Retrospectives combined with open spaces

Recorded at Lean Agile Manchester on 21st June 2017
Michael Lambert shares how combining retrospectives with open space technology is very effective to help their teams with wider feedback loops.


I want to talk about two great Agile tastes that taste great together, so something we’ve discovered while we’re doing Agile, that open space meeting and retrospectives really work well for some of our longer feedback cycle represe- longer feedback cycle events. So who knows what an open space meeting … who’s experienced those?

So a few of us. Not everybody. Okay so, do this quick. So what’s open space? It’s a self-organizing practise where basically we’re trying to use creativity and leadership and a collective activity to get buy-in and a different way of doing meetings.

So it’s only got five guiding principles. First one is about people, whoever turns up are the right people to turn up because you’re the ones that care. The next one is whenever it starts is the right time. You can’t … you’ve got to enter the creative flow at the right point in time. Third one. Whatever happens is the only thing that can happen so don’t worry about it. It just rides away if … go with it. Practise that Agile ‘yes and’ mentality. And when it’s over it’s over, ’cause creativity own rhythm, it’ll … naturally you mine out certain topics. So the way we do it … Oh, sorry, there’s one more. That’s law of two feet, which is it’s your responsibility to go to the place where you can add and contribute the most and if you’re and to contributing or adding, move on somewhere else if you can add value there. So that’s open space meetings.

Who knows about retrospectives? See some more hands. Yeah that’s good. Thank god for that. So that was my definition of a retrospective. We know them and love them. One of the problems with them is they can become a little bit stale. They’re quite good for the fast retrospectives like sprint retrospectives or even shorter ones. The daily stand-up’s great. But some of our longer cycles … so we release every six weeks and we have a six-weekly release retrospective, and you can get into this problem of proximity, it’s just the things that’s happened in the last week that people are talking about, stuff that happened at the beginning didn’t work. And we were finding we were building a backlog of stuff up that we weren’t actually getting through. So we kept coming up with some ideas and ways of fixing them but they were just coming into a backlog and then not getting actioned.

Somebody had a great idea which was, ‘Why don’t we use … ‘ We really just used the open space meetings at that time and they said, ‘Why don’t we try and combine those two great things, open space and a retrospective.’

So we did this and we did it by splitting the retrospective into two parts, so there’ll be a normal retrospective at the beginning where you solicit ideas and that’s just post-it notes, just brainstorming around, the KISS scenario, what do you want to keep, what do you want to improve, what do you want to start, what do you want to stop? Use any of those techniques to generate your list of items, normally on post-it notes, but then don’t them, to see what people are actually interested in and then we’d go into an open space meeting.

So we’d take the four top voted items, we’d stick those onto sheets. The people that were interested in those would then would go off for say a 20 minute session, where you’d actually put them at each corner of the room and you’d go in a people that were interested in that, start drawing up your ideas, documenting it on a sheet and that’s basically it. Those two things worked together.

So what do we find happened? Well, sure we got the right people turning up, it was a bit more self-organizing and people got more involved in the topics we were discussing. Pretty obvious that one.

So it’s all about feedback loops. Well all of Agility is about feedback loops. I think the biggest win for us was that actually what we found was big topics and items were actually getting resolved because the right people were talking about them, the right interested people were then taking them out of that meeting and seeing if they could get a resolution.

All good stuff. Something we’ve learned. I’m sure other people could use that to great advantage as well so thank-you.

Further information...

The content of this article is just the tip of the iceburg. To dive deeper into any of these case studies or concepts join our 2 day Portfolio Kanban live online course.

Application for a free Agile Coaching session

I would like to speak with an advisor