Retrospective tip: Let activities build upon each other

Posted by Chris on February 15, 2011

When planning a retrospective you as the facilitator need to come up with a set of activities that help the group in discussing and learning about whatever goal you have for that particular retrospective. If you follow a basic framework for planning your retrospectives, such as the one proposed by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby (Set the Stage, Gather Data, Generate Insights, Decide What to Do & Close the Retrospective), this often turns into simply choosing an activity for each phase with no real connection between them.

For instance, you might choose to do a timeline to gather data, then a brainstorming activity to generate ideas for improvements and finally a dot-vote to decide what to do. While this can work just fine, I have found that when I am able to combine several activities so they build upon each other the result can be much better. Here is one example of how this can be achieved.

Satisfaction Histogram and FRIM leading into Force-Field Analysis

This week I facilitated a retrospective for the new development team that I have assembled at work. This was the first time that this team did a retrospective after working together for four weeks and I wanted them to start thinking about how satisfied they are with how things are working out. After getting started with an introduction to retrospectives and checking in we did a quick anonymous vote for how satisfied they were with work, in four dimensions. I chose two dimensions regarding the product increment they completed (Quality and Quantity of the increment) and two dimensions regarding how it was achieved (Teamwork and Support (-ing Environment)). Every one voted 1-5, I tallied the votes and then created a Satisfaction Histogram[1] on a flip chart.

After a quick discussion about the results I hung the histogram on the wall and we then moved on to a second activity for gathering data, Diana Larsen’s FRIM which is one of my favorites for this. At this stage we did not talk more about the dimensions of satisfaction, they just wrote down good and bad things that happened during the four weeks and posted them on a grid according to frequency and impact. We finished with a good discussion of patterns and themes on the grid.

While the group was busy with the FRIM activity I prepared four flip charts for the next activity, doing a Force Field Analysis[1]. For each one of the dimensions I had written the name at the top and then divided the chart into two sides. On the left (negative side) were forces that was restraining the group’s satisfaction in that dimension of work, and on the right (positive side) were forces that was reinforcing it. Now I asked the group to move the post-it notes from the FRIM grid to these flip charts. They also ranked them (using both frequency and impact plus a bit of intuitive “gut feeling”) to show which forces were larger than others.

This set of activities is an example of how you can move back and forth between gathering data and generating insights, to really get as complete a picture as you can and drill into it to really understand it. When the group was done they had a good idea of which forces were the most important to focus on and we could move into the phase of coming up with actions to do during the next iteration.

One interesting insight that one of the participants made was that it was interesting to see that there were only positive post-it notes for the dimension that the group initially voted the highest satisfaction for. Their initial instinctive feelings turned out to be very similar to the much more detailed picture they created through multiple rounds of thinking and analyzing, which was pretty cool.

Credits/references
[1] Agile Retrospectives: Making Teams Great, Diana Larsen and Esther Derby

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