Setting your Agile Course with the Sail Boat Futurespective

When you’re a new team, the sail boat futurespective exercise helps you to set your agile course and start sailing to reach your goal.

A futurespective exercise helps agile teams to find ways to reach their goals. The team comes together to agree upon their way of working and define actions to reach their goal.

The sail boat futurespective is based on the sailboat exercise described in Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives. You use the exercise to define a shared goal and explore how to get there:

You can use a sail boat retrospective exercise with a team to agree upon the team goal and to explore what is needed to reach that goal. This metaphor exercise includes “wind” to collect things that can help you to reach the goal, and an “anchor” to discuss things that might slow you down.

How to do the exercise

You start by discussing the goal that your team want to reach. Try to be as concrete as possible. Make the goal visible so that team members can image how it will look, and draw it in the upper right corner of a blank flip over sheet or whiteboard. For instance, if it’s a product then draw how it looks. If it’s how you want the team to be, visualize it in some way. Make a drawing how for example “the best team”or the “first team to deliver xxx  looks, and try to be specific what “best” means.

To go on a journey towards your goal, prepare by drawing a boat in the lower left corner, an anchor at the end of the boat, wind at the top, and rocks at the bottom of your sheet.

As the goal is clear now team members can start imagining how they got there. Put yourself in the future and come up with different ways of how you reached this goal. Think about the kind of things you did that helped you, write them on a sticky note and put it on the wind. Think about problems that you had along the way, make a sticky note and put it on the rocks. Brainstorm to come up with as many things as possible.

Now it’s time to go back to today. Team members brainstorm about things like the skills and qualities that they have, the means that are available for the team, anything is there to help them do their job successfully. Write down every single thing that pops up on a separate sticky note and put it on the boat. Also think about things that are hindering the team and making things difficult, write each one on a sticky note and put it on the anchor.

Now you have a drawing of the journey towards your goal. There’s the goal that you need to reach, the ups (wind) and downs (rocks) that were there along the way and all things that are there already to to start traveling (boat) or which are holding you back (anchor). You may want to take a picture of this to remember it, you can even do a short celebration with a cup of coffee or a beer for the great work that you’ve done!

But we’re not there yet. Now it’s time to start working towards actions. The team gathers around the board, look at the sticky notes, and starts clustering them on a new blank sheet. Team members work together to assemble related sticky notes and cluster them at a place on the blank sheet. It doesn’t matter if cards are on the wind or boat, or on the rock or anchor, if they are about the same (or similar) thing then put them together. Give each cluster a short headline to describe what’s in there.

As a new team that’s starting up you can’t do everything immediatly. So it’s time to prioritize. The team members will vote for the cluster(s) that they think is most important, the issue(s) that needs to be addressed now. I often use dot voting for this, where each team member get’s a number of dots that they can put on one or more clusters. Usually 3-5 dots per person works best. It’s allowed (and encouraged) to put more dots on the same cluster, people should pick what matters most and vote for that.

When the voting is done, count the dots that each cluster received. Discuss the cluster that received most dots. Team members start thinking of actions that are needed now to solve the issue. Write each action on a sticky note and put it close to the cluster that they belong to. Depending on the number of actions you might need to do additional voting on the actions  to agree upon the vital few actions that the team will do in their first iteration/sprint.

If you have room for more actions in your first iteration then team members can look at the next cluster with most points and come up with actions. Don’t define too many actions, as you won’t be able to do them anyway. Sometimes it’s better to take a fresh look at the clusters and define actions after a couple of iterations. You might need to do a new dot voting as priorities can change along the way.

Exercises for Agile Retrospectives

The sail boat futurespective is a great exercise that helps you to set your agile course and start sailing. I recommend this exercise to teams which are starting up and trying to figure out how to do their work in a good way.

retrospective exercises toolbox

This exercise is available in the the Retrospective Exercise Toolbox, a free of charge agile and lean tool that helps you to do Valuable Agile Retrospectives.

The book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives from Luis Gonçalves and Ben Linders provides many different retrospective exercises that you can use to design effective retrospectives for continuous sustainable improvement.

A book that I highly recommend for anyone who works with teams is Liftoff by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies. It provides lot’s of ideas to form agile / Scrum / Kanban teams and get them started.

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.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jonathan Pool

    This post uses gray text on a white background. It is difficult to read, especially if a user has any vision disability. The contrast between foreground and background is only 3.11. WCAG 2.1 requires it to be at least 4.5. Why not make this site more inclusive by upgrading the font color to black, or at least closer to black?

    1. Ben Linders

      Thanks Jonathan for pointing this out. I’ve set font color to black, is this Better?

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