Sunday, April 21, 2013

Facilitating a retrospective with 50 people in an hour

As one of the volunteers at Agile 2012 I was honoured to be asked to facilitate the volunteer retrospective.

There were a few constraints that made this retrospective challenging. First, due to our volunteer responsibilities we had just under an hour to eat lunch and complete the retrospective. Second, there are about 50 volunteers - allowing everyone to have a voice in such a short time frame would be a challenge. Third, it was important to all of us to celebrate the things that went well and also give a clear, prioritized list of ideas to future volunteer teams.

After discussing the constraints and various facilitation options with some of you, here is what we did:

1. Instead of building a timeline of our experiences we held the retrospective in our volunteer room. Throughout the week we had plastered the walls with our schedules (including happy/sad faces), guidelines, issues, ideas for improvement, etc which then served as visual provocations for the retrospective.

Picture courtesy of Adam Yuret
2. We used silent brainstorming liberally in order to speed up the retrospective while still including every voice. In general we followed the Rising Patton Fusion retrospective model that combines silent brainstorming, silent grouping, and silent voting.

3. We split into 5 groups of 10. Each group would perform a retrospective step together before sharing their results with the larger group.

4. The two major prompts we used in the retrospective were:
The combined 'greats'
- "It was great because...". Each table wrote these in silence, read them out loud to each other, grouped them in silence and then named the groups. The named groups were then shared with the rest of the tables and consolidated into one larger list.
- "Do differently". Once again, each table wrote these in silence, read them out loud to each other, and then voted in silence. The top 3 items from each table were again shared with the rest of the tables and consolidated into one larger list.

5. Finally, we posted pictures of all the results (yes, every single post-it note) on the Agile Conference Volunteers Facebook page for later reference and comments.

It was a lot of fun and seemed to work well given the constraints. We achieved our goal of giving everyone a voice in a short time period, celebrating what went well, and also producing a nice list of actionable ideas for next year. Anything you would do differently?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

In pursuit of better, not best

I realize that many of you already scowl when you hear anyone talk about 'best practices'. Instead of adding to that discussion, I'd like to share a short story with you about someone who influenced me to keep looking for better and to never assume that I've reached 'best.'

I can still picture Mr. Loewen leaning on the desk at the front of my grade 9 class and settling in for a speech. The tone of his voice and even his posture indicated that what he was going to say was important. I think I expected a lecture on the importance of the subject, paying attention in class, working hard at the assignments, or being respectful to the teacher. Or maybe he was going to give his 'outstanding student' joke - students who crossed the line would end up 'out standing in the hallway'. Instead, he confessed to us. He confessed that he didn't know it all. Of course I can't remember the exact words, but it went something like this:
"In this course I'm going to teach you what I know to the best of my ability. I'm going to tell you truths as I understand them today. But, someday you will encounter ideas and truths that might make more sense than what I have taught you in this course. You will discover that some of what I have taught you is wrong. When you encounter those ideas, embrace them. And even as you embrace those new truths, remember that you, also, might be wrong again."
Those words sat with me for a long time before I saw the wisdom in them and embraced them. They have served me well and taken me through some challenging times. Thanks Mr. Loewen.