
Dot vote to Identify the top 3-5 items from each
category. Then break the room into 3 groups to build agreements and
identify practical steps towards achieving this ideal state. Then share back to
the room what each group came up with.
Creating an Action Plan
Work with participants to identify WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and
HOW they will begin to act on them.
What methods can we use to achieve this goal or
stop doing something?
Are there impediments to utilizing these
What practical next steps need to be taken? And who
will do them?
Depending on the number of participants in your futurespective, you may need more or less time than what is listed below. The timing below is for a group of 10-15.
There are many different ways to lead and coach within your organization. And often the type of approach you need to use can depend on your role in the organization, as well as if your role is catered towards delivery results vs the growth of individuals. Often times a consultant would need to operate more in the Partner / Modeller/ Hands-on Expert end of the spectrum. Whereas a traditional agile coach may live more in the Counsellor / Facilitator / Reflective observer end of the spectrum. This isn’t to say either should be limited to any specific end of the spectrum, however, if an agile coach were to primarily operate as a hands-on expert, they could create too much dependence on themselves and deprive others of being able to grow and improve.
Counselor – “You do it. I will be your sounding board”
Coach – “You did well, you can add this next time”
Partner – “We will do it together and learn from each other”
Facilitator – “You do it, I will attend to the process”
Teacher – “Here are some principles you can use for problems like this”
Modeler – “I will do it; you watch so you can learn from me”
Reflective Observer – “You do it; I will watch and tell you what I see and hear”
Technical Advisor – “I will answer your questions as you go along”
Hands-on Expert – “I will do it for you. Or I will tell you what to do.”
Where do you feel you fall on the coaching spectrum?
Today we will examine one element of the LeSS framework, and that is the “Overall Retrospective” model. In general, it is widely accepted that the LeSS framework is much more lightweight than SAFe. And as with any framework, you don’t necessarily need to adopt every element therein, but that doesn’t mean it hurts to examine components with a critical eye.
According to LeSS’s guide “The Overall Retrospective is a new meeting in LeSS. Its purpose is to discuss cross-team, organizational and systemic problems within the organization.” This is similar to a “scrum of scrums” but with a retrospective spin. So, can you and your organization find value by leveraging “Overall Retrospectives”? Let’s look a bit deeper and find out.
Cross-team collaboration – it is very common for teams to only be able to take their growth so far until they hit cross team or organization-wide challenges. Encouraging and providing a model for cross-team retrospectives is a big win and something many companies could majorly benefit from.
Tools provided – the model outlined in the LeSS model tees up very nicely a model that is to the point and gets to the heart of issues. The article says “An important tool for Overall Retrospectives is to use Cause-Effect Diagrams. Having the participants pick an issue and explore the different causes together in front of a whiteboard can lead to big insights and real, useful changes.” These type of methods are great to make retrospectives less subjective and move towards identifying real for experimentation and continuous improvement.
PO role – One thing you could not like about this model is that it distinguishes the PO as a separate entity from the team. This may not be the intention, but when the PO is designated as a separate piece apart from the team, it can create a dynamic on a team of “us and them”. I’ve found it helps to message and position the PO as a “peer leader” of sorts that is an equal on the team. This means that POs should be a part of their team’s retrospective. Product Ownership is such a critical component of a successful agile team, that having that role only active in cross-team retros would be missing many opportunities for growth.
Managers & Retros – Not including managers in a retrospective typically is a signal of some kind of safety issue. Aside from this model, I’ve seen many teams hold two variations of their retro: one with management and one without. I think creating MORE meetings rather than addressing the behavior of a leader that doesn’t foster safety is counter-intuitive to the principles of LeSS. That being said, I am a fan of taking realistic steps forward so the dual phase retro can serve a purpose if the long-term goal is to groom leaders that can be present at a retro and have teams feel comfortable. I’ve also found that when treating managers as agile leaders it is important for them to attend retrospectives so they can take away action items to help support the team. If a manager spans multiple teams it could make sense for them to not be present at a team’s retrospective. I realize this may be counter to the popular belief in many agile circles, but take some time to consider if keeping managers in a silo away from the team is solving the right issue.
If your organization is struggling with cross-team collaboration “Overall Retrospectives” could prove to be a tremendous resource. As with any tool or process, you will want to carefully evaluate how to customize it for maximum benefit and minimal waste. LeSS is seeking to solve all the right problems with this process, but you may want to reconfigure the attendees at each level of retrospectives. Do you have experiences using this format or something similar? If so please do share in the comments!