Retrospective with Postcards

I’m always looking for inspiration for retrospectives e.g. over at Thorsten Kalnin’s or in the retrospectives wiki. Time to give back! This is a format I tried out some time ago: The basic idea is to let the participants describe the issue with a metaphor.

A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible object to represent a less tangible object or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., “Her eyes were glistening jewels.”
(Source: Wikipedia)

There are several ways to have participants come up with metaphors, e.g.

  • “Which movie title would best describe our sprint?”
  • Drawing the sprint as described in this blog entry
  • Or… Choose a postcard as a representative!

Postcards with keywords

There are two reasons to use metaphors in a retrospective:

  1. It gives a shared understanding of someone’s perspective
  2. It can open a path to find new solutions. It’s similar to an approach you sometimes take in math: Say, you have a problem and don’t know how to solve / approach it. Some problems can be transformed into an analoguous form in a different field of mathematics, where it can be solved. Afterwards you transform the solution back to the originating field and have a solution to the original problem. TadaFormulate metapher and conquer

Enough theory, this is how the session went down:

Situation: The developers and PO were going through a rocky patch back then and I wanted to help them overcome this.

Preperation: I selected about 30 postcards for 5 participants and 2 rounds. For most postcards I had a loose association how they might relate to the topic. On top of that I stacked a few random and / or abstract images for good measure. (Who would have thought my impressive collection of postcards would come in handy for my agile endeavours?) I scattered the postcards all over the room on the floor, so that the participants have to get up and wander about.

Session plan: The postcards were part of the Information Gathering phase:

  • Pick the postcard that best resembles how you see the team right now.
    (No shared postcards. If you’re not fast enough, pick another one.)
  • Write down 3 keywords that describe how you see the team (with regards to the postcard)
  • In turn everyone hangs up their postcard and keywords and explain their choice

Usually you’d only have one round but we had a second round on the question “How would you like the team to be 3 months from now?”

Followed by:

  • Brainwriting: How could we get from the Now-state to the Wish-state?
    (I often do written activities to level the playing field for quieter team members.)
  • Collect all Brainwriting ideas, cluster and dot-vote which 3 suggestions to talk about.
  • Create action items (preferably as SMART goals)

It was the most productive brainwriting session I’ve ever seen.

[This Change Management training gave me the idea with the postcards.]

PS: Need more ideas for retrospectives? Try out my very own Retr-O-Mat 🙂
The Postcards are Activity #42, Brainwriting is Activity #66 and SMART Goals are Activity #13.

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