Multi Team Retrospectives

If you “scale agile”, doing sprint retrospectives within development teams might not be enough. We at Adobe Hamburg Shared Cloud are 8 development teams with 42 developers in total. These teams need to work together on a product which is a Platform as a Service for other Adobe products. And since sprint retrospectives work great on team level, we also established them as an “all team” activity on a quarterly cadence. Here is how we like to do it:

Set the Stage (15 minutes)

We do this all together, standing in our largest room: either setting a specific topic, taking a stand, doing a quick Improv Theater exercise, or else getting into the mood. Last activity we did was a temperature reading, creating a histogram of how people think we are doing concerning technical debt.

Gather Data (30 – 60 minutes)

This is done in smaller groups. Usually we ask everyone to build groups of 4 with people not from your own team, then do whatever “gather data” activity they like best (probably 4L, Mad Sad Glad or alike), decide upon 3 main findings.

Liberating Structure 1-2-4-all in action

Sometimes the topic is just “how does our collaboration work for you”, sometimes it is much more specific like “what is your main problem with technical debt”. Then we all get back together, and each sub group presents their 3 main findings.

A much faster way to do this is a liberating structure called 1-2-4-all: first you have 2 minutes to think for yourself about the question. Then you find a partner and discuss with him for another 2 minutes, deciding which topic is most important. Then each pair finds another pair, making it 4 people to discuss their findings and agreeing on one thing, which then is written on a large post-it and presented to the whole group (“all”).

Generate Insights (60 minutes)

Again, this part starts in smaller groups. This time groups form around one of the findings from Gather Data they are interested in working on. They first do a deep dive into the reasons for the finding they work on, probably with asking 5 whys or creating a Cause-Effect-Diagram. In this phase, it is very helpful to have quite a few facilitators helping all the small groups in their work, since as in any retrospective, I consider this the most demanding part to do.

When done, the groups are asked to create an action proposal, leading from problem-space into solution-space. This is expected to be a flip chart with a catchy title, some explanation of the insights, and a concise proposal for action.

Decide what to do (20 minutes)

Sample proposal poster, proposing better proposal posters 😉

Now it is time to vote! All small groups quickly present their proposal poster. Each poster has three areas for votes:

  • Agreement (“Go for it”)
  • Engagement (“Count me in”)
  • Veto (“We need to talk about this”)

Everyone is asked to vote on each poster, whether they agree with the proposal, even want to participate in whatever action is proposed, or vote against doing it. The latter two options are only allowed with your name on it, since the poster designers need to know who to talk to. This way, follow up working groups are composed out of all the people who put their names either into “Engagement” or “Veto”. Proposals without any veto can go into action by all engaged people instantly.

Close the retrospective

After such a long retrospective it’s good to have a short closing. Feedback door works great, and if you do the retrospective on a Friday afternoon, some beers also help to keep people discussing the results a bit longer!

One Response to Multi Team Retrospectives

  1. Tarang says:

    Thank you Tobias for sharing this experience. As, this doesn’t jump out readily, I will underscore that it is important to design the Retrospective. In this be mindful of the 5 stages, activities in each stage, the time to budget for each activity to ensure participants are engaged, as much as setting up the room to ensure problem solving and co-creation. As part of the setup it is worth bringing “objective data”, which may require gathering ahead of time, to frame the “Gather Data” stage.