How to use solution-focused scaling for Agile Retrospectives

Most Agile retrospectives are about how the team is feeling e.g. happy, sad, confused etc. The purpose of the discussion is to try and understand the cause of the problem so that we can fix it, in the same way that we try to debug an issue with a software program. This approach makes sense when dealing with complicated problems, such as software, which have direct cause and effect relationships. However, when working with team dynamics, people interactions and feelings, we are working with, and within, a complex system that doesn’t have a direct cause and effect relationships.


Trying to understand the root cause of something in a complex system can take a lot of time, and isn’t necessarily helpful in finding the desired solution. In complex systems, there is no direct relationship between a problem and the desired solution – this is one of the things that defines a complex system.


The Solution-focused approaches to change[1] offers a more direct approach to finding solutions in complex systems. The SF approach includes investigating for clues of where evidence of the solution you want is happening already and how to do more of it. In addition, you can also identify small actions to take, like mini-experiments, to see if these actions nudge the complex system in the direction of the desired solution.

The following retro format uses one of the tools from solution focus called Scaling. The retro outline is based on the Retrospective Patterns template.


Usage: Good to help a team understand what they are doing right, should do more of, and feel optimistic about continuous improvement.


Short Description: Use a scale to determine how well the team is doing, what is working even a little bit, what incremental improvements would look like, and what small actions would improve things. This is not a problem solving exercise but a solutions finding exercise.


Length of time: 60 minutes


Materials:

  • White-board large enough to draw a long horizontal scale.

  • Post-it notes

  • Markers/Pens

  • Optional: Flip-chart paper

Preparation: Write the questions from step 5 on one piece of flip-chart paper, and the questions from step 8 on another page and leave covered until they are needed.


Process:

I originally published the SF retro format on the REA Tech blog in 2015 and over time the graphics got lost so I thought it was time to republish it with the graphics intact and a few edits to improve clarity.

References:

1. Jackson, Paul Z. and McKergow, Mark. The Solutions Focus: Making Coaching and Change SIMPLE, Nicholas Brealey Publishing; Second Edition edition (December 14, 2006)

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