"Back of the Room" Release Retrospective using a Futurespective

Agenda&Goals (German)
Agenda&Goals (German)
Let me share the methods used in a release retrospective, where I applied a futurespective and was inspired by the 4-C workshop design used in "Training from the back of the room", which was in my opinion quite successful!
The goals of the release retrospective, which I concluded with several "stakeholders", were:
  • Lessons learned for the past release
  • Meassures for a "perfect" next release
My challenges were:
  • A long release cycle, were most activities were some month in the past.
  • The participants were a group of team and project management representives, luckily not more than ten people, but unprepared and as well as having different expectations.
  • Several people had no experiences with releases in such a context like ours before.
My first ideas for a retro "workshop" concept were:
  • 4-C retrospective (Using the 4 Cs from "Training from the back of the room")
  • "The Perfect release"
  • What already worked? What were the challenges and "hot spots"?
  • Pairs (experienced & unexperienced)
  • Using a timeline backwards (from the next release date)
I had a timebox of 2,5 hours, which I really appreciated, due to the number and heterogenity of participants and the long time frame.
This was my first agenda draft, sent out with the invitation:
  • We collect some feelings and facts about the work done for the last release.
  • We create a joint understanding for a "perfect" next release.
  • We create a timeline with steps & milestones.
  • We look back, what already worked well and what did not work (-> Lessons learned).
  • We decide about measures.

Retro "Workshop" Design


Start with the end in mind

What should be achieved at the end of the release retrospective?

  • Everyone should get a good overview about the work to be done for the next release.
  • A certain understanding about an "agile releasemanagement" in a waterfall environment
  • A list of measures and responsibilities
  • Knowledge exchange: experienced staff share their insights with unexperienced ones.


4-C Design used in "Training from the back of the room":

  • Connections
  • Concepts
  • Concrete Practice
  • Conclusions


4-C picture drawn by Olaf Lewitz at #P4A13
4-C picture drawn by Olaf Lewitz at #P4A13



  • Content: Feelings about the last release
  • Method: I used a "lineup" exercise (similar to the method "constellation" sometimes used in retrospectives)
  • People lined up depending on their feeling about the last release from very bad release to perfect release. After lining up, I let people tell very briefly, why they are on their position.
  • -> Most people where in the middle, execept one outlier standing on very bad.
  • -> In my opinion the exercise worked quite well due to the "storytelling effect" and also helped to energize the participants


Facts were presented
Facts were presented

Concepts & Concrete Practice

  • 1. Content: Facts about last release. How did you or your team work for the last release?
  • Method: A typical "Gather Data" brainstorming with sticky notes posted on the wall and short presentation 
  • -> In my opinion this exercises was well received and much appreciated, because it helped the people to remember about the amount and diversity of task, which had to be done.


  • 2. Content: Get a joint understanding for a perfect next release
  • Method: Futurespective-like, additionally using a timeline. Work in pairs, with a maximum of one experienced (releae experience in this context) in a pair (due to more unexperienced ones)
  • I first let them imagine a perfect release and then asked them to look back on the events and success factors for the perfect release.
  • I let the present and put their sticky notes on a timeline meant to be going backward in time, and therefore starting from now to next release as end date.
  • ->The data presented ranged from negative things from last release formulated in a positive way to statements about successes we achieved.
  • ->I originally intended to sort all data from the "perfect release cloud" into the timeline in a second step, but it worked quite well and saved some time
  • ->My impression: The outcome of this exercise depends heavily on participants and the wording of the exercise. You have to be flexible with the agenda & exercises afterwards. Written questions or outcomes for the exercises could be a measure for future improvement.


  • 3. Content: Our lessons learned from last release: Do a gap analysis what did already work, what did not work, plus, add responsible persons and risks
  • Method: "Gather Data"-like, put everything on the timeline, work in pairs(, clustering)
  • ->We decided to cancel this step, because we had enough relevant data. We clustered the data instead and moved the "adding responsible persons" and "risks" parts to the next step


  • 4. Content: Find measures which serve as valuable input for the project to plan & prepare the next release including responsible persons and risks.
  • Method: Work in pairs, analyze two clusters and present your work (measures and responsible persones/groups and risk)
  • ->We got a huge load of input for jobs to be done for the next release, which was very well received by the participants, were several leading positions in the project.
  • ->We deceided not to prioritize or take decisions about which measures to implement in the workshop, but to take the data to the responsible persons and groups to further address the meassures.
Working on the perfect release
Working on the perfect release



  • Content: Feeling about the next release
  • Method: Once again I used the lineup-exercise to see if the whole retro-workshop changed something in the perception of the people
  • ->Still a lot of people were in the middle, we had no "very bad release" outlier, but to people moved next to "perfect release". I had expected a bigger shift of the people, but it was still ok to see.
  • ->I think I should have rephrased my initial "Connections"-Questions to: "Depending on your feelings about the last release, how do you expect the next release to be?" to have a real baseline measurement to compare with.
  • ->Another option would be to ask: What did you learn? What are your takeaways, for you personally, what could you apply in your team?


Finally I asked the people who were not gone already (three had to go some minutes in advance) to give some feedback on the feedback wall, and we cleaned up the room with four people.


Signs of success

  • We got a good rating on the feedback door
  • One participant, who substituted an architect in the meeting, said at meeting start, that he will only stay for one hour, because 2.5 hours is too much time, did not leave and stayed the whole 2.5 hours.
  • "Thank you" by the project manager and some participants.

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Nils Bernert, Agile Coach & LeanStartup enthusiast, valtech.de
Nils Bernert, Agile Coach & LeanStartup enthusiast, valtech.de

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