Sprint Retrospective Using The World Cafe Method

The Sprint Retrospective provides one of the best opportunities for Scrum teams to discover improvements. Retrospectives aren’t the only opportunities. And Scrum Teams aren’t the only organisation members that need to discover opportunities for improvement.

This post will describe a facilitation tool that I’ve used to help teams and other stakeholders discover such opportunities. For each, I will also describe a situation in which I used it effectively. The name of the organisation will be anonymised.

Sprint Retrospective using the World Cafe Method

The method:

The World Cafe is a large group facilitation technique that facilitates people to engage in dialogue. It’s simple and effective. The 7 principles follow below.

  1. Setting – set up the environment for small group discussion. Use round tables covered in flipchart paper or a paper “tablecloth” for people to write and draw on. Groups should be between 4 and 5 people – not more than this because the intimacy of the conversation may be lost. 
  2. Set the context – the host…it may be you…welcomes all present and takes everyone through the process and the etiquette.
  3. Rounds of small groups – each small group discusses a question for 20 minutes. After this time each member of the group moves to a new table. A table host may stay behind to host discussions with new participants and hold the previous rounds’ context. Switching tables can happen for about 3 rounds. Participants can add to the ideas and drawgins on the table cloths.
  4. Questions – each round has a specific question – you, as the World Cafe host need to think carefully about these. Off course, the same questions can be used, or each new question builds on the previous one.
  5. Harvest – after the rounds a representative of each group shares the discussions in plenary with the entire gathering. The discussions are recorded by someone using a variety of techniques – the most popular and also my favourite is visual recording or sketchnoting.

The situation:

The Bank was picking up the pieces after a failed multi-million ZAR project, most of which was outsourced to an offshore vendor. There were the inevitable “organisational casualties”, the contract with the vendor was canceled and IT decided to incrementally re-write the system on their own. This became a priority for many teams, including Infrastructure and System Operations. Management decided that Scrum would be used. At the retrospective after the first release, all teams were present, approximately 50 people. I decided to use the World Cafe Method because of the size of the group and because of the richness that would come from the conversations with all stakeholders, including the business. It worked well – after a slow start, conversation ramped up and all people were engaged. The results were good and feedback from the participants was positive. They had never been through a process like that and were pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Did it lead to actionable improvements? Yes it did, and there was buy in by the stakeholders because they were involved. This was not a retrospective in the traditional sense involving just the Scrum team. There were other stakeholders present and this was deliberate. And it followed a release which had taken many sprints to achieve. I hope you try this the next time you have a similar situation, and I’d love to hear about it.

© 2019 Regina Martins. All Rights Reserved.


Interviews Leadership Talks

My InfoQ Interview on Anti-Patterns of Agile Leaders

After speaking at Agile Practitioners 2016 in Tel Aviv, Ben Linders interviewed me about the important role leaders have in agile. It was originally published on InfoQ on February 25, 2016.

I have copied it and you can read it below or on InfoQ.

Leadership Scrum Talks

The Spiderman Antidote to the Anti-patterns of Agile Leaders

This annual event is happening on the 19th and 20th October and this year it is in Johannesburg.

My proposal for a 90-minute workshop was accepted and I am speaking on the 19th – The Spiderman Antidote to the Anti-patterns of Agile Leaders.