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Full Day Retrospective For A Group Larger Than 20

Retrospective is by far the most important ceremony in Scrum or any other agile or Lean process framework. It is the retrospective that creates a continuous improvement momentum, it is because of retrospective that teams can experiment with new proposed changes and evaluate them. Without regular retrospective and self inspection, you can not claim that you are working based on some lean or agile process framework, and you will never have an ongoing improvement process that is driven and supported by all team members and stakeholders.

Although regular retrospective is important, but sometimes you also need a retrospective to look back several months (assuming the project is long enough) with all involved parties. Such a retrospective will usually take 1-2 days and the outcome must be measurable improvement proposals that have the most impact to the project performance.

Recently, I facilitated one of these retrospectives for one full day at ACTUM. We were around 30 people including programmers, IT Operation, Architects, Quality Assurance Specialists and testers, Product Owners and others. As I understand that it is rare to run a retrospective for 20+ people for 1-2 days, I wanted to share how we did it and what we learned from it, if you have similar experiences please share as well. 

The group is reviewing timeline of events. 

Before the workshop: 

Here are some points to pay attention before the workshop:

  • The room or the space where you will run the retrospective must be large enough so people can move around easily. Something like 3X larger than the size of people could be good, so if you have 30 people, make sure the room has capacity for 90 people, less than this makes it difficult to maintain the energy and collaboration. If you can not get such a large room, then make sure there are enough space out side the room so people can do some of the pair or group activities there. 
  • There must be space for snacks, fruit, water, juice, coffee and tea. And do not let these things to ran out, one day retrospective is intense and people need energy and water for brain to function.
  • Make sure you have enough stationary, coloured/fun sticky notes, enough flip charts, whiteboards, pens, markers. I will give my preferred list, but try to not save money here. These are your tools and without them you will not be able to run an effective retrospective. Buy more than what you think you will need.
  • If you have more than 20 people, get a co-facilitator to help you, especially if most of the people in the room are not so familiar with retrospective or the activities you will run. You will find it surprisingly helpful to have a co-facilitator. 
  • Make sure the lunch and dinner are set, or at least it is clear where people will have lunch or dinner together. It is important for everyone to celebrate after a long day workshop. 
  • Send an email to everyone with a brief intro and the goals of the retrospective session. Let them know in advance what you would expect from them. Let them know in advance that they should think about things that did not went well, or went well and should be recognised, what slowed the team, what pushed the team forward and faster, what sort of things could be good to do again and what to stop, what were the important events that they could mention during the session. You do not need to get a list from people in advance, just let them know that it would be good to think about some of these and take notes, so they can bring them up during the workshop.
  • Prepare a handout for participants which it includes Agenda. Also, it is good to provide some extra info so they can read during breaks. 

During the Workshop

  • Do not try to solve everything. FOCUS on maximum 3 category of initiatives. 
  • Lead the group to choose the improvement initiatives that they are motivated to run, are capable of doing them and the ones that  have real impact on the performance of the team. 
  • Not all the activities will go as planned. So, be ready and flexible to adjust. You may need to change some activities, or replace them with something else. Or even skip them to save time. Be prepared and be flexible. 
  • Also, Have some back-up activities. Backup activities are good in case you want change an activity. Or You may finish everything sooner than expected.
  • Dedicate a Table to stationaries and Tools you will use. Make sure the table is always organised and clean during the session. Keep 5S from lean in mind. 
Even after several activities, the table with stationaries should be kept clean and organised. This is the job of facilitator to keep it in order. 

  • When people are working on activities in teams of 4-6, try to help and facilitate their work as not everyone is familiar with the retrospective activities. Facilitate, Help and Coach. 
  • Give Breaks every 90 min for 10-15 minutes. 
  • Facilitate activities and the whole workshop collaboratively and led the group to make decision. 
  • Sometimes during the workshop, you must act as dictator. Be careful about the timing of it, but feel free to command and rule where necessary.
  • As you reach to the end of the workshop, keep remind the group when you will finish. For example “After Preparing Action Items, we will have Retrospective on Retrospective and one more short activity, and then we will be finished for the day and we will all go to the bar."

After the workshop

  • With the help of the team, you should capture all the data and information from the workshop. 
  • It is not facilitators responsibility to capture all data and action items, It is the team responsibility. So, feels see to ask everyone to help you. 
  • Make sure there is a sharable-collaborative document available to all, so everyone can participate in capturing data and preparing the report. 
  • Remind everyone that it is not only your job as facilitator to capture and report, but this is a team work and ideally a self-managed team.
  • Make sure those who volunteered to carry some improvement initiatives are 100% clear about what they need to do and who they can work on with, and when and where to report their progress.
  • Some weeks after the workshop, invite everyone for a 1-2 hours follow up and review the progress with change initiatives.
  • Also, it is important to measure the success of each change initiative or improvement, so you know if you should continue them or stop them or change them again.  

Agenda - One to Two Days Retrospective Workshop

I think anyone who is interested in facilitating such large retrospective will spend a lot of time preparing and refining the Agenda and that is also what I have done. Below is the Agenda of the session. 

ActivityTimeTime-boxed in Minutes % of Total Time
Intro and Let’s Ge To Know Each Other10:00 - 10:20204%
Goal of The Session10:20 - 10:2551%
Overview The Agenda For The Rest The Day10:25 - 10:3051%
Review Fundamental of Continues Improvement and Change Management10:30 - 10:355-101%
Happiness Index10:35 - 10:50153%
ESVP Activity10:50 - 11:00102%
ESVP Debriefing 11:00-11:10102%
Focus on/Focus Off Activity11:10 - 11:20102%
Focus on/Focus Off Debriefing 11:20 - 11:30102%
Retrospective Working Agreement11:30 - 11:40102%
Celebrate Project Achievements 11:50 - 12:00102%
Introduce Timeline Activity 12:00 - 12:0551%
Timeline of Events Activity12:05 - 12:35306%
Timeline of Energy and Emotions Activity12:35 - 12:45102%
Group To Review the Timeline 12:45 - 12:55102%
Lunch12:55 - 1:556012%
Introduce Patterns and Shift Activity & Form Teams1:55 - 2:05102%
Teams Identify Patterns and Shifts2:05 - 2:35306%
Introduce 5Whys and Form Teams2:35 - 2:45102%
Analyse Patterns and Shifts2:45 - 3:30459%
Prioritise Patterns & Result 3:30 - 3:40102%
Break3:40 - 3:50102%
Introduce Retrospective Planning Game 3:50 - 3:5551%
Form Pairs and Select From Prioritise Experiments3:55 - 4:05102%
Generate Tasks in Pairs4:05 - 4:20153%
Form Pair of Pairs (4 people) to Compare Tasks4:20 - 4:35153%
Form Group of 8 People and Compare Tasks4:35 - 4:50153%
Put Tasks on the Wall and Check Again4:50 - 5:05153%
Sequence and Plan Tasks 5:05 - 5:20153%
Volunteer For Tasks5:20 - 5:30102%
Break5:30 - 5:40102%
Reporting and Sharing 5:40 - 5:50102%
+/Delta Activity5:50 - 6:00102%
Appreciation Activity 6:00 - 6:10102%

And you may use this slide during the workshop to facilitate.

We used Blue colour to show Positive and High energy events, and Red Colour to show Low Energy and Negative Events. Also, we used some emoji labels to show happy, sad, neutral, excited, angry or frustrated emotions.

6 teams worked on six different identified patterns/shifts and presented their root cause analysis using 5WHYs.


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