"Set the Stage" in Retrospectives

Luis Goncalves was a student of the Coaching Agile Teams class in 2012 where he was exposed to Constellations. He is an agile coach who can be reached on Twitter at @lgoncalves1979. It is my pleasure to cross-post this blog entry that first appeared on Luis’ blog. – Lyssa

Hi guys, this week I offer you a small exercise that can be used at your retrospectives, specifically, in the “Set the stage” part. There are many different exercises out there that can be used to start a retrospective, but I particularly like this one. I learned it a few months ago in Lyssa Adkins' workshop in Stockholm (Coaching Agile Teams). This is a great exercise for people who do not like or do not feel comfortable sharing openly their opinion/feelings, at least in the beginning of the project when they still do not completely trust everyone.

We begin a retrospective with a welcome to the team members and with setting an affirmative goal for the session and this is where the “Constellation” exercise can be used. Like I have already said, due to the cultural backgrounds or the personality of team members, answering some questions can be difficult for some, but this exercise can help, because people do not need to speak in order to answer questions. He-he, now you might start wondering, “How could it be possible to answer questions in a team meeting without speaking”? Here is how we can do that…

Start with making an open space, move tables and chairs around, if needed. Put an object on the floor and explain to the team that this object is the center of the Universe and kindly ask them to form a circle around it. Explain to them that you will read some statements, and while you are reading the statements you would like them to move closer to or farther away from the “Universe” depending on how true the statement is in regards to them. So, if they really agree with the statement they should move as close as possible to the “center of the Universe”; if they do not agree with the statement, they should step back away from the center. Once you read a question, let the team observe the “system”, as Lyssa said, “Let the system reveal itself”.

You can use any topic you wish for this exercise, e.g., “How mature is our continuous integration process?”, “How mature is our automated testing process?”, etc. Just choose a topic and ask several questions related to that topic and let them see where they stand. Like I said, they do not need to give verbal answers at all, they answer with the movements by showing their position in the “system”. You could do several questions until you feel a good vibe from the team. To benefit fully from this exercise, you could ask the team in the end: “Where were you surprised with the shape?” and let them talk to each other a bit.

As a next step, you can, for example, ask the guys to form small groups of no more than three people each and ask each group to write down what they think would be the most important issue to improve. Of these issues you could then routinely select the most urgent issues to be improved in the next iteration. After that just agree with the team who will be responsible for what and close the retrospective.

Thanks guys,

This story was originally posted at Luis’ blog. This post generated a lot of learning for many people!