How Futurespectives Help Teams to Reach Their Goals

FuturespectiveMany agile teams are doing retrospectives at the end of their iterations to reflect on their way of working and find things that can be improved. But what if teams are starting up and trying to figure out how to do their work? A futurespective exercise helps agile teams to find ways to reach their goals, agree upon their way of working and define a Definition of Done.

Retrospectives are done more and more now agile is going mainstream. Many organizations start doing them; they are one of the practices described in Scrum, next to planning games, stand-ups, and sprint reviews.

Scrum proposes that the retrospective is done at the end of the sprint (iteration). But you can also use retrospectives at the beginning of an iteration or when a new team is assembled. Such a retrospective is called a futurespective: A retrospective where you start from the goal and explore ways for getting there.

How to do a futurespective

In a futurespective teams places themselves in the future by imagining that their goal has been reached. They start such a retrospectives by discussing the team goals to ensure that team members build a common understanding.  The goals are formulated and written down so that they are visible for everybody.

Optionally teams can write down which benefits they got from reaching their goals. If teams likes to party they can even do a small celebration for having reached the goals, which can help to make teams aware of the importance of reaching it.

Next teams discuss their imaginary past and explore how they have gotten to their goals. There are two things that that teams question themselves:

  • What are the things that have helped us to get here?
  • Which things made it hard for us to reach our goal?

Optionally teams can also discuss:

  • What did we learn as team along the way towards reaching our goal?

Teams can use sticky notes, flip-overs and/or white boards to capture the results from the discussions. When you do the exercise with remote teams you can use a Google Doc or tools like Lino or Groupmap.

Now the teams go back to the present. The results from exploring the past are used to agree how to work together in teams to reach the goal. This can for example be done by:

  • Defining a Definition of Done.
  • Making a list of tools that will be used, processes/practices that teams will use, etc.
  • Defining actions that are needed to work together effectively.

A good practice is to make the decisions and actions visible, e.g. by posting them on the team’s taskboards or putting them on the wall at the team’s workspace.

Be careful to not have too many actions coming out of the retrospective. It helps when teams agree to only do the Vital Few Actions that are needed now to get started. There will be more retrospectives where teams can reflect and define those actions that will be most valuable to do at that time.

Imagining the past

Discussing the past can initially feel somewhat strange for teams. Since teams haven’t reached their goals yet, they won’t have any facts or things that have actually happened.

So how can you explore an imaginary past? Here are some techniques that you can use:

  • Brainstorming: Team members come up with ideas on what might help or hinder them to reach the goal.
  • Storytelling: “Once upon a time there was a team that wanted to reach a goal. Along the way they had several things which helped them, but there were also some barriers …”.
  • Experiences from previous projects: Team members can tell about things they did or learned from earlier projects and share learnings of what worked or didn’t work.
  • Angel’s Advocate: One team member come up with a thing that helped, other team members build on this by saying what they like about it and add things to support it.
  • Fearless change journey: This is a game teams can play to find their way towards a goal and learn to deal with impediments along the way. For a write-up how this game was played at the OOP 2015 conference, see Playing the Fearless Journey Game.

These are some ways that facilitators can stimulate creative thinking and help teams to find things that can help them to reach their goals.

Retrospectives help teams to grow and improve

A futurespectives is on of the many exercises that you can use to spice up your agile retrospectives.  Retrospective deliver many benefits: They give power to teams, enable teams to do their own actions and to do sustainable improvement.

Do you want to learn how to do valuable agile retrospectives? You can attend one of my workshops on Valuable Agile Retrospectives to learn how to adopt agile retrospectives, and download a book with retrospective exercises. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss the possibilities.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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