Adding some future to the Retrospective; Futurespective techniques

The last quarter of the year is always super hectic. As the amount of daylight time on this part of the hemisphere decreases we tend to feel the pressure of the holiday season fast approaching. On a business level any remaining budgets might need to be spent as soon as possible. On a personal level you might be re-evaluating those New Year’s resolutions from way back when. Time flew by didn’t it? And what did you accomplish this year?

Retrospective versus Futurespective

One of the ceremonies we use in Scrum is the Retrospective. As the term implies the focus is to look back at a recent experience (usually the previous Sprint) with the intent to discover possible improvements for the next experience. It’s basically the ‘check’ part in plan – do – check – act. But there are situations where it is (also) useful to put the focus towards what’s still to come. These exercises are often referred to as the ‘Futurespective’.

When to use a Futurespective

All the exercises/ techniques that I share here can be used to spark up discussion with a team or an individual. Heck these exercises aren’t even restricted to anything Scrum or Agile. You might use these at the start of a project, to prepare for an assignment, when forming a new team, or just when you feel stuck in life. Let me know how you use the Futurespective.

Circle of influence and circle of concern

One more thing before I dive into it. Before starting out any Futurespective or Retrospective exercise I like to take the time to remind the people I coach, be it teams or individuals, the theory behind the circle of influence and the circle of concern. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you should pick up ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey in the bookstore. No time for that now of course so you can just browse through the theory here.

Basically Stephens’ theory helps us to direct positive energy. Make sure that the things you aim for are mostly within your circle of influence. So that you can actually make that change. In your circle of concern you make yourself dependent of other people or outside circumstances. Try and put focus on the elements within your grasp, the things you can control. Move away from “I can’t because he or she ..” or “I can’t because I’m waiting for ..”. What CAN you do?

Ok, so let’s dive into it now.

It ain’t over until the fat lady sings

This exercise I use to help a Development Team kick into maximum gear for that last stretch of highway. You can use it either for teams to brainstorm on as a group or it can be used for individual coaching. It’s meant to help create clear focus and dedication in the final stages of a process. There are 4 steps, discuss one by one, top to bottom and write down any outcomes. Make sure you keep the list of improvements compact. Better to focus on one goal than on ten.

Futurespective ‘Goals to reach’

Start by asking the question: what ideas, intentions do you have for the last bit of this year (/assignment/project/PI/..) to give yourself the ultimate feeling of success at the end?

  1. Intention. What ideas or intention do you intend to carry out? So what is it that you can do at this point to be even more awesome, and to create results above expectation?
  2. Target. What is the key outcome your idea will influence or create? This thing that you intend to do in this last stretch, what main goal should this influence?
  3. Successful if. What are the indicators that prove the key outcome is being reached? When you look back, when can you say you’ve carried out your intent successfully?
  4. Failure if. What are the indicators that prove the key outcome is NOT being reached? When you look back, when can you say you’ve carried out your intent unsuccessfully?

Make sure participants walk away from this exercise having a clear idea of what they can (and hopefully will) do differently today to ensure overall success.

Being stuck never got anyone anywhere

This exercise I use to coach teams or individuals who are stuck. Something might be holding you back to reach your goals. Sometimes it’s you holding back yourself because you are afraid of real change. This exercise forces participants to define whatever worries they have and realistically check if this should actually be a worry. There are 5 steps, discuss one by one, top to bottom and write down any outcomes.

Futurespective ‘Fear exercise’

Start by asking the question: if look forward on what’s to come, what do you see coming, and how is this holding you back in the present?

  1. What are the problems/ challenges you see coming in the near future?
  2. What could go horrible wrong if that happens?
  3. What can you do to prevent that from happening?
  4. And if it does happen are there things you can do or people you can ask for help to fix it or minimize damage?
  5. To what end: what will come after we solve them.

Focus should be on the final step. Make sure the participants walk away with a clear understanding that the loss of something not tried, a leap not taken, might be greater than the loss of a false sense of safety, the loss of the changes missed remaining in your comfort zone.

Grant yourself your wishes

‘Move forward in life always and embrace change’ they say. ‘Change is life’ they say. But how do you determine your direction in life? Take charge and grant yourself wishes to make sure life isn’t something that happened to you while you were still overthinking your options. This exercise is like your New Year’s resolutions. Only you can do it as often as you want. And you can make it about gym membership or about moving server capacity to the cloud. Whatever is on your wish list.

Futurespective ‘Letters to yourself’

Start by asking Team members or whomever you are coaching to write their future selves a letter in which they grant themselves one wish. There are no right or wrongs on form, it can be an epistle, clear directive or a limerick. But whatever you do, grant yourself at least one clear wish within your circle of influence that is reachable within near future. It might be something you have been putting off, something you’ve told yourself there simply isn’t the time or the priority for, but something you have been carrying about for a while. The time is now. Write is down and as Picard said “Make it so”.

There’s no need to share what you wrote down but agree with other participants on a time (for example next quarter, or in 6 months’ time) when you will open your letter and share if you’ve accomplished the goal you set out for yourself. This allows you to retrospectively look back at yourself and your life at that point to see what you Liked, Learned, Lacked or will Start, Stop, Continue or find Plus, Minus, Interesting etc.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand. — Norm Kerth

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