April 11, 2010

Using Open Space as a retrospective format

I was lucky enough to attend the Orlando Scrum Gathering in March this year, and even luckier to hear Harrison Owen talk about Open Space and then to have him facilitate the Open Space at the Gathering.

As he was introducing the days event, I was suddenly and powerfully struck by an idea; why had I never thought to use Open Space as a format to facilitate a team retrospective!

On returning to Cape Town I discussed with Peter, and we decided to try running it with one of our clients for a multi-team retrospective.

So, firstly, Harrison Owen's rules for Open Space:

  • Whoever comes, are the right people

  • Whatever happens, is the only thing that could have

  • Whenever it starts is the right time

  • When it's over, it's over

  • The law of two feet applies; when you feel you can no longer contribute or learn something from the session you should move on. This is not a judgment on the people or the topic.

  • The person with the passion for the topic has the responsibility to facilitate the discussion and provide feedback to the whole group,

  • Respect each other, hear what everyone has to say

  • Allow yourself to be surprised



We snuck the Open Space concept in under the radar. We started by getting everyone to put their chairs into a circle, so that you could see everyone. I introduced the rules to everyone and then we waited for the first person to introduce their topic.

We created a market place with three slots of 15 minutes and seven tables for discussion. We had 29 people which meant about 4 people to a topic at any one time. This was done with some flip chart paper stuck to a wall. We then arranged the tables and placed an identifier on the table.

The initial topic proposals were somewhat slow in coming. The important thing is to allow the space for people to think and then propose their topics. This does take some guts to let there be silences. The important thing is that when people propose topics they should not put too much detail into the proposal; the discussion should happen in the session. Within a few minutes we had a good number of topics on the wall and people went up to start looking at the board and figure out where to go.



The actual running of the session was fantastic; I had some reservations going in that people would be too reserved and would not engage with this process but the level of engagement was fantastic. Unlike some retrospectives where the role of the ScrumMaster in ensuring that everyone participates is critical, there seemed much higher levels of engagement due to the smaller groups and the passion of the individuals for their topics.

At the end we then got everyone back in the circle for the feedback time. We unfortunately ran out of time for the full feedback to happen.

Some learnings for us as coaches out of the 2 hour session:

  • We needed multiple marketplaces for a first time as people are still becoming acquainted with the process and a number of topics emerged as part of the discussion which then we didn't have time to announce to the group

  • We should have planned for fewer total number of sessions

  • The amount of time planned for the feedback round was inadequate

  • This is a superb way to encourage self-organisation in an organisation which has low levels of self-organisation.


I am really looking forward to running this style of retrospective again.
Image of peterhundermark

Peter Hundermark

Peter has worked with iterative and incremental software development processes since 1999, focusing on Scrum and Agile practices since 2006. In 2007 he started Scrum Sense in South Africa. He has introduced Scrum into scores of development teams locally and in Brazil. He leads certified Scrum training classes in South Africa and elsewhere. He is a Certified Scrum Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer.
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Image of peterhundermark

Peter Hundermark

Peter has worked with iterative and incremental software development processes since 1999, focusing on Scrum and Agile practices since 2006. In 2007 he started Scrum Sense in South Africa. He has introduced Scrum into scores of development teams locally and in Brazil. He leads certified Scrum training classes in South Africa and elsewhere. He is a Certified Scrum Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer.

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