How to run a Big Retrospective

At Spotify we recently did full-day retrospective with 65 people. The goal was to capture learnings from a large coordinated effort involving dozens of teams for over half a year. The teams had been doing sprint retrospectives during the project, but we also felt the need to get a larger group together and look at the big picture. The key output was 3 lists:

  • Insights (“what did we learn?”)
  • Recommendations (“what should we do the same in the future, what should we do differently, and why?”)
  • Mysteries (“which questions and problems need further investigation?”)

Organizing this was a lot of work, probably one of the toughest gigs I’ve been involved in, due to the number of people involved and the complexity of the project. I’ve run full-day retrospectives before, following a similar format as this, but with only half as many people. I’ve also run larger events with 100-200 people, but “unconference” style with no specific output expected. This event was more demanding, since we had lots of  people in the room and expected concrete, actionable output. Norm Kerth’s classic on Project Retrospectives provided lots of useful ideas on how to do this..

All in all it worked out well, and we learned lots (both about the project, and about how to run an event like this).

Joakim Sundén, one of my coach colleagues at Spotify, participated in the retrospective and wrote an excellent blog post about what we did, and also listed some ideas on how we can do retrospectives like this even better in the future. Here is Joakim’s article Running big retrospectives at Spotify. PS – Joakim is the guy with the green shirt below :)

4 Comments

  • 1
    christina
    April 9, 2013 - 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi – the link to Joakims article is now broken, yet worked yesterday. Can you please update it?
    Thanks, C

  • 2
    April 23, 2013 - 4:02 pm | Permalink

    the link seems to work now, so it was apparently a temporary problem. Thx for reporting it.

  • 3
    June 6, 2014 - 6:33 am | Permalink

    […] Traditional retrospectives assemble participants in a room for a structured meeting that can last anywhere from 1 hour to as long as one day (you can find LOTS of very good advice on how to conduct traditional retrospectives; I won’t repeat that advice here). While getting together a single team for an in-person retrospective is often not more complex than booking a conference room, as the number of participants/teams increases, costs and complexity increase dramatically. We’ve produced in-person retrospectives for 30 people; and other Certified Collaboration Architects such as Henrik Kniberg have produced retrospectives for 65 people (store here). […]

  • 4
    July 15, 2014 - 8:17 pm | Permalink

    […] Traditional retrospectives assemble participants in a room for a structured meeting that can last anywhere from 1 hour to as long as 1 day (you can find LOTS of very good advice on how to conduct traditional retrospectives; I won’t repeat that advice here). While getting together a single team for an in-person retrospective is often not more complex than booking a conference room, as the number of participants/teams increases, costs and complexity increase dramatically. We’ve produced in-person retrospectives for 30 people; and other Certified Collaboration Architects such as Henrik Kniberg have produced retrospectives for 65 people (see here). […]

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