Large Scale Retro — Retrospective for 8 teams

Every once in a while (about 3 months cadence) we run a “Release Retrospective” (surprise — surprise, that’s after every major release) and we wanted to get as many teams involved as possible. This time it was a vast majority of the company (6 dev teams, 1 IT and 1 Customer Support team). We have also learned that having 40+ people in one room for 3–4 hours and keeping them engaged is something that we are not great at. So we have decided to try something different this time (not ground breaking by any stretch, but new enough to us) and I’m here to share the experience and provide some step by step instructions in case you might want to try it.

First we asked each team individually, few days prior, to think about topics/items they would like to bring up at the retro. We asked for a maximum of 5 topics per team. Then we asked each team to elect 2 team members that would go to the retrospective and be the voices of the team.

This was step one to downsizing yet still giving each team a chance to be heard.

In our case we also ran Team Self Health Check (you can find a quick post about that here) just a week prior, which gave teams a good understanding of what they can work on and what might be worth bringing up at the retro.

We set the date and time and gave ourselves a strict timebox of 2 hours. We did some room prep and set up 4 tables around the room with 4 chairs at each. Extra chairs were available if necessary.

Here is a quick look at our agenda (at the end of our retro):

  • 5 min Intro to get everyone on the same page on how we are going to do this and align expectations. At this point we have realized that we got way more people than we expected (some teams had 3–4 people from their team) so we had to improvise a bit.
  • Round 1 (10 min). We made sure that each table consists of 2 teams (the plan was that each table will be occupied by 4 people from 2 team). So table 1 will have (2) people from Team A and (2) Team B, table 2 will have (2) Team C and (2) Team D representatives, etc. Each table starts with a maximum of 10 items (remember how each team brought up to 5 items) and the goal is to have a list of 5 items that the table deems most important at the end of 10 min. Most tables came to 5 items through discussion and mutual agreement, however some had to resort to dot voting. We did not specify HOW they should agree on top 5, just that they should.
  • Round 2 (10 min). Now that we had 4 tables with 5 items each, we did another round of discussion. This time each table had to send 2 representatives (with the list of 5 items) and we had now 2 tables of 4 people each and 10 items to discuss at each table. 10 min later we were looking for just top 5 items from each table.
  • Present and Vote (10 min). Here in a Lean Coffee fashion we got each table to present their 5 items with a very brief explanation of the problem (item) (we gave about 30 sec max per item) to the rest of the people in the room. We put them up on a board. Then we gave each person in the room 2 votes (dots) and did a “Dot Voting” session. Then we sorted based on the number of votes, most voted items went to the top and were first to be discussed.
  • We timeboxed each item to 15 min discussion and potentially an action item as a result.
  • We wrapped up the retro with a Parking Lot where not discussed items went and a quick feedback wall (we definitely wanted to know how this format worked or didn’t work for everyone involved).

Overall we got really positive feedback, were able to stay within the timebox and kept people engaged.

Would be happy to hear your experience, your questions or suggestions.