State of Agile Retrospective

Posted by on Sep 18, 2015 in Agile with a Purpose | One Comment

Within a longer process of change, maybe an agile transformation, you  might at some point want to reflect where you are, and what to do next. A side-effect of boosting engagement, creating a sense of movement and purpose, might be beneficial. This is an example of a retrospective I’ve done in such a situation.

Make Sense of the Present

At the beginning of a large group event, I want to achieve two things:

  • get everyone to talk within the first 10 minutes, and
  • give everyone a chance to become present, to feel invited, and to align with the purpose of the session.

Starting events with exploring metaphors brings our tacid knowledge into the conversation. Clean Language Questions help us explore each other’s thoughts. It’s a lot of fun, too.

I ask: “If the journey you’re on was a dinner, what kind of dinner would that be?” This kind of metaphor allows multiple perspectives: what is the food like? How do we perceive environment and context? How do we participate in the preparation and cooking?

The magic of Clean Language is that by only using the words you heard, you help them develop their thoughts without adding much of your own thinking. To demonstrate that, I explore a few examples in the big group, asking the first volunteers about their metaphors: What kind of pizza is that pizza? Is there anything else about that queue? To better understand the questions, continue here.) When I sense people have understood the process, I very briefly explain how these questions work: “He said sometimes it happens miraculously that the food tastes good. When he said that, he wasn’t thinking about the miracle. When I asked, what kind of miraculous is that miraculous, he came up with people being engaged and motivated. That way, we help people develop their thoughts. It’s a very active and curious way of listening.”

Then I invite people to split into groups of 3-4 people and let them explore each others metaphors in the next 5-10 minutes.

Taking Responsibility

Responsibility Process

Responsibility Process by Christopher Avery

I briefly explained Christopher Avery’s Responsibility Process. Then we created columns on the whiteboard for the six steps of the process. Then I asked people to write down things of significance: things we do, or do not do, and put them into the columns. Like “testing” in “denial”, “Olaf” in “blame” etc. A simple way to allow the system to see itself…

Responsible Pocporn Retro

Responsible Popcorn Retro

What do We Want?

Given all of that, what would you like to have happen? (One of my favourite responses to a rant or complain.) People collected things they wanted, some small, some big, some existing, some new (the columns on the board are titled keep, more, add, yet that was just to inspire ideas).

From Waste to Experiments

One frequent argument against possible change is “we don’t have time”. “We can’t sharpen our axe, we have to cut down trees.” Yes, I know. I use the wonderful Chris Matts model of How to be Lazy (right whiteboard on the picture) to show that some work generates value, and some doesn’t. The non-value-adding time spend below the zero line can be used to experiment.

Popcorn Flow

Claudio Perrone has invented the beautiful and enticing idea of POPCORN flow: We create a flow of very small, very frequent changes (I suggested an effort in the range of few hours so that you can do multiple experiments a week, or even day), using these columns:

  • Problems & Observations
  • Options
  • Possible Experiments
  • Committed
  • Ongoing
  • Review
  • Next Steps

We started setting up that board later, I just introduced the process, and had people suggest example experiments.


A very quick round of one-word summaries of the experience closed the retrospective..

1 Comment

  1. Simon
    September 30, 2015

    In conclusion I can say: this was a very awesome course. I have to admit that Olaf is a very good trainer and I hope I will get the chance to take part in one of his meetings again.
    What I liked about this workshop was that a lot of people could express what they really feel about the internal structures and how we develop software just by using a simple metaphor. Everybody was able to say what’s good and what’s bad. Also Olaf gave a lot of useful advises how to be more productive and how to say no or not now sometimes.

    Please keep up the great work and I hope we will see again Olaf 🙂


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