Every year, a group of Retrospective Facilitators gather for a small residential conference alternating between US and European borders to share, inspire and better further the retrospective practice. This year, we ran it in Radstock, located just outside of Bath, UK. As far as I know, the conference has always run using Open Space rules – the result? In this case, thirty five participants (almost 35% of them new) ran and participated in sessions throughout a week.
Similar questions returned to the community including best ways to run retrospectives across distributed locations, what to do to ensure change is long lasting, and how do people run retrospectives differently.
The conversations at the conference reminded me of a number of lessons I’ve learned before and certainly reinforced my own thoughts. Some of these include:
- Retrospectives aren’t just limited to What Went Well/Less Well or the Retrospective Starfish – In one open space session, the community contributed another 30 or 40 different new exercises to the fold. See the Project Retrospectives or the Agile Retrospectives book for some more ideas. Try something new! Facilitation is a difficult thing – Not everyone makes (or can be) a great facilitator. Poor facilitators will have a negative impact on retrospectives.
- Facilitators and participation create a conflict of interest – The most ideal situation is to have an independent facilitator. Those coming from an agile community seem to run into this dilemma the most.
- Preparing for retrospectives is essential – People don’t spend enough time working out who is the sponsor, what they want out of it, and how to design the session to meet those goals.
- Retrospectives have many outcomes – Some of these include a common story, shared vision, and a point of change
- Change is hard – Retrospectives play a role in change, it doesn’t guarantee it. Ensuring change happens or is sustained goes further than a retrospective.
Stories and Retrospectives
Norm wrote the original book on Project Retrospectives and intentionally focused it on telling stories. The retrospective was designed to ensure everyone has a chance to talk about their story, and also to work towards some sort of long lasting change. With heartbeat retrospectives and even project retrospectives, sometimes we don’t spend enough time on either of these aspects.
A really good model I learned that works even beyond this, and what every effective conversation is has is based on the ORID model (Objective, Reflective, Interpretive and Decisional). In many teams I’ve worked with or on mailing lists I read, I’ve noticed most statements formed in terms of only Reflective and Decisional. As an example, “I think we should do … because I feel this is wrong.” Effective conversations include all ORID aspects.
I noticed the majority of people at the conference came from the agile space (of whom, seemed to label themselves as Scrum practitioners). Only a small handful of people seemed to come from outside the agile space, and in one way, I felt it diminished the conferences with many of the conversations focused around retrospectives in agile situations.
I would like to see more people practicing retrospectives who work outside of the agile space to attend to bring a different focus.
Beware the Meta Monster
Last year, I felt like something wasn’t quite perfect at the gathering and couldn’t quite place my finger on it. One metaphor that might explain it is the Meta Monster (talked about at previous gatherings). The metaphor of the Meta Monster exists when you put a bunch of experienced facilitators together. Instead of participants fully participating in each session, participants facilitate the facilitator (or at least suggest ways they would do it better). I would find it interesting to compare the gathering to a conference by the International Association of Facilitators. It’s not especially noticeable perhaps tempered by the retrospecting nature of this community. There is still something there though.
Here’s my quick attempt at picturing what the meta monster might be like (made online here)
New Books to Read
- The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander
- The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- The Art of Making Things Happen by Philip B. Crosby
- The Reflective Practitioner by Donald Schon
- The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schon
- Art of Focused Conversation by R Brian Stanfield
- Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most by Stone, Patton, Heen & Fisher
NASAGA (http://www.nasaga.org/) – An organisation who also run a conference around simulation games
“There is no resistance to change – just a lack of support”
“People don’t like to talk about their fears, so talk about challenges instead”