"Garçon", a World Café Retrospective please!

May 8, 2015 · Agile Scrum Retrospective

After our Fishbowl and Lean Coffee retrospectives, it's time to talk to you about our last experiment: the World Café. Spoiler Alert, it went REALLY well!

Tables

The world café revolves around "tables". Here is what you will need to prepare before the event:

  • Plan one table for 5-8 participants
  • Each table get a "leader" that will remain at that exact table for the whole event and will take a special role
  • On each table there is a sheet of paper (flipchart size) with 3 pre-written "questions"
  • Define the amount of time

Sheet of Paper with questions

The flow

With the prerequisite in place, you can start the event. It goes like this:

  • Give the participants a short overview of the format and make sure the concept is understood
  • The participants spread out evenly on all the tables to discuss the first question
  • The table lead introduces the question
  • Mindmap, drawings, keywords... whatever the participants chose can be used to answer to that question
  • At the end of the round all participants except the table lead switch tables and try to mix-up, i.e. try not to sit back with the same persons
  • As the second round starts, the table lead summarizes what happened at his table during the first round and introduces the second question
  • [...] Rince and repeat

The questions

The purpose of our retrospective was spread knowledge. Each team has been working on its own process for a while now and some problems were solved differently between them with various side effects. We thus asked the following 3 questions:

  • What didn't go so well in the previous sprints?
  • What successful changes did you make to your process in the previous sprints?
  • What key element did we miss so far and could make the project even more successful?

We put a lot of thoughts in those questions:

  • Through the first question, will wanted to see people verbalize the problems they are facing
  • Through the second question (and the summary of the first question), we wanted to have a different group of persons think about the solution they implemented while being influenced by problems faced by others
  • Through the third question, we wanted to open the discussion toward solutions that we didn't try yet

It worked really well. Through this very simple format, we got the teams to share their tips and tricks, their pain points and their solutions with each other. We didn't get a lot of new things to try, but a lot of topics that we - Scrum Masters - have been devising for days or even weeks suddenly appeared "bottom up" - from the trenches - telling us right away what to try first.

Closing the retro

At the end, we asked the table leaders to gather in the front of the team and present very succinctly their work. We went "across", question by question and asked the participants to silently raise their hands when they thought this particular topic should be kept in the minutes. If so, we added it to a flipchart and noted the rough amount of hands raised.

We ended up with a dozen of topics going from a few hands to all-up, that we have been slowly addressing since.

TL;DR; This is a very powerful mixing format that helps spread out a broad knowledge across a large number of persons. It also helps bubbling (bottom up) ideas on a specific topic. This is naturally only true if you nail down the right questions...

Anyone tried this already? Did you make the same conclusions?

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